Iran: Little chance of nuclear compromise
respond to the pending European package but is unlikely to suspend enrichment
under pressure. What the world must realise is sanctions will take us further
from and not closer to a peaceful solution.
IN 1983, some 20 years
before Iran was accused by the United States and its allies of having a
clandestine nuclear fuel enrichment programme, Tehran approached the
International Atomic Energy Agency with a request for technical assistance in
setting up a pilot plant for the production of uranium hexafluoride
UF6 is the basic feedstock in the uranium enrichment process, in
which the gas is spun through centrifuge machines in order to produce low
enriched uranium for reactors - or highly enriched uranium for bombs. At the
time, Iran was specifically interested in restarting work begun in the Shah's
period on converting U308 into UO2 pellets and then going on to set up a pilot
facility for UF6 production.
Since the IAEA Statute commits the agency to
provide technical assistance to member states, a team of experts travelled to
Iran to interact with scientists at Entec, the Iranian atomic establishment set
up in 1974 with French assistance to work on the fuel cycle. According to an
account provided by Mark Hibbs in Nuclear Fuel, one of the most
authoritative newsletters of the international nuclear industry, the IAEA
experts recommended that the agency assist Entec to help their scientists
overcome their lack of practical experience. They also suggested that the IAEA
provide expert services in a number of areas including the fuel
But the promised IAEA help never materialised. According to Mr.
Hibbs: "Sources said that when in 1983 the recommendations of an IAEA mission to
Iran were passed on to the IAEA's technical cooperation program, the U.S.
government then `directly intervened' to discourage the IAEA from assisting Iran
in production of UO2 and UF6. `We stopped that in its tracks,' said a former
U.S. official." Rebuffed by the IAEA, Iran signed an agreement with Argentina,
only to have Washington force Buenos Aires to back off in 1992. Five years
later, the Clinton administration got China to abandon its official assistance
to Iran on the fuel cycle.
It is worth recalling this history because it
helps us to understand a core concern at the heart of the current crisis over
Iran's nuclear programme: If Iran's intentions were peaceful, why did it go
about its enrichment programme with so much secrecy? True, its safeguards
agreement did not require it to declare the enrichment facility it was building
at Natanz to the IAEA until six months before nuclear material was to be
introduced into them. But the "concealed" nature of the facility and the
furtiveness of its acquisitions programme have led some to conclude that Tehran
secretly intended to make bombs. Even if not everyone believes that, many
countries feel Iran should suspend all enrichment activity as a
confidence-building measure until the IAEA concludes that there are no
undeclared nuclear activities in the country.
The Iranian response is one
of bewilderment and even anger. When Iran openly sought to develop the fuel
cycle and the IAEA was willing to help it, the U.S. intervened to stop this.
Whenever Tehran signed a public agreement with an international partner,
Washington worked overtime to kill it.
Given this reality, the only way
to build a fuel cycle programme - even if one's aims were purely peaceful -
would have been to go about it with stealth. But today, this stealth, which was
imposed on Iran at a time when there was no evidence of non-civilian use, is
being cited as evidence of malafide intention and as the main reason why Iran
must agree to suspend enrichment immediately.
This week, the Iranian
Government is likely to provide a formal response to the package of proposals
presented to it by the European Union and five permanent members of the United
Nations Security Council in June.
Security Council deadline
Though Iran had indicated its willingness to revert to the EU
by August 22, the United States unnecessarily upped the ante by getting the UNSC
to pass Resolution 1696 last month threatening Tehran with sanctions if it did
not suspend all nuclear enrichment activity by August 31. "I can't understand
the logic of the resolution," a senior Western diplomat based in Tehran told
The Hindu earlier this month. "When they are saying they will give an
answer by a certain date, why impose an ultimatum of this kind?"
trust in each other is essential," Vice-President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaii told
The Hindu, "but peaceful enrichment is our right and there can be no
compromise." When his attention was drawn to a statement by Joschka Fischer in
Tehran that week that Europe recognised Iran's rights but wanted trust to be
re-established, Dr. Mashaii said the former Foreign Minister of Germany was not
being honest. "When we wanted to build the Bushehr reactor and Russia agreed to
cooperate, they put pressure on Russia not to do this work ... Why was Germany
against this? They did not give us the right to even use fuel. But now that we
have the ability to produce that fuel, they say, `Don't produce it, we will give
it to you!' Are they telling the truth? Whenever we retreat, they advance, and
when we go forward, they retreat."
According to a prominent Tehran-based
analyst, who spoke to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, the nuclear
question has become a national issue in which "the right to enrichment is
equated with Mossadegh's oil nationalisation and the same group of imperialist
countries is being seen as denying Iran control over its energy security." The
analyst, who has environmental concerns about Iran going down the nuclear route
and is also opposed to President Ahmadinejad's confrontationist style, says the
nuclear issue is just an excuse for the U.S. "In the Shah's time, Iran had even
more oil per capita than it does now, but there were no objections to our
nuclear programme. Essentially, the nuclear issue is being used to put pressure
on Iran to change its foreign policy, especially towards Israel and the peace
process. For example, the U.S. is not pressing Pakistan to even slow down its
nuclear weapons programme despite the fact that they are the ones who have had
ties to non-state actors."
The analyst believes the Iranian leadership is
not particularly perturbed by the threat of sanctions. But the U.S. needs to
realise pressure will only lead to a hardening of attitudes. "Even if we had a
clandestine programme, as they claim," he said, "I am certain this did not exist
prior to 2000. But post 9/11, the `Axis of Evil' speech and the invasion of Iraq
- all of this has strengthened the hands of those who say Iran cannot trust the
IAEA/U.N. system. In fact, some say the Bush-Blair policy was to use the IAEA
and U.N. to ensure Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction before they concluded
it was `safe' to invade."
There are some in Iran - notably Hosein
Shariatmadari, publisher and editor of Kayhan - who say the country
should quit the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) but the broad consensus
within the ruling establishment is still in favour of dialogue and diplomacy. "I
think the Iranian leaders want to resolve this peacefully... but want an
honourable outcome which won't harm Iran's prestige."
For many Iranians,
Israel's attack on Lebanon marked the opening round of an American-led
military-political campaign aimed first, at forcing Tehran to abandon its
civilian enrichment programme, and eventually at bringing about `regime change'
there. "The U.S. and Israel believe Iran is inflexible on the nuclear issue
because it thinks it has the card of Hizbollah which it can play against Israel
if military action is ever taken against its nuclear facilities. And I think
that is why they decided to try and finish off Hizbollah," says the
The irony is that whenever Iran has sought to reach out to the
U.S. and establish the framework for a `grand bargain,' Washington has responded
with silence or contempt. In 2003, when Mohammad Khatami was President, an
approach was made to the Bush administration via the Swiss embassy in Tehran for
a dialogue aimed at an eventual rapprochement. The letter, which apparently had
the blessings of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, included an offer to
accept the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution to the Palestinian
question. But the White House threw it into the dustbin.
with its formula of a grand bargain including recognition of Iran's rights and
implicit recognition of Israel, was no flash in the pan. "If they accept our
sovereign rights, we are prepared to make dialogue with any organisation or any
country," Dr. Mashaii told The Hindu. Asked whether that offer of
dialogue included Israel as well, Dr. Mashaii repeated: "If the United Nations
accepts our sovereign rights, we are ready to dialogue with any organisation or
Anybody who knows Iran and its culture should understand it
will never agree to suspend uranium enrichment under duress. The imposition of
sanctions will make no difference but will only increase the clamour from
neocons in the U.S. for airstrikes and war. What the world needs is a creative
political solution that respects Iran's rights and allays international
concerns. The Europeans presented a package which seeks to bind Tehran to the
NPT but which deliberately refrains from reaffirming Iran's inalienable right to
nuclear energy in conformity with Article IV of that treaty. No doubt Iran will
formulate a response. The international community should seek to build upon that
response and keep the dialogue going.
... Payvand News - 8/22/06 ... --