Tuesday, June 20, 2006

IRAN MANEUVERING FOR EXTRA INCENTIVES TO SUSPEND NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Kamal Nazer Yasin

--Iran seems inclined to enter into negotiations on an international incentive package designed to encourage Tehran to suspend its nuclear program. However, the negotiations stand a good chance of stalling unless the package is altered to include a security guarantee for Iran.

Since the incentive package was presented to Iranian officials on June 5, geopolitical maneuvering has intensified, with all parties seeking to enhance their negotiating leverage. US President George W. Bush on June 19 repeated a warning that Iran would face UN sanctions if it opts not to negotiate. Bush earlier established Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment as a precondition for talks. The Bush administration, however, suffered an embarrassing blow on June 19, when the Washington Post revealed that US officials rejected an Iranian overture in 2003 to enter into a dialogue on the nuclear issue.

Details about the incentive package put forward by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have remained sketchy, with the governments involved keeping silent. The reticence is linked to a desire not to aggravate existing sensitivities, and thus undermine prospects for a negotiated settlement. In recent public comments, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck an upbeat, yet non-committal tone on the package, without delving into details.

Some US experts familiar with some aspects of the incentive package believe Iran would stand to gain significant economic benefits if it accepts, including access to Western spare parts for its commercial air fleet and the possibility of World Trade Organization membership. Iran could also gain access to advanced nuclear technology, which could be utilized under strict international supervision, according to David Albright, president of Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, DC. "This would place Iran in the preferential (peaceful) nuclear field that a country like India is currently seeking," Albright told EurasiaNet.

Iran so far has not officially responded to the international package, but it is virtually certain that Iranian officials will commit to some form of negotiations on the nuclear issue. Refusal to negotiate would likely leave Iran internationally isolated, undoing months of diligent diplomacy to garner support from non-aligned nations, as well as from China and Russia, two permanent Security Council members.

Iranian acceptance, though, is not expected to be forthcoming soon. The government appears intent on trying to secure additional advantages before the start of talks. Kayhan, a newspaper considered close to conservative Iranian decision-makers, stated in a June 11 editorial that Tehran was working on a counter-offer. "We do not have to play by the rules others are setting for us. Just as they are talking about international obligations, we must also remind them of their obligations under international conventions.

"We must definitely provide them with our own package of carrots and sticks," the editorial added.

The notion that Iran will make a counter-offer was reinforced by June 18 comments on uranium enrichment by Parviz Sorouri, a member of the Iranian parliament’s Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. "If the Europeans’ proposal falls short on the part about a limited and temporary suspension of enrichment before the talks are held), the Islamic Republic must fill this void by specifying the timetable it can accept," the Aftab Yazd newspaper quoted Sorouri, who has strong ties to Iran’s security establishment, as saying.

Talks on the nuclear issue would not begin until all sides agreed on the timing and scope of an Iranian uranium enrichment moratorium. In the coming weeks, Iranian diplomats may engage in "shuttle diplomacy," attempting to exploit differences among UN Security Council members to secure the most lenient terms possible.

Ultimately, the existing international package may not be sufficient to get Iran to go along with suspending its nuclear program. The package reportedly does not address the Islamic Republic’s principal desire -- namely a clearly-stated security guarantee. Experts in Tehran say Iranian leaders will not sacrifice the country’s nuclear program unless they receive an ironclad pledge from the US government not to attack Iran, as well as Washington’s recognition of the Islamic Republic.

So far, the Bush administration seems reluctant to agree to Iran’s wishes. Citing a recent conversation with a senior diplomat, Albright said the United States blocked the insertion of language into the international incentive package that would have explicitly affirmed Iran’s "territorial integrity," as well as offered tacit recognition of the country’s theocracy.

Regardless of the US position, Iran may end up agreeing to a short-term and qualified suspension of uranium enrichment. Any such gesture would be aimed at widening gaps in the international coalition arrayed against Iran. A short-term suspension at this stage would not constitute a substantial setback for Iran’s nuclear program because Iranian scientists need time to consolidate research and improve techniques.


Editor’s Note: Kamal Nazer Yasin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs.

Posted June 20, 2006 © Eurasianet

posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk

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