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Outside View: Tehran Dictates Its Terms

Tehran, Iran.
by Pyotr Goncharov
UPI Outside View Commentator
Moscow (UPI) Aug 24, 2006
Iran's response to the proposals made by the international community and the reaction to its stance proved a greater surprise than expected.

It is not that Tehran's answer defiantly ignored the U.N. Security Council's resolution, which demanded that it stop all uranium enrichment activities by the end of August. It is not even that it was done in a way typical of Iran's current diplomacy. Mohammad Saidi, international affairs adviser at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said that the country's response "gives Europe (as negotiator with Iran on behalf of the United Nations) a unique chance to return to dialogue and to the negotiation table."

Although it seems that everything was actually the other way round, it was Resolution 1696 dated July 31 that gave Iran "a unique chance to return to the negotiation table" and thus avoid potential diplomatic, economic and other sanctions. At least, this is what the six international mediators, including Russia and China, which are considered to sympathize with Iran, have said.

What matters is that the reaction of the parties involved in the talks has been unexpectedly cautious. Javier Solana, EU high representative for the common foreign and security policy, said the European Union's view was that Iran's response to the international proposals needed an "extensive and scrupulous" analysis.

He declined to comment whether Iran's response should be perceived as accepting or refusing the proposals, but said that during the analysis he would keep in touch with Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. In other words, Solana intends to continue consultations with the Iranians. If that is true, the question is for how long?

In fact, Russia has also spoken in favor of further consultations. Moscow does not rule out that "after each (of the six international mediators) studies Iran's response, new consultations may be necessary," said Mikhail Kamynin, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry. He also made a very important remark, saying, "It is essential to understand the nuances (of the response) and to decide whether we can further work with Tehran on the basis of the known set of proposals made by the six countries."

This wording can imply either that the parties will immediately start discussing sanctions against Iran for its refusal to accept the proposals or that they will review or, at least, adjust the proposals in Tehran's favor.

Anyway, no one expected to see significant progress in Iran's official response to the proposals. The logic of previous talks on its nuclear program shows that its answers are never a clear "yes" or "no." If it was a "yes," it was accompanied by so many additional conditions that it was perceived rather as a "no."

At the same time, Tehran always reserved the opportunity to play back, toughening or softening its stand depending on the situation. Now the parties seem to have exchanged places, and Tehran's response looks more like an ultimatum -- judging by Solana's reaction -- than binding resolution 1696.

It is already obvious that Tehran is trying to dictate its terms -- at least, partially -- to the European Union and the U.N. Security Council on the resumption of nuclear talks, and that it is succeeding. At least, it is no longer certain that the Security Council's meeting scheduled for early September to discuss potential sanctions against Iran will be held on time: after all, Solana said that Iran's response required "extensive and scrupulous analysis."

Golamreza Agazade, president of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, warned earlier that "Iran's response will be broader than the U.S. and Europe expect." Perhaps, Tehran hoped that the fairly long text, especially with unexpected theses, would provide a very convenient opportunity to continue bargaining around its nuclear program.

In this case, European experts will need time to analyze the document and to prepare a report on its contents. This development is obviously beneficial for Iran, and Tehran is already exploiting its opponents' lack of time, emphasizing its willingness to sit down at the negotiation table "right away."

However, there is another possible explanation. Tehran is clearly showing its opponents that any possible sanctions will be counterproductive and that the international community cannot prevent it from developing nuclear technology by offering its set of demands and offers.

This is most probably the case. Iran's present stand looks more preferable, and the U.N. Security Council has to admit is impotence in solving the Iranian nuclear problem and choose between significant concessions to Iran and use of force. The latter may seem doubtful given the recent developments in Lebanon. At least, this is what Tehran hopes for.

Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator for RIA Novosti. This article was reprinted with permission from the news agency.

United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.

Source: United Press International

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From the point of view of Washington and Tel Aviv, Tehran's latest offer of "serious talks" on nuclear matters is not being taken seriously. Iran's cat-and-mouse game over its nuclear project continues and the deadline of Aug 31 for Iran to stop enriching uranium is just a week away.

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