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Iran Rattling Diplomatic Sabers

Iran has threatened to end IAEA snap inspections of its nuclear facilities as provided by the Additional Protocol agreement, signed after the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In response to the growing clamor to have Iran referred to the United Nations Security Council, it has renewed the threat and grown increasingly belligerent in the face of international pressure to cease uranium enrichment work restarted at the underground Natanz facility. The value of having such IAEA inspection measures in place must be questioned in the shadow of recent events, as Iran defied IAEA observers by opening the Natanz IAEA seals themselves when the IAEA officials would not.

Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s Foreign Minister just back from a two day visit to Kazakhstan, said to the state-run Iranian media arm, IRNA, “In case Iran is referred to the UN security council … the government will be obliged to end all of its voluntary cooperation.” This diplomatic saber rattling is not a new threat, as the Iranian Mejlis (parliament) passed such measures in November and Ahmadinejad signed it into law on December 12, 2005.

Nonetheless, after yesterday’s seemingly unified and determined international response, some in Europe have renewed the quest for ambiguity and diplomatic doublespeak, potentially deconstructing the gains made possible only through unified and confident stands briefly on display Thursday.

An unnamed diplomat seemed to confirm that Russia would not block any referral to the UN Security Council, saying, “Whether or not Rice has got that promise, I think it’s politically impossible for the Russians to block a transfer (of the Iranian nuclear dossier) from the IAEA to the Security Council. Whether, when it comes to the resolution, they will vote in favor or abstain doesn’t really matter.”

China has said that it is ‘on the same page’ as Russia. However, what remains to be seen is if Russia or China would veto any sanction vote once the Iranian dossier was successfully handed from the IAEA to the Security Council. All that has been said is that Russia and (rather indirectly) China would not block a referral. Neither has said anything regarding how each would act once the Security Council convenes. This may explain the sudden hedging emerging from an EU that seemed so unified and confident yesterday, as French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said, “We, like our partners, like the British and the Germans, consider that this co-request for sanctions is premature for the moment.”

It is time to press the issue and have nations put their cards on the table. If Russia and/or China are going to block sanctions on Iran, it is time for the world to force the issue and have them make such a stand openly on the world stage. Short of that, all that is accomplished is the extension of the Iranian nuclear clock while the world guesses and wonders, and the IAEA inspectors continue their symbolic but ineffectual presence. The EU would be well advised to stand firm and stand united, matching Iran’s will with equal European will.

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