Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mullahs: Back to Old Tricks?

Shaheen Fatemi, Iran va Jahan:
As Monday August first, the day for renewed talks with the European Union about its nuclear project approaches, Iran shows every sign of wishing to continue its policy of stalling and obfuscation, counting on the European position becoming more accommodating.

The Mullahs in Tehran are once again testing international will ahead of the next round of talks with the European Union. Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami who will leave office on August 6th is trying to somehow get in the act and save face but as usual he makes a mess of things. On Wednesday, July 27th, he sent an apparently contradictory signal indicating that Iran was set to resume uranium reprocessing, but that this did not mean it was withdrawing from its agreement with the EU to suspend nuclear activities. READ MORE

In order to further confuse the issues , on the same day, the Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said the regime has fully developed solid-fuel technology in producing missiles, if true, it is a major breakthrough that increases the accuracy of missiles hitting targets. He told The Associated Press that Iran has made an "important step forward" in developing the technology, which provides the Islamic Republic with the ability to fire solid-fuel ballistic missiles like the Shahab-3. "We have fully achieved proficiency in solid-fuel technology in producing missiles," said Shamkhani in Iran's first declaration that it has locally developed full access to solid fuel missile technology According to AP, it should be noted that Shahab-3, with a range of 810 miles to more than 1,200 miles, is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and reaching Israel and U.S. forces in the Middle East.

The timing of this missile news should not be interpreted as an innocent coincidence. Tehran is trying to give the impression of toughening its position after the election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. But in effect nothing has changed. Khamenie was in charge before and continues to make the big decisions. As Khatami once said the president is only an expediter. Any signal at this stage should be taken with utmost care becaus it may be just another stage in the long term strategy of pressuring the EU into offering greater economic and political concessions and incentives.

Informed observers believe Iran is seeking a lucrative and comprehensive package from the Europeans when negotiations resume in early August. The package, which has the blessing of the Bush Administration, is expected to include an offer of European cooperation with Iran's civilian nuclear programme in order to eventually replace Tehran's dependency on Russian fuel imports.

At this state of negotiations, IRI is expected to continue stalling to avoid the permanent abandonment of its nuclear ambitions which is the key American condition for backing the European dialogue. The Bush Administration has also been pushing for a time frame for progress on an agreement with the EU. The Congress is becoming impatient with the development of IranĀ“s offensive arsenal. There are some indications that the EU position is hardening and members have become increasingly critical of human rights violations in Iran and of its flawed electoral processes. Recent public remarks by President Chirac have created an impression that at last the Europeans may be on the verge of taking a firm stand.