Iran's Nuke Gambit
New York Post - By Amir Taheri
Nov 5, 2003
REMEMBER you read it here first. Iran is now on course to force its way into the nuclear club within the next two to three years. When it does, it will owe part of its success to a European Union diplomatic maneuver that has spared Iran the prospect of direct confrontation over its illicit nuclear program with the international community.
The maneuver, which led to the signature of a memorandum between the Islamic republic and three EU members in October, appears to have defused the latest crisis.
As things stand, it is almost certain that the International Atomic Energy Agency will soft-pedal the procedure that could have led to a confrontation between Tehran and the United Nations over Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The European Union has exacted no more than a vague promise from the leadership in Tehran to temporarily halt a secret project to enrich uranium and produce plutonium.
The temporary halt, if it does materialize, may be linked more to Iranian domestic politics than to a sudden desire on the part of the Khomeinist regime to honor the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran is already in campaign mode in anticipation of the general election next March. A foreign-policy crisis at this time could upset the the establishment, which appears determined to purge the so-called reformist faction and impose a "Chinese-style" system of political repression and economic opening.
The establishment feared that the nuclear issue might force the European Union to line up behind the tougher Iran policy preached by the Bush administration.
Playing the European card against Washington is a tried and true tactic of the Khomeinist regime. Tehran used it in the 1980s by seizing and then liberating European hostages in exchange for pledges by the European powers not to join U.S.-imposed sanctions against Iran. In the 1990s, Tehran used the same tactic by tempting European oil companies with mouth-watering oil and gas contracts.
One other factor may have contributed to Tehran's decision to play the European card again. The selection of Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian human-rights lawyer, as this year's Nobel Peace laureate is seen in Tehran as a signal that Europe's "soft powers" are ready to help provide a "soft" face for the opposition against the Khomeinist regime. Such an opposition could make it easier for the European powers to win the support of their own public for a policy of regime-change in Tehran.
Thus the piece of paper that Tehran has just signed with three European foreign ministers is unlikely to affect the Khomeinist regime's strategy of building an arsenal of nuclear weapons within the next two to three years.
There is little doubt that the Europeans know this. So, why did the three European wise men, traveling west to east, agree to get the Khomeinist regime off the hook?
Each of the three had his reason:
* France's Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is desperately looking for any opportunity to show that Paris still has a say in Middle East politics. He would love to be able to claim that his "soft power" diplomacy did in Iran what American "hard power" tried to do against Saddam Hussein in Iraq - and, according to de Villepin, failed.
* German Foreign Minister Joshcka Fischer had a slightly different motive. While continuing his country's close alliance with France, Fischer is also anxious to avoid a situation in which Berlin finds itself alone with Paris. The presence of the British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the trio helps Fischer avoid such a situation. At the same time Fischer would be able to tell the German public that the Schroeder government is still capable of playing a role in diffusing regional crises.
Fischer and de Villepin also hope to see a change of occupant at the White House in 2005.
* Straw's motives are equally complicated. In his heart of hearts, he knows that the only language that the Khomienists understand and respect is force. But he also knows that Tony Blair's government is passing through its worst crisis since it came to power in '97.
At a moment of crisis over Iran, Blair might find himself facing a choice he wishes to avoid: parting ways with the Americans or risking a political revolt within his Cabinet.
All this means is that the Khomeinist regime may well get yet another chance to have its cake and eat it, too. According to Hassan Ruhani, a mullah who speaks for the High Council of National Security in Tehran, Iran is determined to dot itself with "the entire range of nuclear science and technology at all levels."
Iran's nuclear program started in 1956. The strategic decision to develop nuclear weapons was taken in 1989. The regime has spent an estimated $12 billion on all aspects of this ambitious program so far. It is not something that Tehran will give up after a session of tea and sympathy with the EU trio.
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