February 21, 2007

Iran Balks At The End

Iranian negotiators refused to consider the necessary step of suspending their uranium enrichment program, and so the efforts to avoid a negative IAEA report to the UN Security Council have failed. The UNSC will need to decide whether the global community can retain its uncertain unity long enough to escalate the sanctions against Iran:

Iran will today be declared in violation of a UN resolution calling for a halt to its enrichment of uranium, after last-minute negotiations in Vienna failed to reach a compromise in the nuclear stand-off.

Ari Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, emerged from talks with Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), insisting that Iran had a right to pursue a peaceful nuclear programme and warning against any use of force to stop it. ...

The gathering crisis over Iran's nuclear programme, however, will become more intense today with the expected publication of an IAEA report stating that Iran has not complied with UN demands to stop uranium enrichment. Nor has it met the nuclear agency's own demands for greater transparency about its nuclear programme.

IAEA officials said the report was due to be delivered to the UN security council at the same time as the agency's board, but added there was a small possibility its publication could be delayed until tomorrow.

The report is likely to trigger a new security council debate over tightening sanctions on Iran and intensify the debate within the Bush administration over whether to take military action aimed at slowing down Iran's nuclear programme.

That's putting it lightly. Vladimir Putin has given every indication that he will take the opportunity to allow Iran off the hook, unless he still finds Teheran in arrears for the money owed on the Bushehr facility. China, which has helped build a template of what it and Russia wants for agreements in North Korea -- which is to say nothing too useful -- will probably balk as well.

That leaves the US and Britain to go it alone, perhaps even among their Western allies. The Europeans have had nothing but lukewarm support for efforts against Iran, perferring to use public condemnations as a sole defense against Iranian nuclear armament. Eastern Europe has agreed to host portions of a missile shield against the Iranian threat, but for the most part the EU has already begun calculating a nuclear Iran into its worldview.

Not so the Anglosphere. Both the US and the UK have sent more naval assets to the Persian Gulf to put pressure on Teheran to comply with the UNSC resolution. The rest of Europe will probably agree to added sanctions, although they may not stick around long if Russia and China balk. If the US makes clear that sanctions will be the only course of action that will preclude targeted US strikes on Iranian nuclear-development sites -- still a bad idea in my opinion, but rapidly becoming the only option left -- then they may pursue sanctions with more gusto.

The Iranians could still agree to Mohammed ElBaradei's "time-out" scenario. That would allow them to declare a temporary suspension in order to restart talks on the overall program, but that would likely be best used as a dodge for more covert work. It would put the US and UK in a bind for weeks and could prompt a postponement from the UNSC, which would play into Iranian hands. Are the mullahs that smart? Sor, it appears not, although it also appears unnecessary.


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