In a single week, Tehran sent a long-awaited letter to the EU proposing a meeting with the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States), published provocative photos of Ahmadinejad overseeing the first Iranian-made fuel rod inserted into a reactor, boasted of a “new generation” of Iranian centrifuges for enriching uranium toward nuclear fuel, and confirmed the operation the new enrichment facility in Qom. Diplomatic duplicity at its worst.
The latest report from the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, released on Friday, revealed that Iran was indeed accelerating its nuclear enrichment — a key component necessary for building a nuclear weapon — and that the Iranians are acting in violation of mandatory UN Security Council resolutions that demand they suspend such enrichment and other reprocessing activities.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton are both “cautiously optimistic” about the desire for Iran to discuss its nuclear program in the wake of increasingly crippling international sanctions against the regime. However, the world needs to be especially tuned in to Iran’s longstanding dual strategy of projecting a diplomatic smokescreen while aggressively moving full speed ahead with its quest for nuclear weapons.
The fact that an IAEA team left Tehran last week without having obtained permission to visit a suspect military site should raise the world’s antennae even higher.
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 also took place in end of 2010 in Geneva and Istanbul but Tehran clearly was unwilling to engage in any serious negotiations or cooperation.
Such talks with the Iranians have gone on since 2003. In all this time, Iran has consistently failed to live up to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a party, and comply with UN Security Council Resolutions. It has consistently used stalling tactics in order to move forward. Unfortunately, the strategy has so far been successful, which is why the world finds itself pretty close to the critical point, where it will have to choose between either a nuclear Iran and the likely regional proliferation race it would spark — including possible proliferation to Mideast terror organizations — and a military strike.
Tehran’s letter to the EU comes in response to the significant sanctions initiated in recent months. On December 31 of last year, President Obama signed into law new sanctions, including some leveled at Iran’s Central Bank, in an effort to curtail Iran’s illegal nuclear program and oblige foreign companies to choose between doing business with Tehran or America. Iran reacted by immediately announcing that it had tested new missiles as part of its war game, while the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization proclaimed that its scientists “tested the first nuclear fuel rod produced from uranium ore deposits inside the country.”
Less than a month later the EU adopted additional sanctions banning imports of Iranian crude oil and petroleum products, as well as key equipment and technology. Furthermore, the EU froze the assets of the Iranian Central Bank within the EU and prohibited trade in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Iranian public bodies and its central bank.
Iranian politician Mohammad Ismail Kowsari, the deputy head of Iran’s committee on national security, said in response to the EU sanctions that the Strait of Hormuz “would definitely be closed if the sale of Iranian oil is violated in any way.” Closing the strait could severely impede the transportation of oil to the global market, but analysts doubt that Iran would be able to make good on the threat as it would significantly hurt its floundering economy.
This is by and large a repetition of the events from summer 2010. On July 26 of that year the EU passed legislation prohibiting investments in Iran’s oil and gas, in order to curb Iran’s refining capabilities. The following day, Ahmadinejad announced that Iran was ready to sit down for talks with the EU. The Iranian offer was predicated on a series of demands from Tehran. Without reaching an agreement or making any progress, the subsequent negotiations broke down in January 2011.
So while the Iranian tactic of buying time has not changed, the situation surrounding potential talks in 2012 is different. Iran’s sudden desire to restart negotiations should also be seen in light of the increased international pressure and its increasingly severe impact on the ability of the Islamic Republic to govern and trade.
Sanctions remain a viable way forward to deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions. As Defense Minister Ehud Barak put it, “We have to accelerate the pace of imposing sanctions and make them crippling and consequential”.
If the world powers decide to talk with Iran, they should bear in mind that there is little time left to stop Iran from going nuclear. In the past, Tehran’s charades and stalling games achieved their aim and derailed the negotiations. Let’s hope that this time we indeed won’t get fooled again.