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POLITICS-IRAN: Defiant but Weighing the Cost of UN Sanctions

Kimia Sanati

TEHRAN, Jan 8 2007 (IPS) - While the world awaits a response to resolution 1737 passed by the U.N. Security Council, Iranian officials are defiantly calling for a review of Iran&#39s subscription to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), if the country is ‘threatened&#39.

The resolution passed unanimously on Dec. 23 imposed a number of sanctions on the country, requiring it to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities "without further delay". In spite of the 60 days given for Iran to act, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has vowed not to surrender to pressure and is telling his countrymen to be ready to celebrate a "nuclear victory".

The chief of Iran&#39s Atomic Energy Agency, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said 250 tons of Uranium Hexafluoride gas to feed its centrifuges have been produced and stockpiled in tunnels at a nuclear facility in Isfahan, Iran&#39s state-run broadcasting company reported last week. Aghazadeh was also quoted by Iranian news agencies as saying that quitting the NPT was still not a matter under consideration.

Four days after the U.N. resolution, the Iranian parliament responded by passing an urgent bill by an overwhelming majority that obliges the government to "review its relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)", but made no mention of exiting the NPT.

A special committee set up by Iran&#39s National Security Council is now examining the country&#39s relations with the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. The committee will decide about the access schedule of IAEA inspectors to the country&#39s nuclear facilities, Aghazadeh told the press.

IAEA chief Mohammad Al Baradei is to report to the U.N. Security Council soon on whether his agency will cut down on aid to Iran, including on items needed for radiation treatment for cancer.

During a two-day visit to China last week, a letter from Ahmadinejad was handed over to President Hu Jintao by Iran&#39s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani saying that Iran still adhered to the NPT but that the situation could change if Iran was threatened. But Hu urged Iran to make a "serious response" to resolution 1737 and Chinese officials stressed negotiations as the best way to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, the Aftab News Agency reported.

The statement made by Larijani was interpreted by Iran&#39s hard line ‘Keyhan&#39 newspaper as a serious threat to exit NPT which its editor said was like "a breeze of fresh air" in Iranian foreign diplomacy.

"Larijani&#39s statement about exiting the NPT was accompanied by a number of conditions but since the conditions mentioned for staying in NPT have been practically removed, one can interpret his statement as a logical prelude to a rational action, i.e., exiting the NPT," Mohammad Shariatmadari, editor of Keyhan, wrote.

"Time to leave NPT was due at least two years ago. If we had left then we wouldn&#39t have faced the present circumstances. Maybe in that case our nuclear dossier would have been written differently- definitely better than it is now," Shariatmadari added, calling the NPT a practically annulled treaty.

A ban on criticism of the government&#39s nuclear policy imposed by Iran&#39s Supreme National Security Council has prevented public debate on the issue. The state- run broadcasting has been promoting the official views and the fear of being banned has made the print media abstain from criticism.

"The voice of reason coming from the opposition, especially in the light of the considerable success of reformists in recent elections, is beginning to become more audible as the crisis is deepening. Ordinary people, already having to shoulder the burden of ever rising prices and unemployment well above ten percent, are also wearied by what at first sounded only too easy if they backed their statesmen," an observer in Tehran told IPS, asking not to be named.

"Iranians are often shown in the world media chanting ‘Nuclear energy is our unquestionable right&#39. But doubts seem to be surfacing about exercising the right at a cost that may prove too high for the nation, as it seems to be the case now," he added.

The Islamic Iran&#39s Participation Front (IIPF), a major reformist party, issued a statement this week, calling on the system to open up the sphere for public discussion and to let the people be informed of the depth and scope of the costs and benefits of gaining nuclear technology.

Protesting against the ‘unfair and hegemonistic&#39 approach of the United States and other big powers and criticising the nuclear policies of the Ahmadinejad government, the IIPF is now demanding a return to the policies followed by the former nuclear negotiating team under the reformist government.

"Iranians have other unquestionable rights that cannot be sacrificed to ‘one unquestionable right&#39,&#39&#39 the statement released by the IIPF says.

A statement by a group of prominent intellectuals, collectively known as the ‘Nationalist-Religious&#39, voiced similar concern. "Adherence to democracy and respect for human rights is a precondition to having our right to possess nuclear energy realised,&#39&#39 the signatories said and added that the nation also had a right to welfare, balanced development and a right not to want war.

The IIPF has further called for holding talks with "all U.N. Security Council members, especially the U.S." and refraining from policies that could intensify the crisis. But the call to negotiate with the U.S. has greatly angered the ruling hardliners and conservatives.

A hard line parliamentarian Mehdi Kouchakzadeh reacted to the statement by claiming IIPF wanted to instil fear into the hearts of the people. "They want to get it into people&#39s minds that they should surrender to the irrational demands of the U.N. Security Council or face military action," he was quoted by the Alef portal as saying.

Ahmadinejad had himself earlier claimed that one of the aims of the resolution was providing an opportunity for "certain people domestically to scare the nation and create disunion", to which a former reformist parliamentarian, Mohammad Kianoushrad, reacted by saying "the government better try to reduce the costs imposed (on the nation) instead of tagging labels on others.&#39&#39

"Neo-cons in the U.S. and Iran must bear in mind not to drive matters to the point of making them uncontrollable. The risks involved are too high for both parties and nobody will really benefit from crisis and tension in this turbulent region. Very unfortunately, the two seem to complement each other in certain ways and that leaves little hope of any reasonable solution, at least in the present circumstances," the observer in Tehran told IPS.

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