{mosimage}The Daily Telegraph - Leaders:  How might we catalyse such a revolution? In three ways. First, we should cease our dealings with the mullahs. EU countries, in contrast to the Americans, have pursued a policy of "constructive engagement" with Teheran, exchanging state visits and sending Jack Straw on repeated visits. Second, we should give financial and political assistance to dissidents inside the country. Third, we should back the main resistance group, the People's Mujahidin, which, until recently, we treated as a terrorist organisation in order to appease Khamenei.

The Daily Telegraph

Leaders


We can be sloppy in our approach to foreign affairs. Because of their geographical and alphabetical proximity, we tend to bracket Iran and Iraq together.

You will hear even politicians and television presenters committing the solecism of describing Iranians as Arabs. It is imprecision of this kind that is clouding the debate over the proper response to the mullahs.

There is a superficial resemblance between the Axis of Evil duo. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's Iran, like Saddam's Iraq, is a tyranny, silencing dissent and imprisoning its opponents.

It has been linked to numerous terrorist attacks, as far afield as London and Buenos Aires. It has ordered monstrous human rights violations at home, including the execution of teenage girls and the show-trials of Jews.

Whereas our knowledge of Iraq's weapons programme depended on guesswork, we have concrete evidence that Iran is equipping itself with a nuclear capability.

Two years ago, Iran deployed Shahab-3 ballistic missiles, with a range of 800 miles. At the same time, it was found to be making enriched uranium.

On current trends, Iran will have the bomb by 2008. Why, then, does President Bush not pursue the same policy that he followed in Iraq? Because, beneath these facile similarities, the two states are very different.

Iraq was an arbitrary creation, yoking together three disparate Ottoman provinces. Throughout its history, it has lacked the sense of common identity that underpins civic patriotism. Feeling little loyalty to their nation, successive Iraqi rulers held power by rewarding their own clansmen.

Iranians, by contrast, trace an unbroken history back to the Immortals who followed the Great King at Thermopylae. They have a fully evolved society, with an educated middle class.

Whereas there was no chance of creating a functioning democracy in Iraq without direct intervention, there is reason to hope that, given the opportunity, Iranians would shake off their theocracy and join the modern world.

How might we catalyse such a revolution? In three ways.

First, we should cease our dealings with the mullahs. EU countries, in contrast to the Americans, have pursued a policy of "constructive engagement" with Teheran, exchanging state visits and sending Jack Straw on repeated visits. (Iranians take Britain especially seriously, perhaps imagining that we are still the power we were when we last occupied their country in 1941.)

That policy is now in shreds, as Iran's nuclear programme nears completion.

Second, we should give financial and political assistance to dissidents inside the country.

Third, we should back the main resistance group, the People's Mujahidin, which, until recently, we treated as a terrorist organisation in order to appease Khamenei.

As their exiled pretender, the Shah's heir Reza Pahlavi, reminds us, Iranians are not asking for our soldiers, merely for our active sympathy.

Give them the tools, and they will finish the job.