Nuclear duel

Published : Dec 04, 2009 00:00 IST

A demonstrator, holding a poster with pictures of Ayatollah Khamenei (left) and Ayatollah Khomeini, walks past a satirised drawing of the Statue of Liberty in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Teheran on November 4, the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by students in 1979.-VAHID SALEMI/AP

A demonstrator, holding a poster with pictures of Ayatollah Khamenei (left) and Ayatollah Khomeini, walks past a satirised drawing of the Statue of Liberty in front of the former U.S. Embassy in Teheran on November 4, the 30th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by students in 1979.-VAHID SALEMI/AP

IRAN is under renewed pressure from the West to roll back its nuclear programme. In the middle of October, there was news that a draft nuclear fuel deal was being worked out between Iran, the United States, Russia and France, mediated by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, in Vienna. According to reports, Iran had agreed to send three-fourths of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to be processed in Russia and France. The uranium is meant for use in a reactor in Teheran that is engaged in making medical isotopes to treat cancer.

In mid-September, Iran had come in for much criticism from the West after it announced the existence of a nuclear enrichment complex near the holy city of Qum. The Iranian authorities have since allowed IAEA inspectors into the complex. The government has maintained that the new nuclear facility does not contravene the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently said that his country was ready to cooperate with the West in the ongoing efforts to resolve the long-running nuclear dispute. In a speech in the city of Mashad, he said that Iran welcomed cooperation on nuclear fuel, power plants and technology. He described the latest offer from the West as a victory for the Iranian nation, saying that until a few years ago the demand was for the abandonment of its nuclear programme in its entirety. The Vienna agreement recognised Irans rights to use low-enriched uranium, he said.

Delivering a speech at the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations, ElBaradei said that the proposed deal was a unique opportunity for Iran and the U.S. to mend ties after decades of hostility. He urged Teheran to accept the new proposals, which, he claimed, were aimed at building confidence and trust.

The IAEA chief, who is retiring at the end of the year, reiterated that there was no concrete evidence to show that Iran was pursuing a secret nuclear weapons programme. He was of the view that Irans nuclear programme was meant to enhance its status as a regional power. He told his American audience that Iran was at one time willing to stop its reprocessing programme, but the Bush administration had imposed conditions on Teheran that were impossible to accept for the Iranian leadership.

The Iranian authorities are seeking more time to take a final decision on the uranium swap proposal. This has prompted the West to accuse them of adopting delaying tactics so that they can continue with the covert reprocessing programme.

But Irans Foreign Minister, Manoucheher Mottaki, said that his government had not rejected the United Nations-backed plan mediated by ElBaradei. At the same time, he said, Iran would consider other options, including that of buying nuclear fuel from other countries or enriching uranium domestically. As an NPT signatory, Iran has the right to exercise both options.

Teheran has already indicated its willingness to ship out limited amounts of uranium and wait for its return as fuel rods before sending more of it. The West has rejected this compromise proposal on the grounds that it would leave Iran with enough material for a nuclear warhead.

In fact, Irans leaders from the time of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini have disavowed any ambition to join the nuclear club. Recently, the countrys Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as well as President Ahmadinejad reiterated that possessing nuclear weapons went against the principles of the Islamic Revolution.

The news about a proposed deal with the West came in for sharp criticism in Iran. Irans former chief nuclear negotiator and now the Speaker of the Majlis, Ali Larijani, warned the leadership against being lulled into complacency by the West. In late October, he told the media that the West might never return Irans enriched uranium.

Khamenei, too, in a speech delivered in the first week of November, described negotiations with the U.S. as naive and perverted and cautioned Iranian leaders against being deceived into negotiating with the West. He said President Barack Obama had been sending him personal messages for some time, asking for negotiations to end the political impasse between the two countries.

Khamenei said the U.S. continued to be hostile to Iran despite Obama talking about the need for cooperation between the two countries to resolve regional problems. He said he had responded to Obamas secret messages by emphasising in a speech in March that he was still waiting for concrete signs of a change in the U.S. policy towards Iran.

Khamenei made the remarks while commemorating the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Teheran on November 4, 1979, which led to the rupture of diplomatic links between the two countries. The anniversary this year was marked by rival rallies by supporters of the government and those of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, who were defeated in the presidential election held in June.

The Iranian authorities have blamed the West for instigating the opposition. Many Iranians view the orchestrated chorus in the Western media questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election and the shortlived, violent protests that followed it as illustrations of U.S. interference in the internal affairs of the country. The government has also accused the U.S. of supporting the Baloch Sunni terrorist group Jundallah, based in Pakistans Balochistan province, along with Kurd and Azeri separatist groups.

In two coordinated attacks in mid-October in Irans Sistan-Balochistan province along the border with Pakistan, the Jundallah targeted top members of Irans Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Five senior IRGC officers were among 42 people killed.

Since early 2007, the Western media have carried reports about the U.S. secretly funding militant ethnic groups in Iran to put pressure on the Iranian government to give up its nuclear programme. There are no indications that Obama has given up the previous administrations covert policies on Iran. In fact, he has gone on record as stating that all options are on the table on Iran.

Iran has also blamed Pakistani intelligence agencies for their support to the Jundallah. Senior Iranian officials have given an ultimatum to Pakistan to crack down on the activities of the terrorist group. Brigadier General Hossein Salami, the deputy head of the IRGC, said that his government had precise information on the links between the Jundallah and Pakistans security establishment. He said that Pakistani authorities had arrested Jundallahs leader Abdomalek Rigi in Quetta just before the suicide attacks on the Revolutionary Guards but let him off following the intervention of Pakistani intelligence agencies. In the ongoing efforts to pile pressure on Teheran, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the process of engagement cannot be open-ended. In late October, the U.S. Congress further toughened its stance on Iran by readying Bills that would pave the wave for tougher sanctions against the country. A U.S. Senate Bill authorises a ban on all imports from Iran if an agreement on nuclear issues is not reached soon.

The U.S. Congress wants global oil companies to divest totally from Iran and block the import of refined oil from that country. The Bill also proposes punitive sanctions on U.S. companies having ties with Iranian state oil enterprises. It seeks to insist that Iran stop all uranium enrichment before U.S. sanctions can be lifted. Many Congressmen cited the election results in Iran and the demonstrations that followed as additional reasons for imposing sanctions. The Obama administration has so far refused to comment on the pending legislation on sanctions. Obama is still trying diplomatic options to pressure Iran into giving up its right to reprocessing.

Many American commentators have said that the recent exertions of the U.S. Congress will prove to be counterproductive and will only strengthen Irans resolve not to cave in to U.S. pressure. The Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi, said that more American sanctions would only hurt poor Iranians.

Sanctions would not actually act against the government, rather, they would only inflict grave distress against a people who have experienced enough disaster in their own melancholic statesmen, Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader and current American favourite, said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a visit to Iran in the last week of October, was sharply critical of the Wests double standards on the nuclear issue. Those who criticise Irans nuclear programme continue to have nuclear weapons, he observed. Erdogan demanded that those countries calling for arrogant sanctions should first give up their own nuclear arsenal.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment