Iran nuclear talks 'headed for failure'

Sensitive diplomatic talks over Iran’s nuclear programme appear doomed to failure, a leading think-tank said on Tuesday on the eve of crucial negotiations between European foreign ministers and Iranian officials in Geneva.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany hope to persuade Tehran to scrap its uranium-enrichment programme, which the European Union and the United States fear is being used to develop atomic weapons.

The International Institute of Strategic Studies warned that a nuclear Iranian state could destabilise the region, and a diplomatic solution seemed unlikely. Nuclear capability is one issue that has united much of Iran.

“Prospects that the current negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran will produce a lasting resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue are not encouraging,” said institute director John Chipman, referring to the three European countries in talks with Iran.

“The EU-3-Iran talks seem headed for inevitable failure, whether before or after the Iranian elections in June,” he added in launching the report from London.

The London-based institute is an independent think-tank and describes itself as the world’s leading authority on political and military conflicts.

Britain, France and Germany, acting on behalf of the 25-nation EU, want Tehran to abandon its enrichment activities in exchange for economic aid, technical support and backing for Iran’s efforts to join mainstream international organisations.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme—kept secret for two decades—is only for peaceful energy purposes and is reserving the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to restart uranium-enrichment activities, which it froze in November. The off-on talks, which began last year, have failed to find common ground.

Gary Samore, the institute’s director of studies, said a breakthrough is unlikely because of Iran’s “long-standing interest in developing a nuclear weapons capability”.

“Certainly for the past 20 years the current government in Iran has been pursuing clandestinely efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability,” Samore said. “I think that reflects a sense in Iran that having a nuclear weapons option is important not only for defence, but also as an expression of what they see as their country’s natural dominance in the region.”

Chipman said that even if Iran resumes its activities, the country will still be “several years away” from being capable of making nuclear weapons.

He said the clerical regime may continue with the diplomatic process to avoid being referred to the United Nations Security Council, “while it slowly accumulates stocks of nuclear material and enrichment capability for a quick break-out option”.

“The best hope is that during this drawn-out period, diplomatic efforts continue, even if the current EU-3 effort collapses,” he added.

Samore, who was a special assistant to former US president Bill Clinton and a senior director for non-proliferation and export controls at the National Security Council from 1996 to 2000, said that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then the country may try to assert itself politically in the region, “especially over some of the smaller states of the Gulf that are quite vulnerable”.

It could also prompt Iran’s neighbours to reach out to countries such as the US for protection, “in order to balance what they see as a stronger, nuclear-armed Iran”.

“It could put more pressure on other countries in the region to pursue their own nuclear weapons programmes,” Samore added. “It’s possible that over the long term you could see further proliferation in the region and that would have a lot of consequences for regional security and regional stability.”—Sapa-AP

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