Monday, January 16, 2006

Diplomatic Heat Rising Over Iran

London’s Monday meeting of the UN powers signalled the rapprochement of once strictly opposite positions regarding Iran’s nuclear programme. Ostensibly Iran’s latest actions and remarks, such as removing UN seals and resuming research at a nuclear plant in Natanz without IAEA’s approval, refusal of Russia’s proposal to enrich Iranian uranium on Russian soil and threatening to disregard the Security Council’s decision on its nuclear ambitions have provoked the leaders of the veto-holding powers, the US, UK, France, Russia and China together with Germany to discuss the remaining steps of preventing Iran from acquiring its own atomic bomb.

Iran has never admitted to have such a plan. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Iran’s unwillingness to acquire nuclear weapon insisting on the peaceful aspect of his nuclear program. However, Tehran’s passionate contention to save its nuclear program in defiance of international disapproval has caused a wide-spread suspicion over its sincere purpose.

But still, it doesn’t seem that the world’s main powers have a real consensus over their next step. Britain, France and Germany cannot foresee any promising development in further talks with Iranian authorities and prefer to call an IAEA emergency meeting to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. A step that would be approved by the US too. Russia appears to have changed her position slightly as well and seems reluctant to hinder this process. The main reason could be Russia’s lost labour persuading Iran to transfer its uranium enrichment process to Russia’s territory.

China’s position remains obscure and no official statement in this regard has been made by Beijing so far. But China’s UN Ambassador Wang Guangya has been quoted by agencies as saying that referring Iran to the Security Council might toughen Tehran’s position on its nuclear program. According to him, China wants a solution, but referring Iran to the UN, he believes, might complicate the issue. Most experts say that China is not interested in imposing sanctions against Iran, since those sanctions will inevitably damage strong economic ties between Beijing and Tehran. Apart from intensive trade with Iran, China heavily depends on Iranian oil too and in 2005 China imported about 14 % of its crude oil from Iran. According to a Reuters report from Beijing, China would “frown on sanctions against Iran efforts to curb its nuclear program be brought before the UN Security Council, but analysts say it would more likely abstain from any vote than use its veto power.”

“If you look at some of the analogous examples, China doesn’t like to be the sole opposing power in the UN Security Council”, has said Taylor Fravel, a China foreign policy specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Reuters.

It is not only China that is concerned over economic consequences of possible sanctions against Iran. While it is not clear yet if the London talks would lead to imposing sanctions against Iran at all and what sort of sanctions they would be, some observers have likened the possible sanctions to a double-edged sword that would undermine not only Iranian, but all economies around the world. Manouchehr Takin of the Center for Global Energy Studies in London has told The Guardian daily that if Iran stopped exporting crude oil the soaring price for a barrel would hit $100, just because “supply and demand are very tightly balanced”. Meanwhile, Iranian authorities, aware of possessing an oil leverage, do not tend to see themselves in the position of a weaker, at least verbally. Davoud Danesh-Jafari, the Iranian Economy Minister has warned that applying economic sanctions against Iran, which is the world’s forth-largest oil producer, would have grave consequences.

And President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sounds more than certain that the West needs Iran more than Iran needs the West. His rhetoric about Western “double-standards” in the nuclear question has given him a wider popular base within Iran by turning Iranian nuclear program into a national cause. Ahmadinejad’s statements have found very keen listeners in the region’s Arab countries too. On Monday Amir Saud al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia while visiting London accused the West of partially causing the crisis by assisting Israel to acquire its nuclear arsenal. However, he expressed a hope that Iran would stick to its commitments and pledges not to develop nuclear weapon and called for a nuclear-free zone in the Persian Gulf.

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