Iran Countdown to Showdown?
Iran has removed the seals from its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and begun operations as IAEA inspectors could do nothing more than watch the Iranians do it. The war of words over Iranian Nuclear Development has heated up and taken a decided turn towards conflict as a direct result, yet there still remains measurable ambiguity beneath the surface. The EU3 have nonetheless responded with more vigor than previously seen throughout the crisis, yet the United States remains hamstrung by unclear positions offered by other players internationally (primarily Russia and China) in its efforts to bring Iran successfully before the United Nations Security Council.
The EU-3 have finally come to the conclusion that there can be no more talks without “a guarantee from Iran that it will not conduct any activities related to (uranium) enrichment.” This obvious, and long overdue, stance effectively means the end of talks, as Iran has maintained its ‘right’ to enrich uranium throughout the entire process.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad weighed in, clinging to the ‘peaceful’ nature of the Iranian program by stating, ”I am telling all the powers that the Iranian nation and government, with firmness and wisdom, will continue its path in seeking and utilizing peaceful nuclear energy.”
In a rare moment of international diplomatic clarity, Britain’s Tony Blair said bluntly, “I do not think there is any point in people, or us, hiding our deep dismay at what Iran has decided to do.”
This is where the clarity ends. Prime Minister Blair then muddied the unusually clear waters by following that statement by saying that it was “time to decide” whether or not it was time to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. That decision should have already been made and made as clearly as his initial comment. Unless it is being made with a need for a guaranteed result from all members.
China is reportedly supporting the West on the Iranian Nuclear Development issue as well. Wu Bangguo, chairman of China’s NPC said to US congressmen that China “agreed that they (Iran) should not have nuclear weapons, and agreed to working with the United States and especially the EU3.” However, closer examination of their customarily nuanced and incomplete statement leaves it largely empty. Note that his statement did not address uranium enrichment, leaving the Chinese room to wiggle with the Iranian regime. With uranium enrichment, the necessary precursor to fissile weapons-grade material, nuclear weapons production in Iran is a certainty. To not oppose Iranian enrichment expressly is to either be naïve, which the Chinese certainly are not, or be either indifferent or supportive to the Iranian aims. Counter to the view of Congressman Mark Kirk that ‘China offers to help rein in Iran’, China offers nuance at best and, potentially, duplicity in its statement.
Duplicity is a strong word. But consider this report from Iran’s state-run press arm, the Islamic Republic News Agency(IRNA):
China’s Deputy Foreign Minister for International Affairs Zhang Ye Sui said here Monday Iran had the right to pursue nuclear technology.
During a meeting with Iranian enovy [sic] Mehdi Safari, he said China believed the Iran nuclear issue should be resolved within the framework of the IAEA and was opposed to having it referred to the UN Security Council.
Russia is offering support slightly more substantive than China by offering Iran enrichment on Russian soil. But this alternative was fully expected to be rejected, which it was, and offered Russia the opportunity to be seen as supportive to the West while still protecting its current and future lucrative nuclear contracts within Iran. In a statement earlier today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated, “The general feeling, in the light of continuing issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program, was disappointment over Tehran’s decision to abandon the moratorium and restart research in the sphere of uranium-enrichment.” This falls short of condemnation and offers little to evidence of reliable support going forward.
The United States has offered the most direct response, as White House Spokesman Scott McClellan said that if Iran “fails to abide by its international obligations there is no other choice but to refer the matter to the Security Council.”
Iran is expected to abide by IAEA agreements and IAEA directives. The wording of this White House statement is an important detail, as Kenneth Timmerman reports on a ‘confidential’ urgent report given to the IAEA Board of Governors regarding the events surrounding the breaking of the IAEA seals at Natanz. Timmerman cites his sources, stating that, in this report, the IAEA officials refused to open the seals. The Iranian nuclear team then broke the seals themselves as the IAEA inspectors looked on powerlessly. This is a critical detail openly displaying IAEA directive and Iranian defiance. The report also said that, counter to Iranian public claims, uranium hexafluoride (UF6: processed uranium ready for enrichment) was being poured into the cascaded centrifuges. If Timmerman’s sources are correct, this should weigh heavily. Further, if this urgent report was indeed delivered to the Board of Governors and an immediate IAEA call for referral does not materialize, the international community should re-think the manner in which it relies upon the body.
The current news cycle is replete with stern sound-bites that make for magnetic headlines. However, looking beyond the highlighted text displays a world still largely reluctant to act or even take a clear and unambiguous stand. Meanwhile, time continues to slip by and Iran continues to draw nearer to becoming capable of producing their own nuclear weapons.