The Times: Iran has achieved, yet again, what it wants: paralysis of the international wrangling over its nuclear programme while avoiding outright confrontation with the US or Europe. It may not be able to escape another round of United Nations sanctions before the US presidential elections in November.
Bronwen Maddox: Chief Foreign Commentator
Iran has achieved, yet again, what it wants: paralysis of the international wrangling over its nuclear programme while avoiding outright confrontation with the US or Europe. It may not be able to escape another round of United Nations sanctions before the US presidential elections in November.
Nor can its leaders be relaxed about the recovery of John McCain in the opinion polls, given that the Republican candidate has taken a more belligerent line. The possibility of military action by Israel, while small, still hovers. Its tactics of trying to keep the thermostat on the dispute steady, by issuing equal amounts of provocation and conciliation, may have bought it the time it wants, however.
The weekend marked the end of the two-week period of reflection given to Iran by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany. In their complicated offer Iran would be given a package of economic and technical rewards, including help with nuclear power, if it agreed to suspend the enrichment of uranium. That is the most controversial aspect of its nuclear programme, which was exposed by dissidents six years ago. Enrichment can make fuel for reactors – which Iran says is its only intention – but it can also make fissile material for warheads, which many governments suspect is its aim.
Contained within that offer was a micro-deal – the so-called freeze-for-freeze pact – in which Iran would keep its enrichment at present levels and the Security Council, as well as the six countries acting on their own, would not increase sanctions.
The first response from Iran was a letter, in which it reasserted its right (as a signatory of the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty) to make nuclear fuel. Then there was a phone call in which its officials indicated that this was not a rejection, just a holding pattern.
And now? A pair of responses, one positive, one negative, but amounting to a refusal to budge. On the antagonistic side Hassan Qashqavi, the Foreign Minister, delivered a now routine blast declaring that Iran would not give up what it calls its “inalienable rights” to produce its own fuel. The NonProliferation Treaty does give countries that right if they agree not to produce weapons, but the right is far from inalienable if they do not reassure inspectors about their aims.
On the warmer side Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator, talked at length yesterday with Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, at least keeping the semblance of dialogue if not offering any deal on the freeze.
It is back to more sanctions then, and so back to a careful exploration of what Russia and China might support. Western officials indicate that the past three layers of UN sanctions against Iran have taken both countries more or less to their limit. Neither will support, for example, sanctions on the oil industry, either on Iranian exports, or on the petrol it needs to import. Western officials said that while Russia really does not want Iran to get a bomb, it really does not want the US or Israel to mount a military attack and believes that keeping talks going is the way to do that.
So there will be more sanctions, probably, on more Iranian banks, in the hope that this stirs up debate in Iran about the cost of the nuclear tactics. A breakthrough may come only with a radical new element, such as a US offer to talk directly and widely to Tehran, and that cannot come before November.