Nuclear storm

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The Times – Leading articles: All the ingredients are now in place for the perfect diplomatic storm: a new US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who has made no secret of his support for a much tougher, if not openly interventionist, American policy towards Iran; a new hardline Islamist President in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has promised to press ahead with Iran’s nuclear programme; and a group of frustrated European nations almost ready to abandon apparently pointless talks with Tehran. The Times

The United Nations must confront Iran over its weapons programme

Leading articles

All the ingredients are now in place for the perfect diplomatic storm: a new US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, who has made no secret of his support for a much tougher, if not openly interventionist, American policy towards Iran; a new hardline Islamist President in Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has promised to press ahead with Iran’s nuclear programme; and a group of frustrated European nations almost ready to abandon apparently pointless talks with Tehran.

Britain, France and Germany are preparing, yet again, a final package of incentives to be put forward at the weekend to persuade Iran to abandon its plan to resume limited nuclear fuel-cycle activities, suspended last November. Iran had defiantly announced that it would remove the seals on its nuclear installations yesterday, to coincide with the inauguration of President Ahmadinejad. But at the last moment it announced a delay of several days.

Such squalid haggling, more suited to peddling carpets in a souk, will deceive no one. The question remains: does Iran have any intention whatsoever of complying with its undertakings to the International Atomic Energy Agency? Or is it simply spinning diplomatic camouflage, protected by Russia and China, while it pursues the technology to produce nuclear weapons?

America is right to suspect that Tehran’s intentions are malign. It is nevertheless prepared, for just a little while longer, to indulge its European allies’ search for a deal. But it is hard to see the logic of compromise. Mr Bolton is among those who will argue forcefully that only international sanctions will curb Iran’s determination to intimidate its neighbours and upset global nuclear stability.

Iran’s striving for nuclear weapons is part of the resurgence of Persian nationalism, which is now as potent a force in driving policy in Tehran as its fervent espousal of radical Islam. Even Western-educated Iranian technocrats argue that only the possession of nuclear weapons will give Iran the leverage and status that it believes its long history, regional dominance and burgeoning population merit. And they point, naturally enough, to the disproportionate influence a bankrupt and starving North Korea has acquired by pursuing the nuclear option.

Iran’s obduracy has been powerfully reinforced by the election of a populist President, by a very wide margin, who cares little for outside opinion and whose bluntness, verging on bellicosity, goes down well with a population angered by the corruption of the clerical establishment.

Since his election President Ahmadinejad has made an effort to project an image of moderation, even gong so far as to declare yesterday that he will “plead for the suppression of all weapons of mass destruction” — an ambiguous phrase, not clarified by calls at his inauguration of “death to American, death to Israel”. Europe is contemplating an extraordinary array of inducements to Iran. None of these, it seems, will be enough to avert the coming storm.

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