There is little good news coming from the swirling Iranian nuclear crisis, as Iran is now pulling the UN IAEA seals from several of its nuclear facilities as it prepares to resume its program operations. The IAEA has ‘monitoring equipment’ in place, but that did not impede the North Koreans from achieving nuclear progress, including its claim of nuclear weapons.
IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei reiterated the tired, overused and now empty phrase that “the international community is losing patience with Iran.” If that is so, it doesn’t show much beyond interviews and press conferences. Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik offered up that this is “the wrong step in the wrong direction and is a cause of very serious concern.” The question that continues to confound observers of the EU3/ IAEA efforts is, ‘Have there been any steps by Iran in the right direction to allay concern?’ The EU3 have been obsessed with ‘talks about talks’ and the US has sat idly by while Iran has been consistently deferred from referral to the UN Security Council, with the possible exception of occasional strong American words, usually centered around anti-Semitic remarks by Ahmadinejad rather than the nuclear crisis itself.
For the EU’s part, The Observer revealed that a British company trucked a shipment of over a ton of zirconium silicate straight through Europe by truck, destined for Iran. What is astonishing is that the shipment successfully a.) left Britain in the first place, b.) was not stopped at the British, German or Romanian borders before being ‘sniffed’ and halted by Bulgarians on the Turkish border, and c.) was eventually allowed to proceed on to Iran, even after an investigation.
Zirconium is used to line control rods in a reactor to minimize corrosion during nuclear plant operation. Zirconium is extracted from the sand (silicate) and refined in order to do this. For this reason, zirconium silicate is a controlled substance at a certain purity. This shipment, after analysis, did not meet those controlled levels. But two issues arise from this, regardless. First, it was apparently not known that this activity was taking place to begin with. This is a problem. Second, due to this, the purity level was a mystery and would have proceeded to Iran unchallenged but for an alert shift of Bulgarian border security agents who monitored for radioactivity. This is also a problem.
Are the Iranians not ingenious and resourceful enough to extract and refine zirconium from silicate with 1.1% hafnium levels vice the controlled level material with just 0.05% hafnium? Why would the EU astonishingly allow it to pass through to Iran anyway, as if to challenge or dare them?
Furthermore, what other purpose could Iran possibly have for a truckload of somewhat radioactive sand shipped all the way from Britain? Surely they are not manufacturing windows or computer chips with such an exotic shipment from across the entire European continent.
In an article titled Iran’s “Let’s Roll” Beginning?, ‘Alan Peters’ suggests there is far more activity afoot at the hands of the Iranians. From the recent bulldozing of the border wall with Egypt by Palestinians being designed to supply Hezbollah, to recent Iranian tank, troop and naval movements as well as unusual communications, to the apparent leaking by Ahmadinejad that Iran already has Ukrainian nuclear weapons (a view long held by some observers), and internal political machinations, he suggests that Ahmadinejad is preparing to either exploit the void left by the post-Sharon vacuum in Israel or setting up countering capabilities should the US or Israel strike its facilities.
Meanwhile, the Russians have been in Tehran over the weekend to discuss moving Iranian enrichment processes to Russian soil. Or, according to Hossein Entezami, spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, maybe the Russian are only discussing moving some of Iran’s enrichment program to Russia. Said Entezami, “The two sides are going to discuss Russia’s proposal for joint uranium enrichment, the scale of this, and also enrichment on Iranian soil.” If this is the case, the Russian endeavor is a waste of time to be heaped upon the stacks of other endeavors by all actors involved thus far, including the EU3, the United States, the IAEA and the broader UN body.
US Secretary of State suggests that the United States has perhaps not been sitting idly by as Iran carts along its path to nuclear armaments, but rather giving it enough rope to hang itself. In stating that the US is now certain it has enough votes to clear UN Security Council muster, Dr. Condoleezza Rice sad flatly, “The Iranians are digging their own hole of isolation deeper and deeper.”
Iran also suggests that the US has not been sitting idly by. Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi, Iran’s Interior Minister, accused the US of being behind the kidnapping of nine Iranian border guards along the Pakistani border. He suggested that the US was colluding with, of all groups, al-Qaeda, in order to carry out the operation. In other level-headed Iranian concept shopping, the official state-run Islamic Republic News Agency offered wider audience to another paper’s preposterous editorial which stated that the United States and Britain are intentionally allowing terrorist bombings and carnage in order to prevent a unified government from taking hold in Iraq. The illogic of that assertion requires no expounding, but its presence in the official Iranian state media arm should be noted.
Perhaps ‘sitting idly by’ may have been what was necessary to bring along Russian and Chinese support or, at the least, abstention rather than a Security Council veto. One would certainly hope that to be the aim (and result), as it has been unspeakably frustrating to observe the process.
But if Alan Peters is even partly on target, finally gaining support (or non-obstruction) from members of the UN Security Council may be a simple matter of too little, too late.