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November 9, 2004

EU, US Pressure on Iran Could Backfire


by Saloumeh Peyman

TEHRAN - Diplomats might be optimistic about a breakthrough with Tehran over its nuclear program after weekend talks between Tehran and three European Union heavyweights, but realities are more complicated, since many Iranians say their country has a legitimate right to have full access to nuclear technology.

The talks in Paris, between France, Germany, and Britain, were seen by many as the last chance for Iran to reach an agreement that would avoid its being referred to the UN Security Council, and avert the risk of sanctions over its nuclear program

According to reports, the Europeans were confident they would be able to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program indefinitely as a way to ensure that it does not use the technology to produce a nuclear weapon. But Iran has insisted that the suspension be no longer than six months and sought assurances that it would not be asked to permanently revoke its right to have a nuclear energy program

European envoys also stressed in Paris that Tehran must answer by the time the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) takes the issue up on Nov. 25, and if it fails, Europe will back U.S. calls to refer Iran to the UN Security Council.

The administration of U.S. President George W Bush, which refuses to talk directly to the Iranian administration, accuses it of supporting terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction. Washington, it seems, is keen to pursue sanctions and is pressing its allies to work on a Security Council resolution for that.

Addressing himself directly to Bush at Friday prayers, three days after the U.S. president was reelected, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: "No, sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons."

"Our nuclear weapon is this country, and the youth of its people," added Khamenei.

Before the Paris talks, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran was ready to reach an agreement over its nuclear program. He said Tehran was ready to undertake not to pursue nuclear weapons – as long as Iran's right to have peaceful nuclear technology was recognized.

Early last week, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran should suspend its uranium enrichment program, and he urged it to do so as a confidence-building measure.

But 238 members of the Islamic Consultancy Assembly (Parliament) are trying to pass a bill preventing Khatami's government from suspending the country's uranium enrichment program

"European countries are imposing the suspension of uranium enrichment process, and by doing this they are trying to demolish Iranian creativity in scientific fields," Hussain Mozaffar, a Tehran hardliner deputy in Parliament, told the Jomhorieslami daily.

"Today, our country is facing a dilemma trying to safeguard our self-esteem," he added.

A survey carried out by the official Keyhan daily indicated that 78.6 percent of Iranians polled are against any suspension – temporary or indefinite – of the country's nuclear program. They also indicated that Iran must not bow to pressures from either Europe or the IAEA.

More than 1,375 Iranian academics and nuclear scientists have signed a petition urging Khatami to stand firm in the negotiations and not compromise on what they call the "Iranian nation's legitimate right to have full access to peaceful nuclear technology."

On Feb. 9, 2003, Iran's nuclear program and efforts at building sophisticated facilities at Natanz and several other cities, which would eventually produce enriched uranium, were revealed.

China, in 1991, provided Iran with uranium hexafluoride – a uranium compound that is in a gaseous state and used for enriching uranium. In addition, Iran recently acknowledged that it also received (again in 1991) from China 1,000 kg of natural uranium hexafluoride, 400 kg of uranium tetrafluoride, and 400 kg of uranium dioxide, without reporting them to the IAEA.

On Saturday, China gave Iran crucial backing by opposing U.S. efforts to have the Islamic republic referred to the Council. "There is no reason to send the issue to the Security Council," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said at a press conference here with his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi.

"It would only make the issue more complicated and difficult to work out," Li said. The Chinese foreign minister refused to speculate on whether China would use its veto in the Security Council in the event of Iran's case being sent there.

"Iranian scientists have managed to internalize nuclear technology in a way that is not irrevocable and the international community should accept it," said Iran's Atomic Energy Organization chief, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, in an interview.

At the same time Aghazadeh is flexible in his own view: "We are not saying we are refusing offers to provide us with nuclear fuel, but we want also to produce our own nuclear fuel as well as buy what we lack from outside."

But U.S. pressure on Iran has already attracted criticism from former White House officials.

In an interview with the London-based Financial Times, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security adviser to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, said he feared a second Bush administration would not hesitate to use force against Iran in order to deal what it sees as a "nuclear threat."

"Force will only unify the mullahs with the democratic opposition and derail political change in Iran," Brzezinski told the daily. "It may not stop Iran from buying nuclear weapons and will have adverse consequences in Iraq and Afghanistan."

(Inter Press Service)

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Saloumeh Peyman writes for Inter Press Service.

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