At the UN, Iran's president challenges the sway of Western powers on the issue.
By Scott Peterson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor from the September 19, 2005 edition - http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0919/p01s03-wome.html
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - Iran has hardened its determination to pursue its controversial nuclear program, brushing aside US and European threats of censure while trying to create a new diplomatic framework for nonproliferation.
Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared at the U.N. Saturday that nuclear power was an "inalienable right" for Iran and accused the West of practicing "nuclear apartheid" by depriving it of nuclear know-how.
Iran has increasingly seized the offensive in the standoff over its nuclear efforts. And it appears to be gaining ground as it casts its clash with the West as a spearhead for ending big-power dominance.
"It is, of course, an issue of proliferation, but really it is about the nature of the [Iranian] regime, its politics, and its ambitions," says Shahram Chubin, head of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.
The dispute masks a power play "on both sides," between Iran and the US, says Mr. Chubin, who runs an annual arms control course for diplomats working on the Middle East. "It's a question of who is going to dominate the regional order."
In his address, President Ahmedinejad accused the US of trying to divide the world into "light and dark countries." The US was failing to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) itself, he charged, with a doctrine that includes preemptive strikes and developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. And Ahmadinejad laid down a defiant marker.
"If some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue," the populist Iranian president said.
Within days of Ahmadinejad being sworn in as Iran's new president in August, Iran resumed its nuclear enrichment activities. Those had been voluntarily suspended for much of the past two years during talks with the EU3.
"The US only takes countries seriously that have reached a certain degree of technological and economic power (hence the cooperation with India)," says Bijan Khajehpour, an analyst and chairman of the Atieh Group of companies in Tehran. "This fact certainly motivates Iran to become ... more powerful."
Washington alleges that Iran's program is a cover for making atomic bombs, an accusation the Iranian president dismissed as a "pure propaganda ploy."
But intense lobbying to censure Iran by the US and Great Britain, France and Germany - the EU3 - appear to have failed.
Iran is due to face tough questions in Vienna Monday, when the board of the UN's nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets. UN inspections in Iran have turned up no evidence of a clandestine weapons program, but the latest report, earlier this month, said the IAEA could not rule it out.
Still, US and EU3 plans to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for reporting violations and possible sanctions have unraveled, as Russia, China, India and others voiced opposition, despite direct appeals to leaders, in some cases, from President George Bush.
To dispel fears of Iran's nuclear intentions, Mr. Ahmadinejad spelled out acceptance of broader oversight, suggesting the involvement of third countries such as South Africa, or even private companies working with Iranian scientists. He also appeared to indicate that Iran was constrained by Islam in developing weapons. "[I]n accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons in prohibited," he said.
But that did not convince Western doubters. A State Department official told reporters that the address was a "very aggressive speech, which would seem to cross the EU3 red line."
A British official called the speech "unhelpful," and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said that referring Iran to the Security Council "remains on the agenda."
Iran bid for more support from nonaligned countries - and sought to counter the US push to isolate the Islamic Republic - when Ahmadinejad promised to share its nuclear knowledge with other Muslim countries.
"We believe that atomic energy is a blessing given by God; it is an opportunity given to all nations," the staunchly conservative leader said.
"Ironically, those who have actually used nuclear weapons, continue to produce, stockpile and extensively test such weapons ... [and] are not only refusing to remedy their past deeds, but in clear breach of the NPT, are trying to prevent other countries from acquiring the technology to produce peaceful nuclear energy."
The offer to share nuclear technology has "changed the dynamics," says Mr. Khajehpour, because "some Western players now see more reason to stop Iran's efforts to enrich uranium."
But the offer was likely "targeted at Iran's neighbors to give them assurances that Iran is not planning to deprive the region of nuclear technology."
Still, the offer has set off alarm bells in Western capitals. "That's red meat for anyone concerned with nonproliferation and security threats," and may prove to be "another bargaining chip to give away," says Natalie Goldring, at the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington.
But the inability of the US and EU to muster sufficient votes at the IAEA or Security Council to sanction Iran, for a combination of reasons, points toward a shifting nonproliferation framework.
"The US has very little leverage with potential proliferators," says Ms. Goldring. "When headlines in the US talk of preemptive attacks on countries without nuclear weapons, and that [the US] will improve its tactical nuclear arsenal, our leverage is zero or negative."
"We've given the message to Iran that we will not do a whole lot to stand in their way," says Goldring, noting that India and Pakistan, after detonating secret nuclear devices in 1998, survived sanctions and are now being courted by the US. "If I were in Iran, I would see a US tied down in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Mississippi, so Iran has some freedom of movement now."
The dispute has resulted in a diplomatic tug-of-war between the US and Iran.
Washington sought to enlist the support of India, China, and Russia's President Vladimir Putin. But all three urged caution - Mr. Putin, while standing beside Mr. Bush at the White House Friday.
In Tehran, says Chubin, "they talk about the rising East, the rising Asia - this is the old multipolarity: 'If we get Iran tied to Russia, China, and India, then the US would not be able to do anything.'"
"And the Russians almost say the same thing," adds Chubin, who visited Moscow earlier this month. "They do it politely, but they are constantly complaining about US influence.... The Russians are not going to annoy the Americans by supporting Iran, but they are not going to make it easy for them, either."
In the wake of the tragedy, grief, and shame of Katrina, on top of the tragedy, grief, and shame of Iraq, we tend to look for some silver linings.
What we usually get in such cases are demagogues.
Iran seems to have one now (story below). This new guy (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) almost makes Pat Robertson look like a diplomat. The US and the ‘European 3’ may think they are going to “isolate Iran,” but I think Iran may be doing the real isolating. I suspect Ahmadinejad lined up the Russians and Chinese before he slapped around the rest at the UN. Such are the ways of demagogues.
Louisiana got a demagogue after the 1927 Flood in Huey Long. Fortunately, the USA got FDR, but he had plenty of demagogy, domestic and foreign, to keep him busy.
Watch out, folks.
This is shaping up as prime time for the politically adroit, who know how to solve all the problems by scape-goating others and pushing our basest buttons. The guys that make the solutions look easy when the problems seem too complex to contemplate.
That the US media re-discovered race, poverty, and injustice “right here in River City” (and coast to coast), is not necessarily an unalloyed good thing. Those subjects are easily hijacked by the politically adroit, as lots of columnists are reminding us as they discuss the origins of “The Southern Strategy.” [“I’m not a racist, but I pander to them on TV.”] The media’s conservatives vs. liberals boxing contest format offers a perfect venue to hijack this environment and move it to the wholly dangerous level of true believers.
Let’s keep an eye out for the recognizable signs from the 1920s and 1930s while we work though the stages of grief.
Iran's President Does What U.S. Diplomacy Could Not
U.N. Speech Raises Doubts About Nuclear Program
By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 19, 2005; A12
NEW YORK, Sept. 18 -- Five weeks ago, Iran's new president bought his country some time. Facing mounting criticism after walking away from negotiations with Europe and restarting part of Iran's nuclear program, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked the world to withhold diplomatic pressure while he put together new proposals.
On Saturday, dozens of international diplomats, including the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, gathered at the United Nations to hear how Ahmadinejad planned to stave off a crisis.
Instead his speech, followed by a confused hour-long news conference, was able to do what weeks of high-level U.S. diplomacy had not: convince skeptical allies that Iran may, in fact, use its nuclear energy program to build atomic bombs.
Ahmadinejad appeared to threaten as much when he warned from the General Assembly podium that in the face of U.S. provocation, "we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue."
Senior European diplomats said immediately afterward that the speech had been "unhelpful." In fact, the opposite may be true.
"The effect of that speech will likely be a toughening of the international response to Iran because it was seen by so many countries as overly harsh, negative and uncompromising," Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said in an interview Sunday. "The strategic aim of a great many countries is to see Iran suspend its nuclear program and return to peaceful negotiations with the Europeans."
A European diplomat, who could discuss strategy only on the condition of anonymity, echoed Burns's remarks.
"There's no question this will make our case stronger and our task easier," when board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency meet Monday in Vienna to discuss Iran's case.
During his 25 minutes Saturday, Ahmadinejad delivered what began as a sermon praising the prophets of Islam, Christianity and Judaism and then descended into anti-American vitriol, conspiracy theories and threats.
He expressed doubt that the deadly attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, were really carried out by terrorists. He said Americans had brought the devastation of Hurricane Katrina upon themselves and that the U.S. military was purposely poisoning its own troops in Iraq.
There were quotes from the Koran, angry finger pointing and attacks on Israel interlaced with talk of justice and tranquility. There was a staunch defense of Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy, and to enrich uranium to fuel that program. There were no new proposals and little detail about old ones that were reoffered.
For much of last week, Iran had been the subject of endless backroom negotiations and public diplomacy, and at times, Tehran appeared to have the upper hand. But by the time the Iranian leader was headed for John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday night, U.S. and European officials were regaining confidence and putting together a new strategy designed to isolate Iran.
Burns met with British, German and French officials on Sunday in New York to discuss ways to bring around enough members of the IAEA board to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions.
The United States has long advocated such a strategy but still does not have the support of India, Russia or China, or a "next steps" policy if the matter does end up in the Security Council.
Diplomats who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the most likely outcome of the week-long meeting in Vienna would be a deadline resolution giving Iran several weeks to reverse course and demonstrate transparency with U.N. nuclear inspectors, or face the consequences of Security Council action.
Iran has consistently maintained that its program is designed to produce nuclear energy, not weapons. IAEA nuclear inspectors have not found any evidence of a weapons program but several serious questions about the scale, scope and history of the program remain unanswered and have fueled suspicion that Iran is concealing information.
Ahmadinejad's speech, his first major international address as a world leader, highlights a dramatic and conservative shift in foreign affairs for Iran under the new president's leadership. Several diplomats noted that his defiant comments were strikingly different in tone and substance from those delivered from the same podium three months ago by Kamal Kharrazi, who was Iran's foreign minister until Ahmadinejad was elected this summer.
Kharrazi, who addressed a conference on the future of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, spoke in English in an effort to reach an international audience, rather than in Persian, which is spoken almost exclusively in Iran. Although Kharrazi also defended Iran's program, which was built in secret over 18 years and exposed in 2002, he did so without threats.
That text, written by Iranian diplomats eager to see reform of political and religious life, won over countries unsure about Iran's intentions. Tehran declared victory shortly afterward when the IAEA board decided against reporting the country's nuclear program to the Security Council.
© 2005 The Washington Post Company