Iran raises nuclear stakes

Iran has yet again raised the stakes in its long stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme and the risk of being referred to the United Nations Security Council, but this time the hardline regime does not appear to be bluffing.

The Islamic republic’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, vowed on Tuesday to respond to being hauled to New York by limiting UN inspections and resuming ultra-sensitive uranium enrichment work.

He even warned that Iran might be forced to quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Tehran argues should give it the right to pursue its drive to make fuel for atomic power stations.

The United States and European Union, however, want Iran to abandon fuel work altogether as an “objective guarantee” it will not divert such technology to make nuclear arms. Iran has rejected this, despite an offer of trade, technology and security incentives.

While Iran has been engaged in frequent brinksmanship over the nuclear issue in the past two years, Larijani’s warnings were the most explicit yet and outlined a clear roadmap of Iranian retaliation if it is referred to the Security Council.

He said that “if our dossier is sent to the Security Council, we will cease the application of the additional protocol”—a clause to the NPT signed but not ratified by Iran that gives reinforced inspection powers to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Concerning the NPT, it depends how they will send our case to the Security Council,” he said, adding that Tehran also would base its business dealings with individual countries—especially in the oil sector—on whose side they took in the dispute.

Britain, France and Germany—who have been negotiating with Iran for two years—are lobbying IAEA members to refer Iran to the Security Council over what they argue are “breaches” of international atomic safeguards.

They took the step after Iran ended a full suspension of fuel cycle work last month and resumed uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment.

The so-called EU-3 have also rejected a proposal by Iran’s new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, outlined in a fiery speech to the UN General Assembly on Saturday, for Iran to keep enrichment technology but allow foreign public and private sector involvement as an additional form of supervision.

“The very hard reaction of the three Europeans to the president’s initiative has convinced us that there is very little future in the negotiations,” Ali Agha Mohammadi, a national security spokesman, told AFP.

“By giving this press conference, we wanted to tell the Europeans that the situation has changed with the arrival of the new government and that they should not make a strategic error,” he said, adding that leaving the NPT altogether was indeed “part of the scenarios we have examined”.

“We are at a moment of truth,” he said.

Few analysts doubt the seriousness of Larijani, a hardliner close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, nor of a string of other officials who have spoken out on the issue.

Hammering his position home, Larijani accused the Europeans of “trying to humiliate the Iranians” and compared Iran’s quest for nuclear fuel to the struggle to nationalise its oil industry from British control in the 1950s.

Such comments draw on the view of many ordinary Iranians that their country’s nuclear programme is a question of national pride.

“The regime does not appear to be bluffing this time,” judged one Tehran-based Western diplomat.

“The hardliners are in charge here, the Americans are bogged down in Iraq, oil prices are sky high.
So the regime is in a strong position to weather any crisis and the consequences of carrying on regardless. It’s that simple.” - Sapa-AFP

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