Iran risks all in nuclear gamble
Pyotr Goncharov, Insight Magazine:
In its relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the European Big Three (Britain, Germany and France), with who it is negotiating the fate of its nuclear dossier, Iran is clearly staking everything. READ MORE
There is no way else to interpret the words of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani that in case the Big Three goes on pressing for full rejection of the nuclear fuel cycle program, Iran may withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and deny IAEA inspectors access to Iranian nuclear facilities.
Tehran does understand that for Europe its withdrawal from the treaty will be a clear signal that a nuclear program is ready for military application. What kind of answer does Tehran expect from the European Union and the United States?
Yes, Tehran's recent declarations could also be seen as part of its customary "diplomacy" at talks about the Iranian nuclear program. It is known for permanent silence, humble blackmail and playing the interests of Europe, the United States and Russia against each other.
But why has Tehran assumed this radical stance, ruling out whatever compromise that can be reached at the nuclear negotiating table? Besides, Tehran had promised that after the presidential election it would come up with new initiatives capable of breaking the deadlock over the talks. Has anything changed? Is Iran so close to its program being ready for nuclear weapons, if need be?
One might think that Iran is deliberately engineering the unveiling of its nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council, and more so, is prompting its chief opponent, the United States, to reciprocate. Possibly, Tehran has chosen a good time for attacking the positions of the European Union in the negotiating process and of the United States, which is seeking to affect it.
The United States today can hardly opt for a proper (actually military) answer to the possibility of Iran's withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There exist many factors which put doubt in the superpower's unlimited capabilities.
Developments in Iraq are clearly disfavoring the United States in the eyes of the world. The prognosis for the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan is dim: In its southern region, the Taliban and al-Qaida activities have been suddenly reinvigorated this year and many Mujaheddin warlords are talking of the American forces withdrawing. Moreover, Uncle Sam's military bases in Central Asia have actually become impotent.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita give the final touch to the picture, upping the oil prices to a record high, $68 per barrel.
Iran produces almost three times as much oil as Iraq. The United States' operation in Iraq has doubled the prices from $22 to $50 per barrel. Experts make plausible forecasts that, in case of a war against Iran or even pinpoint strikes at its nuclear facilities, oil prices will soar to $90-100 per barrel.
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will not be able to make up for a sharp price increase, which will inevitably bring about a serious crisis on the oil market. It may even collapse, many experts warn.
Iran's refusal to create its own nuclear fuel cycle was improbable from the very beginning. The country has invested over $350 million in its infrastructure and further work on the program brings to naught every chance of refusal. Moreover, minding that Iran has 11 percent of the world's oil and 18 percent of gas reserves, geo-strategic location and influence on the wide expanses from the Middle East to the South Caucasian region, Central and South-West Asia and the Caspian region, it would be naive to think that Iran is not going to take steps towards regional leadership. Tehran's resolve to be entitled to a full nuclear fuel cycle could be one such step.
This might be a short-range forecast. Today it is important for Tehran to know how the U.N. Security Council might react to the nuclear dossier in the context of its declarations and, most importantly, what Washington's reaction would be.
(Pyotr Goncharov is a political commentator for the RIA Novosti news agency. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti.)