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Iran And The Nuclear Standoff

File photo: The Uranium conversion facility, Isfahan, Iran. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Lucy Stallworthy
Bristol, England (UPI) Mar 21, 2006
After a week of diplomatic wrangling, the United Nations Security Council is expected to issue a consensus statement this week urging Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program. Iranian belligerence has exposed deep fissures among the Council's five permanent members.

Whereas the United States and the European veto holders favor hard-line tactics, Chinese and Russian economic interests in Iran have left Beijing and Moscow with little political appetite for such pressure.

This debate has proved fertile ground for the emergence of a myriad of proposed solutions. In a recent Council on Foreign Relations paper, Charles D. Ferguson, fellow for science and technology, and Ray Takeyh, senior fellow for Middle Eastern affairs, called for a security dialogue with Iran. The paper, titled, "Making the Right Call: How the World Can Limit Iran's Nuclear Program," suggested this would reduce Tehran's perceived need for a nuclear deterrent.

In August 2005, Iran announced the resumption of uranium conversion at its Isfahan facility, sparking global concern. In February 2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors voted 27-3 to report Iran to the Security Council, and IAEA talks have recently been held in Vienna.

Despite this incremental increase in diplomatic pressure, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed to resist international demands on the nuclear issue. In an address in Tehran earlier this month, Ahmadinejad said "nuclear energy is our absolute right."

The CFR report endorses the depth of this resolve. "The Islamic Republic of Iran is seemingly determined to acquire a sophisticated nuclear infrastructure that will avail it a weapons option at some point in the near future," the report found.

This stance leaves Tehran diametrically opposed to the U.S. position. Unveiling a new national security strategy last week, President Bush said, "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran." Indeed, according to the CFR report, "the United States refuses to grant diplomatic recognition to Iran and fears that direct talks about the nuclear program would bestow legitimacy on Tehran without addressing Washington's other concerns."

This frosty status quo was encapsulated by the U.S. reaction to the recent Iranian offer of talks over Iraq. Following initial calls from the Iraqi Shiite leader, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani lent his support to the Iranian offer of negotiations. This proposal has been received with skepticism in Washington amid fears that it may constitute an attempt to divert attention from the nuclear issue.

Yet, while U.S.-Iranian relations remain icy, Ferguson and Takeyh contend that the only viable solution to the nuclear deadlock is "a multilateral dialogue involving the United States that would seriously address Iranian security concerns and provide substantial economic incentives."

Tehran has consistently cited national security as a justification for the development of nuclear technology. "For the theocratic oligarchs, this would be a weapon of deterrence, as they seek a means of ensuring regime security and Iran's territorial integrity," Ferguson and Takeyh wrote.

These security concerns are rooted in the conflict with Iraq during the 1980s. Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in September 2005, Ahmadinejad stated that Saddam's regime "imposed a massive war of aggression against my people. It employed the most heinous weapons of mass destruction." According to the CFR report, this experience has led "Iran's war veteran turned president to perceive that the security of his country cannot be predicated on global opinion and international treaties."

Iranian security fears have also been exacerbated by the country's proximity to other nuclear powers. Whereas Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970, Israel has refused to sign and is believed to have stockpiled between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads. "A comprehensive security-assurances approach should address the concern in the Middle East about Israel's nuclear weapons," Ferguson and Takeyh wrote.

The role of security and status concerns in informing Iranian nuclear activities was also highlighted by Fiona Adamson, director of the program in international public policy at University College London. "I think possibly part of the reason is deterrent and part of it is prestige," she said. With relation to Israel, "I think there is a perceived imbalance or double-standard."

The CRF report suggests there are significant grounds for optimism concerning a security-based approach to the Iranian nuclear crisis. In December 2003, Libya announced that it would abandon its weapons of mass destruction programs. For Ferguson and Takeyh, this set a precedent which offers hope for the Iranian situation. "Although the United States currently opposes direct negotiations with Iran, the odious nature of a 'rogue' regime did not stop Washington from negotiating an agreement with Tripoli to disarm," they wrote.

However, other observers are skeptical of the viability of this strategy. According to Professor Efraim Karsh, head of the department of Mediterranean studies at King's College, London, security fears do not explain Tehran's nuclear belligerence. "This is not the issue. Iran does not go for nuclear weapons as a means of threat prevention. Iran views itself as a major power and has imperial ambitions," he said.

Karsh also pointed to the problems inherent in any parallels between Libya and Iran. In the aftermath of the Iraq War, it was "not negotiation but fear" which was instrumental in Colonel Moammar Gadhafi's decision to disarm. According to Karsh, as the Hussein regime fell, "Colonel Gadhafi was afraid he would be the next one." The circumstances surrounding Libyan disarmament were thus vastly different from the current standoff. "You cannot draw a line from Libya to Iran," he said.

Other observers suggest the current political climate may preclude negotiations. According to Adamson, "one possibility is some kind of grand bargain: the U.S. would agree to lift its sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to stop its nuclear program. However, I don't think this will happen." Negotiations are certainly possible, but "in the current climate it would seem unlikely," she said.

Source: United Press International

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No One Can Take Away Irans Nuclear Know-How President
Tehran (AFP) Mar 21, 2006
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed Monday that "no one can take back" the Islamic republic's nuclear technology, in a televised address to mark Iranian New Year. "Nuclear technology is not something we obtained easily, or something someone gave us so they could take it back; no one can take it back," he said.

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