The mullahs of Iran moved today to push the nuclear nonproliferation talks into further crisis after a unilateral deadline they set for a European proposal expired. Iran announced that they will once again begin processing uranium ore, a step that likely will bring an end to the EU-3’s efforts to reach accommodation with Teheran:
Iran has announced it will resume its controversial nuclear programme imminently in the face of a European Union appeal to wait for talks.
Officials said they would inform UN nuclear inspectors of the move on Monday and then begin converting raw uranium at a plant in Isfahan.
The UK, which is leading EU attempts to negotiate a compromise, said the move would make further talks difficult.
In fact, diplomats tell the BBC that offering any new proposals while Iran processes uranium will be pointless, and they expect Europe to defer to the IAEA instead. That will force the agency to find Iran in noncompliance with the nonproliferation pact to which Teheran is a signatory and prompt the United Nations Security Council to review the dispute. This means that the US now can take the lead on pressing for further economic sanctions on Iran, a step long desired by the Bush administration in order to curtail Iran’s involvement in terrorist operations.
The UNSC will probably see a tremendous fight over this issue, one which will look very similar to the debate on Iraq. Again, France, Russia, and China all have commercial and military ties to the Islamic republic and have vested business interests in keeping sanctions off of Teheran. However, they can hardly recommend no action at all for Iranian instransigence on nonproliferation; to do so would send a green light for other nations so inclined to start arming themselves with nuclear weaponry. Russia hardly wants to see the Central Asian republics that formerly comprised the Soviet Union to get ideas about countering Iranian nuclear power. For that matter, neither would China.
So what will happen, if Iran does not back down and Europe pulls out? I suspect that France, Russia, and China will agree to some form of economic sanctions only after referring the matter back to the IAEA once for renegotiation while Iran continues working on the bomb. After that, they will work once again to undermine the sanctions and keep their commercial interests alive in Iran, just as they did with Iraq.
The one wild card will be the Anglo-American partnership that took matters into their own hands in Iraq after the UNSC refused to act after sixteen formal demands for Iraqi compliance on their cease-fire agreement. The three other veto-wielding UNSC members will recall that their obtuseness led to a war despite their best efforts to prop up their last client state. It might convince them to put enough pressure on the Iranian mullahcracy to reconsider their position. It probably won’t work, but they will certainly want to try.