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. Iran's tensions with West aim to stall nuclear talks: analysts
LONDON, June 29 (AFP) Jun 29, 2009
Heightened tensions between Iran and the West after the Islamic republic's disputed presidential poll allow Tehran to deflect demands to re-start talks on its nuclear programme, analysts said Monday.

But experts agree that Iran has no intention of sliding into international isolation like North Korea over its nuclear ambitions.

Iranian authorities arrested nine local staff at the British embassy in recent days, the latest move in Tehran's effort to portray Britain as the chief foreign instigator of the violence which flared after the June 12 vote.

Five of the staff were released but British Prime Minister Gordon Brown condemned the continued detention of the remaining staff members as "unacceptable, unjustified, and without foundation" and called for their release.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has singled out Britain for particular criticism, alleging it has been behind the demonstrations in support of opposition candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi.

At the same time, Iran's re-elected president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has responded to US President Barack Obama's increasingly direct criticism by asking what happened to Obama's earlier calls for a new start in relations.

Sadeq Saba, senior analyst at London-based BBC Persian television, said the tit-for-tat expulsions of British and Iranian diplomats and the arrests of the British embassy workers amounted to a smokescreen.

"For the West, the main issue is not the election, it is not the post-election violence -- although it has condemned it. The main issue for the West is the nuclear issue," he said.

"If it had been a 'normal' election, the West would have put pressure on Iran to restart nuclear negotiations. So the crisis-making in Iran is a ploy to delay that pressure coming from the West."

Saba said some factions in the Iranian government were happy to stir up a crisis.

"But there are other people in the leadership who know that Iran needs the West for its economic needs and who know that Iran needs to sell its oil to the West and it needs to buy things like medicine from the West," he said.

"So Iran cannot be like North Korea, it is not isolated in the way North Korea can be. Iran is interlinked with the West."

The United States and some Western nations suspect that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, an allegation denied by Tehran.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana expressed hope Sunday that talks over Iran's uranium enrichment activities would resume soon.

But EU officials privately expressed concern that there had been no movement on the nuclear issue since the Iranian election furore started.

The White House has also reiterated its intent to continue discussions with Tehran over its nuclear programme.

Elahe Mohtasham, senior research associate at the Foreign Policy Centre in London, suggested that September may be a "crucial time" for negotiations to resume, around the time world leaders meet at the opening of the UN General Assembly.

She said it was in the interests of Iran and the West to get back around the negotiating table.

"Iran is not North Korea, it doesn't want to be isolated further. Iran needs the West and the West needs Iran," she said.

Claire Spencer, of the Chatham House foreign policy think-tank, agreed that the post-election furore might see the three European Union countries leading the negotiations -- Britain, France and Germany -- toughening their stance.

"I think the contacts (between Iran and the EU troika) will probably stall over the next few weeks until they see how things lie internally within Iran.

"Over the short term, we may see a hardening of the line taken on the nuclear issue."

Saba predicted that once the opposition protests in Iran calm down, the West will enter into negotiations with Tehran. After all, he says, quite apart from its huge oil reserves, Iran has formidable bargaining chips.

"It has strong ties in the Middle East and Iraq so it knows the West will have to go back to it eventually," he concluded.

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