The Guardian – Leader: It is another sign of the escalating crisis over Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions that the Islamic republic’s foreign minister has warned of swift retaliation if, as expected, it is reported to the United Nations security council. Manouchehr Mottaki uses an interview with the Guardian today to threaten “severe consequences,” including an end to snap inspections and other co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Guardian
It is another sign of the escalating crisis over Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions that the Islamic republic’s foreign minister has warned of swift retaliation if, as expected, it is reported to the United Nations security council. Manouchehr Mottaki uses an interview with the Guardian today to threaten “severe consequences,” including an end to snap inspections and other co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Mr Mottaki said something similar to Jack Straw yesterday. Like the threat by the commander of the revolutionary guard that Iran would fire missiles if attacked, this was, to put it mildly, extremely unhelpful.
The decision to report Iran to the UN has been made by all five permanent members of the security council, which is as good as things get in terms of international legitimacy. The IAEA is the UN’s nuclear watchdog. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is being dishonest when he accuses the west of acting like the “lord of the world” in denying his country the peaceful use of the atom. Russia and China, hardly American vassals, are on the same side. This is not a replay of the Iraq crisis. Not yet anyway.
The IAEA, meeting in Vienna today, is being asked to “convey” to the security council credible reports raising concern about the nature of Tehran’s nuclear work. (One of these, ominously, is a document with instructions on how to mould highly enriched uranium into the core of warheads.) This nuanced language matters because there is still more than a month left before a March 6 IAEA meeting which could call for a formal “referral” of Iran to the council, opening the way for discussion of imposing economic sanctions. Put simply, although there is time to find a way out of this impasse, Iran is aggressively raising the stakes.
Tehran may be hoping that Europe, which tried but failed to negotiate a deal with Iran, will lose its nerve and not stand by the US. Or it may, more likely, calculate that when push comes to shove, Moscow and Beijing will break ranks with the three western members of the P5. Iran insists it wants nuclear power solely for civil electricity generation, as is its right under the non-proliferation treaty. But it is hard pressed to convince others that it has overcome 18 years of lying about its plans, even though the lesson of Iraq is that it pays to be suspicious of dodgy dossiers about WMD.
It is worth remembering too that this crisis was triggered when Iran reneged on a pledge to suspend uranium enrichment in its talks with the EU3 – Britain, France and Germany – whose package of incentives was rejected as inadequate. It has been made worse by President Ahmedinejad’s irresponsible comments about Israel and the Holocaust and baseless accusations that Britain is supporting Arab separatists in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province. Iran has been angered too by American rhetoric about democracy – President Bush’s state of the union address was translated into Farsi in a live audio feed – while explicit talk of regime change amongst Washington neocons has only helped the even more conservative mullahs jockeying for power in Tehran.
None of this is to deny that Iran has a legitimate complaint about the double standards of the official nuclear powers, which have not met their obligations to disarm, and acquiesced in Israeli, Indian and Pakistani bombs. Its concerns about US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan could be met by negotiating security guarantees. Far more effort could be put into fleshing out a proposal to enrich uranium in Russia for use, under IAEA supervision, in Iran. There is, in short, plenty to talk about. Some say the world has picked a quarrel that it cannot win, since military action has been ruled out – though not by the US or Israel – while sanctions on such a big Opec oil producer would be economically impossible and politically counterproductive. Still, inaction will not make this problem go away. And nor will Iranian bluster.