Juneau's role in promoting peace in the Middle East

Posted: Friday, November 06, 2009

Satellite photos taken a few days ago have shown increased activity at a uranium mine in Iran. Though Iranian officials claim Iran's increased output of enriched uranium is not intended for weaponry, concerns remain that the materials might also be used for nuclear missiles or dirty bombs.

The conflict lies thousands of miles from Juneau, but residents in Alaska's capital city can still do their part to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. If Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon, surrounding countries such as Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Iraq would feel the need to do the same, if for nothing else to maintain an even playing field.

Intelligence reports on the progress of Iran's nuclear programs, and the amount of uranium in possession, is inconsistent to say the least. Some argue Iran is 5 to 10 years away - others say just a few years - from building a nuclear weapon. Others believe Iran already has everything it needs to do so.

Iran insists its nuclear program is intended to generate electricity, and nothing more. The rest of the world isn't so sure.

The likelihood of Iran building and detonating a nuclear bomb is slim. To do so would incur the wrath of the world. But it's the radical groups Iran supports, namely Hezbollah and Hamas, that pose the greatest threat. Iran also has supported the Taliban by supplying money and weapons to continue its fight against U.S. and Israeli forces.

So far 11 states have signed Iranian divestment legislation, stating that government entities such as retirement and pension funds will not invest with companies that contract with Iranian energy programs.

Alaska should be the 12th state to sign such a bill, said Akiva Tor, Israeli consul general for the Pacific Northwest, during an interview with the Empire earlier this week.

Though Alaska doesn't directly invest in companies that deal with Iran's nuclear energy programs, imposing sanctions similar to other U.S. states would send a symbolic message and ensure Alaska keeps a healthy distance from companies that do.

If enough sovereign nations were to divest from Iran, the economic pressure would force Iranian leaders to adhere to UN sanctions that have been widely ignored up to this point.

Former Gov. Sarah Palin introduced House Bill 92 and Senate Bill 81 earlier this year to divest state investment funds from companies that support the government of Sudan because of what the U.S. government has called genocidal policies. The same should be done regarding Iran.

But proposing Iranian divestment legislation poses another dilemma lawmakers must consider: How should Alaska deal with countries that have demonstrated hostility toward the U.S. and its allies?

There is no simple answer to this question, but Alaska lawmakers should follow the example set by speakers at this week's Juneau World Affairs Council forum by engaging in thoughtful debate about the state's future business practices and the message it wants to send to the world. We hope that message is one that encourages peace.

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