IRAN'S ATOMIC DILEMMA
By AMIR TAHERI
September 30, 2003 -- IN the next few weeks, Iran's leaders will face one of their toughest decisions in two decades.
The question is: Should Iran accept random inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?
If yes, Iran should adhere to protocols added to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran was one of the first countries to join the NPT in 1970. Thus, for more than 30 years, Iran's nuclear installations have been regularly inspected by the IAEA.
Last month, however, an IAEA team in Iran found traces of enriched uranium, a substance used to manufacture nuclear weapons. When asked by the IAEA about the find, Iranian authorities responded with contradictory claims and assertions. The IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, felt obliged to give Iran until the end of October to come up with clear answers. If it does not, the matter will be reported to the U.N. Security Council.
Washington, of course, would like nothing better. For years it has tried to turn Iran into a pariah in conflict with the United Nations.
There is more bad news for Tehran.
Britain, France and Germany have sent a joint letter to Iran demanding that it adhere to the NPT's additional protocols. Their letter threatens that failure by Iran to comply could lead to punitive measures. But it also contains a promise that, provided Iran signs the protocols, the European Union will offer both financial and technological support for the Iranian nuclear-energy plan.
The European move has received support from Japan while Russia, now building a nuclear power station in Iran, has announced a scaling down of its involvement. Last year, China withdrew from talks about building five nuclear stations in Iran.
Since 1979, Iran's revolutionary authorities have successfully played the Europeans against the Americans. The so-called "critical dialogue" between Iran and the European Union had become a framework within which both sides criticized the Americans.
At times, the Iranians have also played the Russians, Japanese and Chinese cards against both the United States and Europe.
Tehran was able to play that game for two reasons.
The first was that, despite accusations from Washington, no "smoking gun" was ever found to support charges that Iran was sponsoring terrorism and developing weapons of mass destruction. Now, however, there is a "smoking gun" - the uranium discovered by the IAEA.
The second reason Tehran was able to pursue a game of "divide and do as you please" was that successive administrations in Washington had no stomach for a fight with the Islamic Republic.
The Bush administration, however, is full of people itching for a duel with Iran. Their influence is likely to grow if Bush wins a second term. Washington is already drafting punitive plans against Iran, including a global embargo on Iranian oil. Some hawks are talking of "surgical attacks" against Iran's nuclear centers and "terrorist training camps."
It's in Iran's best interest to accept the European offer and sign the NPT protocols. Iran does not need nuclear energy urgently, if at all, and could announce a moratorium on its nuclear program for at least a year until an accord is reached with the E.U.
With Afghanistan and Iraq still unstable, the last thing that anyone needs is a blow-up in Iran.
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I may be muddled due to the late hour and a crazy day (WILSON, WILSON, WILSON!), however... does Iran have a large oil or gas supply? And, if so... why do they need nuclear power?
For Iran, resistance and obstinance are illogical and self-defeating--and so are assured.