TEHRAN - By allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) to visit and verify its nuclear program this week, Iran has indicated
its readiness to work with the United Nations watchdog, while continuing to
limit the role of the Western powers.
Ali Larijani, Iran's topmost security official, told the state-run Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA) on Sunday that the country considered the IAEA as
the pivot for talks on nuclear energy and stressed the importance of cooperation
with the Vienna-based, United Nations body.
But Larijani, who is also chief negotiator at the IAEA, added that Iran also
welcomed the contribution of all countries in nuclear research and peaceful
nuclear activities. "We have announced this time and again and are now
stressing it," IRNA quoted him as saying.
On the weekend, Tehran announced the expected arrival on Monday of a two-man
IAEA team and indicated Iranian determination to work with the agency to verify
that its national nuclear program was not military in nature.
The visit, officials said, is in keeping with the additional protocol signed
by Iran to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003, providing "objective
guarantee" that its nuclear program will not deviate from civilian use.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, during a rare press conference in the capital
on Saturday, that Iran's program conformed to the IAEA requirements and the
NPT better than those of Western countries. "Cameras, installed by IAEA,
are present at all Iranian nuclear sites, although the Western countries do
not allow the UN to monitor their own nuclear programs."
On Friday, Ayatollah Jannati, secretary of the Guardian Council of the Constitution,
set out Iran's determination to assert its "inalienable" rights. "We
appreciate President Ahmadinejad because he is following a more aggressive foreign
policy on human rights and nuclear issues than the former governments of Khatami
"President Ahmadinejad is asking "why only you [Western powers] should
send inspectors for human rights or nuclear issues to Iran we also want
to inspect you and report on your activities," Jannati said, after Friday
Ahmad Ziadabadi , who was imprisoned during the Khatami presidency and now
works as a political analyst on Middle East affairs in London, told IPS over
the phone: "Iranian officials will likely go on provoking a collision with
the United States and the European troika ( Britain, France and Germany) until
the dossier ends up in United Nations Security Council [UNSC]."
Despite moves by the EU3 to refer Iran's resumption of nuclear fuel research
to the UNSC, the mood within the country's top leadership remains upbeat, and
the general belief was that it would be possible to ride out international sanctions
if it comes to that.
"Taking into account the current context, the possibility of Iran's case
being sent to the security council is weak," Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr
Mottaki said on Wednesday.
A draft referral is expected to be put up at an emergency meeting of the IAEA's
35-nation board early February for a final decision on a referral.
"We are not worried by the Security Council, but it is the wrong method,"
foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters here at a routine
Sunday briefing. "An emergency meeting of the board of governors of the IAEA
is a political act."
Importantly, the veto-holding powers China and Russia, which have major economic
stakes in Iran, have opposed imposing sanctions on Iran which is one
reason for the optimistic outlook among the country's top leadership.
Asefi refuted suggestions by EU representative for foreign policy and security
Javier Solana that Russia had changed its stance on Iran. "The Russians
believe that the nuclear issue should be resolved within the framework of the
IAEA, and Solana's remarks are in conflict with Russia's supervision over Iran's
nuclear activities," he said.
While China is a major buyer of Iranian crude (13 percent of total imports
comes is from Iran), Russia is building an $800 million nuclear power plant
at Bushehr, has a $700 million contract to supply Iran with anti-aircraft missile
systems, and is a potential partner in the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas
pipeline worth $7 billion.
Iran has warned that a referral to the UNSC would invite a limiting of the
access given to inspectors from the IAEA to its nuclear facilities and also
that the country may then begin full-scale uranium enrichment.
Besides, the possibility of a referral to the UNSC, with uncertain results
has already worried oil markets since either an embargo or a decision by Iran
that stops the country's daily crude oil supplies of 2.4 billion barrels could
make sharply escalate prices.
State-run print and electronic media last week echoed the taunting approach
of officialdom designed to give the impression that, as one publication said,
"The West does not dare to put Iran under any oil-export sanction, let
alone carry out military attacks."
Newspapers have quoted the spokesman of the Iranian foreign ministry, Hamid-Reza
Asefi, as saying, "We have well considered the probability of the sanctions,
and we are fully ready to cope with it."
But there were also notes of caution. Kamal Athari, a journalist and political
activist, said in an editorial in the daily Sarmayeh on Jan. 16 that
"challenging America through military and economic leverages is not wrong
tactics the erroneous strategy is in relying only on those tactics. Iran
should engage international organizations (such as the IAEA) and empower the
Islamic republic through democratization and justice in Iranian society."
This week, the Iranian establishment seems keen to heed Atahari's advice, at
least on engaging the IAEA and carrying on diplomatic lobbying, especially with
the nonaligned countries.
Alongside the baiting continues. Bragged Ahmadinejad: "They [EU troika]
talk tough against Iran's nuclear stance in front of TV cameras, but behind
the negotiation table, they flatter and beg us to compromise."
Abulhasan G., a media adviser for several privately owned multinational companies,
told IPS: "They [Iranian ruling establishment] are following a two-steps-forward,
one-step-backward policy. They speak and act tough only up to a point, but as
soon as things get critical they go back to speaking softly."
Accordingly, while Tehran has called for resumed talks with the European troika,
its representative at the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, has declared as "irreversible"
the decision to resume nuclear fuel research.
Amir Asalanian, a college lecturer, agreed with the analysis. "Two steps
forward was the president's press conference and resuming nuclear research activities,
and one step backward is the official statement of readiness to negotiate with
the EU troika and readiness to cooperate with IAEA inspectors."
"It seems there is a division of labor among Iranian officials: some are
assigned to speak tough and some to speak softly. But, on the whole, the nuclear
policy has consistency and is aimed at eventually indigenizing the nuclear fuel
cycle that is the bottom line," Abulhasan said.
(Inter Press Service)