Saturday, May 06, 2006

Iran and EU:Who’s to blame for nuclear impasse?

Tehran Times Opinion Column, May 4, By Ali Ghannadi

TEHRAN, May 3 (MNA) -- About three months ago, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors issued a resolution reporting Iran’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council, bringing the issue into a new critical phase.
Although the recent Security Council statement revealed the fact that both the IAEA and the Security Council are equally competent to investigate Iran’s nuclear dossier, the European Union’s insistence on the permanent suspension of uranium enrichment activities in Iran -- both industrial and research and development enrichment activities – and Iran’s insistence on its right to enrich uranium to a low level suitable for the production of nuclear fuel have caused an impasse at the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

Following the U.S. policy, the EU believes that Iran should permanently suspend all its uranium enrichment activities and welcome Moscow’s nuclear initiative to conduct such activities on Russian soil.

On the other hand, Iran believes that enriching uranium to a low level (about 3.5%) suitable for the production of nuclear fuel for industrial and development purposes is its inalienable right and will not back down.

On April 11, the Islamic Republic of Iran officially announced that it had finally gained access to the technology necessary for conducting industrial-scale uranium enrichment and that it possesses 164 centrifuges.

However, after the West’s harsh response, everyone understood that a confrontation was certain within a few weeks.

Now, if the moves of Iran and the EU on the diplomatic chessboard are analyzed, which side will be deemed responsible for the critical situation that has arisen?

Should the West be blamed for mistrusting Iran and insisting on a permanent suspension of its uranium enrichment activities, or should Tehran be blamed for insisting on what it believes to be its inalienable right to conduct industrial-scale enrichment?

Industrial-scale uranium enrichment meant for research and development purposes is at a far lower level than what is required to produce nuclear weapons. However, it seems that changes in Iran’s foreign policy during the first six months of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad’s term in office have made Europe mistrustful about agreeing to low-level industrial-scale enrichment in Iran.

Now, the EU hopes that, under pressure from the UN Security Council, Iran will eventually be obliged to permanently halt its nuclear enrichment activities and welcome Russia’s nuclear initiative.

For the EU, achieving such a consensus is not merely a simple victory over Iran’s nuclear dossier. EU officials believe it could also serve as a new model for the international nuclear energy regime and be used to deal with Turkey, Egypt, Malaysia, Syria, and other countries interested in conducting nuclear activities.

After the February IAEA resolution against the Islamic Republic, despite all its sensitivities toward Iran’s nuclear dossier, the West, and particularly the European Union, ignored a critical issue, to which IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei indirectly referred to at least once, i.e., the “political realities in Iran”.

Some two months ago, political circles close to ElBaradei quoted him as setting forth a plan that, along with Russia’s nuclear initiative, could settle the dispute over Iran’s nuclear dossier over the medium term.

The IAEA director had asked the world to recognize Iran’s right to conduct small-scale uranium enrichment activities (about 3.5%), which is what Tehran has said is its minimum demand.

According to some reports, ElBaradei explicitly warned the West not to reject Iran’s minimum demand, saying that it would be an affront to Iran’s national pride.

However, Western countries, and particularly the European Union, failed to consider the political realities in Iran when they voted to ratify the IAEA Board resolution against the Islamic Republic in February.

The European Union should not forget that three years ago, when it began to negotiate with the Islamic Republic over its nuclear activities, Iran insisted on its right to conduct industrial-scale enrichment and signed the Paris Accord for a temporary suspension and not a permanent cessation of the enrichment process. Afterwards, all nuclear activities in Iran were suspended for three years, until a few months ago.

During this period of time, Iran played on the nuclear diplomacy chessboard with Europe and showed much flexibility.

Tehran would be satisfied with the right to conduct small-scale enrichment, but the February IAEA resolution indicated that the EU is still reluctant to accept this.

The EU’s stance is a sign of its inflexibility and shows that it has been playing diplomatic games over the past three years.

Efficient diplomacy does not mean realizing all one’s demands. A good diplomat is not someone who can oblige the other side to submit to his demands. If that were the case, it would mean the end of diplomacy.

Efficient diplomacy is attaining the maximum demands by making minimum concessions to the other side.

Now, does the European Union really want Iran to ignore even its right to conduct low-level uranium enrichment activities?

If so, one can say that the Europeans are not skillful diplomats.

Some two years ago, Supreme National Security Council Secretary General Ali Larijani criticized Iran’s nuclear policies, including its agreement to sign the Paris Accord, and said, “We gave them pearls but received candies in return.” He meant that Iran should have realized all its demands, i.e., the right to conduct industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

Now he is in charge of Iran’s nuclear dossier, and his nuclear negotiating team says Iran only demands the right to conduct low-level uranium enrichment activities.

Honestly, if Iranian diplomats submit to the EU demands and agree to suspend the entire uranium enrichment process for nine or ten years, how will they answer those people who rushed into the streets on February 11, 2006 to declare their support for Iran’s right to conduct peaceful nuclear activities?

How will Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Director Gholamreza Aqazadeh, who once compared Iran’s struggle to gain the right to conduct uranium enrichment activities to the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry, justify this act?

Can Larijani again say that we gave them pearls and received nothing? Can Iran’s nuclear officials tell the Iranian people, “Well, we made efforts for three years, and no we want to suspend uranium enrichment for ten years?”

The EU should accept the fact that the right to conduct low-level uranium enrichment activities is the Iranian nation’s minimum demand and that any negligence in pursuing this matter on the part of Iranian officials would challenge the legitimacy of the system.

Iranian citizens would then compare Iran’s stand-down and agreement to permanently halt enrichment activities with the Golestan and Turkmenchai treaties.

Regardless of why and how such a situation arose, EU officials should either accept it or resign themselves to a diplomatic impasse and its unpredictable consequences.





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