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Iran's nuclear straddle continues - for now

01/16/2005

Since I last wrote about Iran's nuclear program, the momentum of events has shifted.

Half a year ago, UN nuclear inspectors seemed to be on the verge of forcing Tehran to acknowledge the full extent of its activities and start dismantling them. Instead, the Iranians have succeeded in keeping the crisis "in suspension" for months on end, simultaneously stonewalling the nuclear inspectors while buying time with an on-again, off-again suspension of uranium enrichment activities. At the same time, they've worked to cement tactical alliances with Moscow and Beijing, making UN sanctions increasingly unlikely.

Is any resolution in sight?

Since they first confirmed the existence of Iran's secret nuclear activities, the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have caught the Iranians lying several times over. Instead of denouncing Iran to the IAEA's member states -- a way of putting the issue on the doorstep of the UN Security Council -- the IAEA inspectors invited the Iranians to come clean. This was a bargain of sorts: the Iranians would provide the inspectors with more access and greater insight into what they had been doing; in exchange, the inspectors would issue diplomatically phrased reports, while continuing to unravel the threads.

The inspectors' strategy paid off, bringing to light secret uranium imports, two centrifuge enrichment programs, a laser enrichment program, plans for a heavy water reactor, work on an isotope normally used as a bomb trigger, and more. Their progress continued until the Iranians, who by this time had commenced openly enriching uranium, cut a deal with Britain, France, and Germany to suspend this work.

In the fall of 2003, Iranian officials pledged to cooperate fully with the IAEA -- but over time, they became noticeably less willing to admit the truth when elements of their nuclear cover stories failed to hold together. The stonewall settled in. The Iranians have un-suspended and now re-suspended their enrichment program. They seem to calculate that the Europeans will let bygones be bygones, and hold back from sanctions so long as Iran doesn't make an open grab for a nuclear bomb.

This approach has been tremendously frustrating to American hawks, who would like to see Iran isolated as much as possible. The President and his men seem to reject the idea of freezing Iran's nuclear weapons program while allowing the regime to save face. To them, the point of the exercise isn't keeping the peace and preserving stability.

Nor is it disarmament per se. Their dearest desire is to humble adversaries and bring them to heel. After Libya gave up its unimpressive nuclear program, an unnamed "influential advocate" of the administration's view told the Washington Post, "It's 'engagement' like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945. The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender."

And in truth, this in-between state of affairs can't last forever. The U.S. government is right to fear that the Iranians may slip through the net entirely and pursue nuclear weapons with abandon.

But there is a wild card still in play: the UN nuclear inspectors. Stonewalled or not, they continue to probe the bits and pieces of Iran's nuclear program that they have already uncovered. As they dismantle the pieces of the centrifuge cascade from the "watch factory" in Tehran, the traces they find may provide evidence of activities unambiguously tied to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. Iran may yet end up quite isolated indeed, facing hard choices about its future should it continue on its current path.

Analyst

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000315.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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Replies: 3 comments

Why are we not, through diplomatic and covert intelligence, nurturing the secular sentiment so prevalent in the Iranian youth? The pro-Modern, if not pro-Western, youth of Iran are fed up with their Islamist government and no longer look to the Mullahs for answers. They've had just enough of Modern and Western culture to know they want more. If we take a hard line stance and alienate Iran, we may well alienate this natural ally in their midst. I think the administration should give at least some public comment to this growing pro-Modern/Western youth movement in Iran and openly praise it and distinguish it from the fundamentalists running their government.

Here's Hoping.

-Michael Balongie

Posted by Michael Balongie @ 01/16/2005 03:25 PM CST

How is it ok then for the US to have nuclear weapons? Why wont anyone question them? Why can't the US just stop their interference? I believe it's all an excuse to attack Iran. No matter what Iran does ( even if they do comply with UN's orders) the US will still find some excuse to attack Iran. Also, in response to Mr. Balongie's comment: It is true that the Iranian youth is extremely fed up with the current regime and has hopes for a democratic society. However, please keep in mind that they are fully devoted to their country and culture. If there is to be any sort of alliance in the future, it should be in best interest of Iran and its people..not just for oil. So, yes praising the youth and supporting them is one thing, but sir do you really believe that the US is looking out for the Iranian people? I don't think so

Posted by Shierin @ 01/16/2005 03:26 PM CST

Dear Mr. Balongie

You better look at the other side of the coin.

The major problem of despotic regimes, led by the US, with Iran is that a country and nation which had been under the US influence and pressure for a long period of time is now standing against the will of Washington and all hegemonic powers and has not given in to the international dictatorship, the Supreme Leader said.

As to the alleged support for human rights, freedom, anti-terrorism campaign and fight against weapons of mass destruction by the US authorities, Ayatollah Khamenei said despite all these false slogans, Washington supports many dictatorial regimes.

The most wicked and mischievous terrorist groups are created by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), he said adding that moreover, the Zionist prime minister who is the mastermind behind the assassination of Palestinian people is backed by the US officials.

He further referred to the US policies as the main obstacle in the way of settlement of the Mideast problem.

The Americans wrongly believe that by ignoring the rights of the Palestinians and supporting a savage dictator who massacres Palestinian women, children and elderly the Palestinian problem will be solved, he added.

The only solution to the Palestinian problem is to act upon Iranís recommendation, hold a referendum among Palestinian people on their own fate and establish a popular government on the basis of the referendum as well as to make a decision on non-Palestinian migrants, Ayatollah Khamenei said.

Awareness of the Muslim nations and their opposition to international despotism are main reasons behind the failure of the US plan of a greater Middle East, the Supreme Leader said.

Posted by henry @ 02/09/2005 09:56 AM CST


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