Friday, May 13, 2005

The Iranian Game

Aluf Benn, Ha'aretz:
Iran may postpone resumption of uranium reprocessing, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Organization, told Tehran state-run television yesterday.

Israeli experts monitoring Iran's "nuclear diplomacy" assume the Iranians are playing a game of nerves. Tehran continually explores the limits of patience in Europe and Washington, but is careful not to cross any red lines which would propel the Iranian nuclear issue into the UN Security Council.

Israel assumes that Iran's nuclear rhetoric will grow more radical in anticipation of its June 17 presidential elections. Iran recently threatened to resume part of the uranium enriching process, which was frozen under an agreement with Britain, Germany and France six months ago. The Europeans' sharp response - threatening to halt the nuclear talks and go to the Security Council - apparently made Tehran reconsider it actions.

Israel believes that, despite its radical, zealous image, Iran is very sensitive to international pressure and is reluctant to become a pariah state. This reluctance has been holding back Iran's effort to built a nuclear bomb, so far. Israel believes that Ayatollah Ali Khamanai and his comrades in Iran's leadership want to be part of the international community, rather than a boycotted, isolated state like North Korea.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has been asking foreign leaders to bring Iran's case to the Security Council, to impose sanctions. Sharon fears that Iran will wear out the Europeans with futile discussions while secretly making process toward acquiring nuclear weapons. He suggests setting a deadline after which diplomatic talks would cease and the case would automatically move to the Security Council.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, who is in charge of the Iran file, supports Sharon's proposal.

In Europe, there is a debate over the usefulness of threatening Iran with sanctions. The recent sharp rise in oil prices has enriched Iran by billions of dollars, providing it with an economic safety belt. With the current oil shortage, the world is hardly likely to give up buying Iranian oil.

Israelis respond that there is no need for economic sanctions. Iran can be hurt in other ways - forbidding its planes to land in the West, depriving its diplomats of visas, limiting visits by delegations. READ MORE

The Security Council is not a magic wand. The North Korean nuclear plan is lying on its desk and nothing has been happening for months. It's difficult for such an international body to make or enforce decisions.

The Iranians understand that no good can come for them by having their case transferred to the Security Council. Even a long process full of delays could end with sanctions and painful restrictions.

European threats have apparently succeeded in delaying Iran's uranium enrichment process for the time being. Russia has proposed a compromise - taking control of all the raw material from Iran, and producing, in Russian plants, oil rods for the power nuclear reactor being built by Russian companies near Bushehr.

Neither the Iranians or the Europeans have responded to the Russian proposal, but this is an example of a possible way out if the controversy flares up again.