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Iran Decries US Gulf Proliferation Exercises

In April 2006, Iran conducted a very public show of force with their much publicized ‘Great Prophet Exercises’ in the Persian Gulf which included press conferences on their latest proclaimed advances, such as stealth aircraft and MIRV warheads. Six months later in the waters of the Persian Gulf, as the United Nations Security Council expects to meet and debate potential Iran sanctions, the United States and Persian Gulf Arab states are quietly conducting training exercises related to maritime non-proliferation cargo inspections. The exercises are part of the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). The counter-proliferation exercises by American, Bahraini and Kuwaiti forces are planned to begin Sunday, October 29.

Iran yesterday denounced the coming PSI exercises as “dangerous and suspicious,” and warned regional Arab states against taking part in “any initiative which could help the Zionists and the United States.”

The harsh Iranian criticism - and veiled threats to cooperating regional Arab states - come as the United States seeks to enact sanctions on Iran similar to those imposed on North Korea. Even still, the draft proposal of sanctions for eventual UNSC consideration is said to have been watered down in order to entice Russia and China to support some form of sanctions against the Islamic Republic for its clandestine nuclear program.

The draft proposal in its current form seeks to ban the sale of nuclear and missile technology to Iran, deny foreign travel of Iranian officials involved in their nuclear and missile programs, and deny the nuclear assistance currently provided by the IAEA. One of the diplomats familiar with the proposal “described all three measures as moderate and narrowly focused in an attempt to win Russian and Chinese backing to punish Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.”

As the IAEA has presided over the emergence of nuclear arms in Pakistan, India and North Korea, it has been criticized as being ineffectual in its non-proliferation efforts. It was an extra-UN cooperation organization, the Proliferation Security Initiative, that brought down the world’s chief nuclear technology proliferation network, that of Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. It is this organization of concerned states, operating free of the weighty bureaucratic oversight of the United Nations, that has been given the green light to conduct counter-proliferation cargo inspections on North Korean cargo by the UN Security Council, though not without reservations.

As the Security Council barters amongst its members in preparations for formal debate on sanctions, Iran’s second centrifuge cascade is ready to be fed with uranium gas for enrichment and Russia’s construction of Iran’s Bushehr light water nuclear reactor continues, though Russia said that the Bushehr plant’s launch will be delayed for technical reasons. Russia now expects the plant to come online in September 2007. The United States objects to the Russian construction while Iran’s nuclear program is under Security Council scrutiny and, potentially, sanctions.