The Persian Abyss
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Wednesday, October 21, that he had given Iran, France, Russia and the United States a draft text of a deal for approval by this Friday to help allay concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program. Various diplomatic sources have been quoted off-the-record as saying that ElBaradei’s draft required Iran to send some 75% of its enriched uranium reserve abroad before the end of this year for conversion into fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes. Iran’s representatives to the negotiations did not indicate if their government would sign-off on the proposal.
However, the day before Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran’s Foreign Minister, stated that his country would never abandon its “legal and obvious” right to nuclear technology and would not halt uranium enrichment. “The meetings with world powers and their behavior shows that Iran’s right to have peaceful nuclear technology has been accepted by them … Iran will never abandon its legal and obvious right,” Manouchehr Mottaki said. Whether Mottaki’s statement is part of Iran’s bargaining strategy – a kind of Good Cop / Bad Cop strategy – or reveals a deepening rift within the regime is a matter of spirited debate among Western analysts.
Iran’s stance vis-à-vis Western demands has moved incrementally over the last several months. Earlier this year the Iranian position was that there was nothing to negotiate. However, with increasing Western pressure – and the ongoing saber rattling in Israel – the Teheran regime’s position has softened somewhat. In early August, it became willing to “negotiate,” with the precondition that it would not accept any limitations on it nuclear programs.
There was the revelation in late-September that Iran had built a second clandestine uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qom. Catching the Iranians red-handed for the third time really didn’t surprise anyone in Washington, London, Paris, Moscow or Peking. One suspects that the Iranians were simply thrilled to have gotten away with as much subterfuge as they had for so long. It was just another episode in the game of nuclear cat-and-mouse.
Iran won a reprieve from harsher UN sanctions by agreeing on October 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing. That inspection is supposed to take place towards the end of this month. One school of thought is that the Iranians know they must allow this inspection to take place or another round of sanctions will be enacted, a much harsher round than the previous three.
This line of thinking theorizes that the Iranians know what the IAEA inspectors will find. The inspectors’ report will report that the Qom site violates past agreements, and the report will serve as a trigger for more sanctions. By agreeing to a deal now, Iran hopes to muffle the West’s response to the report, and then use stalling tactics to modify the terms of any deal that is reached.
Another school of thought states that the Iranian leadership is divided. The demonstrations and riots that followed the presidential elections in June shook the regime. Sanctions would be significant and further weaken the regime. Some also point to recent terrorist acts within Iran as proof that the regime is faltering. However, these analysts are for the most part the same ones that eschew military action in favor of diplomatic actions.
The truth of the matter is that the regime in Teheran has a tight grip on all the levers of power in the country.
- While the demonstrations and riots were indeed an embarrassment, they were crushed in short order.
- The economy has been in poor shape for many years; it is unlikely that any additional erosion is likely to cause a mass uprising, especially with the lessons of June-July fresh in the public memory.
- Finally, the Teheran regime has lived with a small level of violent resistance for its entire 30 years in power.
It fears an Israeli/Western military strike far more than it does a few hundred guerrilla fighters in far-off Baluchistan province. By Friday morning, the Iranians were already backing away from the proposal.
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