Playing with fire

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The Washington Times: Iran, it seems, is playing with fire — and on two fronts. The first is the Islamic republic’s recent decision to pursue its nuclear ambitions despite being urged by the European Union and threatened by the United States not to restart its uranium conversion program.
The Washington Times

Commentary

By Claude Salhani

Iran, it seems, is playing with fire — and on two fronts. The first is the Islamic republic’s recent decision to pursue its nuclear ambitions despite being urged by the European Union and threatened by the United States not to restart its uranium conversion program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency called an emergency meeting in Vienna Tuesday to discuss Iran giving the cold shoulder to the international community and resuming work on its facility in Isfahan.

So far, Iran has been playing off the European Union 3 — Britain, Germany and France — against the United States. But speaking to CNN Tuesday, President Bush confirmed the United States and the EU were standing together in their opposition to Iran going nuclear.

If Iran continues to ignore international appeals and proceeds with its nuclear program, as it is expected to, the next recourse will be for the EU and the United States to bring the matter before the U.N. Security Council.

Meanwhile, Iran’s newly elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who might want to address the U.N. General Assembly next month, will likely be denied a U.S. visa. The U.S. State Department confirmed an earlier report by the Financial Times that it would not grant the Iranian president a visa to enter the United States.

The last time the United States refused a recognized world leader an entry visa to address the General Assembly in New York was in December 1988 when Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat was barred entry into the United States. The U.N. General Assembly had to scramble and temporarily relocate the session in Geneva.

In Mr. Ahmadinejad’s case, the United States is looking into allegations that he was one of the student leaders involved in taking U.S. diplomats hostage in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which overthrew the shah and installed an Islamic theocracy.

Iran has consistently denied that Mr. Ahmadinejad was a hostage-taker. European diplomats expressed concern at what would be an unprecedented decision to deny a visa to a head of state visiting the United Nations.

The Europeans voiced fears the visa refusal would also complicate efforts to keep Iran at the negotiating table, and to keep hopes of finding a diplomatic exit to the current morass.

In Washington, the German Embassy issued a statement saying Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was “very concerned by Iran’s course of action,” and by Iran’s preparation for the resumption of uranium conversion activities. “What matters now is to convince Iran — perhaps we can still accomplish it — that the Europeans’ proposal is reasonable,” Mr. Schroeder said in a wide-ranging interview with German public broadcaster ARD Sunday.

Mr. Schroeder warned the IAEA would have to be involved if Iran did not give in, and then possibly the Security Council, which could then raise the question of possible economic sanctions.

“That would not be good for either side. That is why I have to say very clearly, I am very concerned about the confrontational course which Iran seems to be taking, and from our side it is only possible to answer this by now involving the IAEA and, if necessary, the Security Council.”

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, warned of “disastrous consequences” if Iran acquired a bomb. Britain for its part called the move “damaging.” France said Iran’s resumption of nuclear work was “alarming.” The United States continued to claim it was a violation of the agreement.

As though the crisis over Iran’s nuclear issue was not enough, here comes potential fire No. 2.

Reports have been filtering out of Iraq in recent days that a number of explosives found in Iraq originated in Iran.

“There is evidence from independent sources that Iran is fueling the insurgency,” said Raymond Tanter, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, co-chair of the Iran Policy Committee, who served on the staff of the National Security Council from 1981-82. “The Middle East Media Research Institute reported in January that a former commander of an insurgent group, Army of Muhammad, said, ‘The truth is that Iran has played a significant role in supporting the Army of Muhammad and many factions of the resistance.'”

“As a result of Iran’s interference in Iraq, a huge roadside bomb killed 14 Marines . . . turned their 37-ton vehicle on its top, and blew it 40 feet down the road,” said Mr. Tanter. This was confirmed to United Press International last week by a high-ranking European intelligence officer.

“States like Iran raise the level of violence in Iraq by supplying more sophisticated types of armaments than found in ammunition dumps,” said Mr. Tanter.

“Neighboring Iran does triple duty in the Iraqi insurgency,” said Mr. Tanter. “Tehran supplies machine-made roadside bombs to insurgents, such as the ones used to kill the American Marines; Tehran sends paramilitary forces into Iraq; according to the State Department, Iran hosts senior al Qaeda members like the son of Osama bin Laden and allows foreign fighters safe passage.”

Iran might believe the United States is stretched thin with 137,000 troops in Iraq and another 10,000 still serving in Afghanistan, and believes it can get away with both restarting its nuclear program and instigating anti-U.S. actions in Iraq.

Iran could also be miscalculating the joint U.S.-European resolve and end up getting badly burned on both counts.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.

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