Friday, June 09, 2006

A good development on Iran

Friday, June 09, 2006

nuclear iran-While it is too early to close the file on the Iran-West nuclear standoff, developments in the past two days, given prudence on both sides, could lead to a breakthrough. Two important items are contained in the new package that Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, brought to Tehran: the United States has indicated that it could talk to Iran directly if the latter suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities; and the package signals possible guarantees to Iran on its territorial integrity. Until now Tehran had indicated that enrichment is its right under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it would not suspend it. However, it has also been seeking direct talks with the US, which Washington had refused so far. If it can win those talks as a quid pro quo for suspending enrichment activities, the two sides could save face and move forward. Similarly, it was important to give Iran a guarantee that its territorial integrity will not be violated. This essentially means that it will not be attacked. This is a good starting point for a compromise.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has not rejected the proposals, though he seems to think that they are ambiguous on certain points and those ambiguities need to be removed. This is not surprising given the distrust on both sides. What is important, and appreciable, is that Iran is prepared to discuss the proposals and US President George Bush gave on record saying that Tehran’s response is positive. This means that the two sides are prepared to pause, and instead of indulging in one-upmanship, are looking at resolving the issue. This is commendable.

What needs to be done now should be obvious. The United States and its Western allies suspect that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons capability. To prevent this they want to do everything, including threatening to use force or actually using it. However, the option is fraught with dangers and unintended consequences. The way out is to talk. The US needs to understand that Iran feels as much threatened by Washington’s intentions — in fact more so — as the latter does from Iran’s presumed resolve to develop a nuclear weapons capability. This understanding is important for an appreciation of Iran’s position on the issue and also for sifting the chaff of bluster from the grain of real intentions in any such situation. Negotiations will succeed only when the two sides develop empathy towards each other’s viewpoint.

This also puts responsibility on Iran. Tehran has to realise that the world suspects its intentions. By its own admission in 2003 it kept some parts of its programme hidden from the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, it cannot bring the Israel factor into the equation because Iran signed the NPT, unlike Israel, which did not. It is quite another thing that in terms of the larger issue of non-proliferation and a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, the world needs to press Israel to come clean on its programme. But legally and technically speaking, the two issues cannot be conflated. Similarly, if Iran is speaking the truth on its intentions — Tehran says it is not taking the weapons route — then it should have no objection to international safeguards, including, for the time being, an insistence by the world community that it suspend uranium enrichment. As for its right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy under the NPT, it can make use of the Russian proposal, which seeks to give Iran uranium enriched on Russian soil so that Tehran can have its low-enriched uranium without creating a suspicion that it may be cheating through the fuel cycle.

The interesting thing is that the package of incentives Mr Solana has given Iran does not exclude the possibility of Tehran eventually enriching uranium on its own soil with international blessing, but as a diplomat said, this could be years away. Indeed, the whole issue of eventual enrichment has been avoided in the text. This leaves the door open for Iran to ultimately do so. However, it should be clear that even as the West needs to respect Iran’s integrity and its compulsions, so must Iran understand that it has to allay fears about its intentions. Even Russia, which has taken the heat from the US and the EU for supporting Iran and refusing to go along on the issue of international sanctions, is very clear that it would back UN sanctions against Iran if the latter breaks its obligations under the NPT. This statement is significant because it indicates that Moscow will not back any move by Tehran to either opt out of the NPT or take any measures that could be construed as a violation of the treaty obligations. Moscow also appears to be signalling to Iran the limits of its cooperation and support.

Under the circumstances it is important for Iran to negotiate in good faith and resolve this issue. At the D-8 conference Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz indicated that Pakistan was prepared to help resolve the issue. It would be good if Islamabad could weigh in with Iran and make Tehran realise that a peaceful resolution is in everyone’s interest. It definitely is in Pakistan’s interest. Pakistan cannot afford to have a nuclear Iran in the west and a nuclear India in the east. But neither can Pakistan afford to have anyone create chaos in Iran. Islamabad must therefore plug into any effort that keeps Iran tied up with its NPT obligations while ensuring that no violence is generated in the region. *
source:daily times
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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