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POLITICS: Iran’s Snub Calls for New EU Offer

Analysis by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, May 19 2006 (IPS) - Iran’s rebuff to a European “package of incentives”, including a light-water nuclear power reactor, in return for halting uranium enrichment, marks a serious escalation of tensions with the West. But it does not close the doors to solving the Iran nuclear crisis through diplomacy.

Iran’s rebuff to a European “package of incentives”, including a light-water nuclear power reactor, in return for halting uranium enrichment, marks a serious escalation of tensions with the West. But it does not close the doors to solving the Iran nuclear crisis through diplomacy.

Iran’s snub to the EU is noteworthy for both language and content. On Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad contemptuously dismissed all talk of “incentives” by comparing it with a naïve four-year-old child being fooled into trading gold for “a few walnuts”. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi added a sting by offering “economic incentives to Europe in return for recognising our right (to enrich uranium)”.

This makes it abundantly clear that Iran is not willing to write off what it regards as its right to enrich uranium and conduct other nuclear fuel-cycle activities for peaceful purposes, which are recognised by the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The Western powers would be ill-advised to seek a revival of the 2003 formula under which Iran “voluntarily” accepted a short-term moratorium on its uranium enrichment activities, signed a tough protocol for intrusive inspections of its nuclear activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and subjected a large number of its facilities to its safeguards.

After prolonged inspections, the IAEA has not found any evidence of diversion of nuclear material from civilian to military uses. But the Western powers are convinced that Iran’s nuclear activities are directed at making atomic weapons. The United States, in particular, has vowed not to allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons-state.


The new impasse in the West’s relations with Iran is likely to lead to three events or things. First, the U.S. will press harder for punitive action against Iran at the United Nations Security Council. The EU3 (Germany, France and Britain), that has been trying to engage Iran diplomatically, will find it difficult to resist the pressure.

After all, none other than EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana recently made the Union’s “package of incentives” a litmus test of Iran’s intentions, which Tehran claims are entirely peaceful. He said: If Iran wants “to construct a nuclear energy power plant, they would have, in cooperation with EUà, the best and most sophisticated technology. If they reject that, it would mean that what they want is something different.”

Secondly, Russia and China, which have opposed sanctions against Iran under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, will come under growing pressure and will vacillate. If they do not stand firm against U.S.-EU demands for punishing Iran, they will contribute to the nuclear crisis spinning out of control.

There are signs that neither Moscow nor Beijing is taking an unshakeable stand. Both advised Tehran to respond favourably to the EU’s “incentives”. If they repeat their behaviour patterns of the recent past, when they did not exercise the veto to prevent the Gulf War of 1990 and other crises, Iran could face tough Security Council sanctions.

Third, it is highly unlikely that the threat of sanctions, or actual sanctions, will force Iran to completely abandon uranium enrichment and other nuclear activities.

A number of strategic experts and political analysts, including some close to the ruling establishment, told IPS in Tehran recently that domestic political compulsions would work against fully stopping all enrichment activity.

Iran has invested heavily in the enrichment programme. Domestically, enrichment has acquired mystical significance as a symbol of national pride and technological achievement. “At least pilot-scale activity would have to be pursued as part of a compromise deal,” one analyst said.

This is so despite Iran’s keenness to negotiate a deal. As IPS reported earlier, Iranian policy-makers would like to avoid a confrontation with the West and believe that the gap between what Iran wants and what Western pragmatists might be willing to give is not unbridgeable.

“At the same time, it is hard to see how conventional sanctions can be effective against Iran”, says Mohammed Hamid Ansari, a former ambassador of India to Iran, and later, to the U.N. “A tough embargo on the sale of oil by Iran, for instance, will hurt the West as much as Iran”.

Milder sanctions like arms embargoes, bans on foreign travel by Iranian officials, and impounding of Iranian assets abroad will not be effective. Iranians have lived with such embargoes right since the 1979 Revolution.

All this significantly narrows down the options. The West can keep on ratcheting up pressure on Iran in the Security Council, but without compelling Iran to comply with their demands.

Broadly, two different options remain: one coercive, and the other, based on negotiation, persuasion and agreement. The U.S. is exploring the first possibility through contingency plans for a military attack on up to 400 targets in Iran to destroy all its nuclear facilities. American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has reported that the plans include the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

This course is fraught with unspeakable consequences, including huge civilian casualties: a breach of the 60 year-long taboo on the use of nuclear weapons; waves of mass anti-U.S. protests all over the Middle East; retaliatory attacks by Iran against Israel and the U.S., especially through covert action in Iraq and Afghanistan; and mobilisation of public outrage against the West under the banner of militant political Islam.

The Federation of American Scientists has warned that a U.S. military attack with tactical nuclear weapons could kill as many as three million Iranians.

This only strengthens the case for the pursuit of serious diplomacy. Iran has dropped many hints that it favours this. President Ahmadinejad’s letter to George W. Bush, the first direct communication from an Iranian leader to Washington since 1979, is only one indication.

Iran has also suggested that it could discuss a modified version of a proposal made late last year by Russia, under which Russia and Iran would establish a joint venture to enrich Iran’s uranium on Russian soil for use in power reactors in Iran.

Iran wants the full involvement of its personnel in such a venture, with guaranteed access to all facilities and joint control over them. Other solutions could also be discussed, which permit Iran to conduct pilot-scale enrichment under strict international supervision.

However, for the negotiations to begin in good faith, there must be clarity on Iran’s rights and obligations under the NPT. Iran insists it has a full legal right to peaceful nuclear fuel-cycle activity, including enrichment. The West either denies this, or questions Iran’s intentions.

This is resented in Iran because the same Western nations had earlier promoted nuclear power under the Shah, with an ambitious programme for 23,000 Mw of electricity generation.

The best way forward would be to refer the issue of Iran’s rights and obligations under the NPT to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for its advisory opinion. This can be done through the U.N. General Assembly.

The court’s clarification can lay the ground for further talks to give effect to Iran’s rights while promoting the objective of nuclear non-proliferation. Creative diplomacy has never been in greater demand than now.

 
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POLITICS: Iran’s Snub Calls for New EU Offer

Analysis by Praful Bidwai

NEW DELHI, May 18 2006 (IPS) - Iran’s rebuff to a European “package of incentives”, including a light-water nuclear power reactor, in return for halting uranium enrichment, marks a serious escalation of tensions with the West. But it does not close the doors to solving the Iran nuclear crisis through diplomacy.
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