NEW DELHI - Now that Iran has
broken the seals it put two-and-a-half years ago
on an atomic research facility at Natanz, 250
kilometers south of Tehran, it has passed a "red
line" that makes a tough response almost
British, French and German
foreign ministers (the European Union 3 - EU-3)
were due to meet in Berlin on Thursday to call for
an emergency session this month of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the
United Nations' nuclear watchdog, which would then
discuss a referral of the dispute to the Security
European officials warned that
Tehran would have to reinstate the
seals and refrain from all
the activities it announced this week if it wanted
to avoid a UN referral. Tehran has given no
indication that it will back down.
ElBaradei, the IAEA's head, said by resuming
nuclear fuel research in defiance of previous
agreements, "Tehran had crossed a red line ... We
are at a stage where what is happening this week
could turn into a major crisis."
nuclear weapon states, led by the United States
and the EU-3, have warned Iran against pursuing
even research that might lead to uranium
enrichment. Iran insists that it will go ahead
with the research, but that production of nuclear
fuel remains suspended. (Currently, Iran is only
converting uranium into hexafluoride gas at
Isfahan, not enriching it.)
As both sides
ratchet up the confrontation, the whiff of
conflict hangs in the air, with distressing
implications for the whole world.
prices rose on Thursday, extending gains amid
mounting concerns over the potential fallout from
Iran's pursuit of its nuclear ambitions, according
to market analysts. US crude oil futures rose 56
cents to US$64.50 a barrel, after rising 57 cents on
"The issue of Iran's
international relations continues to rise to the
fore as a major potential area of market concern.
We continue to see the situation as representing
the major upside risk for oil prices this year,"
analysts at Barclays Capital said in a report,
according to Reuters.
The current crisis
is likely to be more serious than in September,
when the US dragged Iran before the board of
governors of the IAEA, which held it
"non-compliant" with its obligations under the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
With attitudes hardening, Iran could soon
face tough sanctions from the Security Council in
a telescoped replay of a part of the drama over
Iraq between 2000 and 2003, which eventually led
to its invasion and occupation.
three differences, though. Iraq's alleged nuclear
activities were clandestine - although they did
not result in a capability to make nuclear weapons
of mass destruction, as Western governments
falsely claimed. By contrast, Iran's current
activities are transparent and taking place right
in the presence of IAEA inspectors.
Second, Iraq in 2002-03 had no civilian
nuclear program worth the name. Most of its
clandestine military nuclear infrastructure was
dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War under a tough
UN Security Council mandate.
Iran has a
civilian nuclear program, stretching from the
mining of uranium to its enrichment to
constructing a power reactor. Also, unlike Iraq,
it can legitimately invoke its right to peaceful
nuclear activities under the NPT, subject to IAEA
inspections. This right is affirmed under Articles
1 and 4 of the treaty.
Third, Iraq in 2003
was a weak, militarily near-disabled country with
an economy crippled by decade-long sanctions. Its
totally undemocratic state had very little
legitimacy in the eyes of the people.
is a culturally vibrant, self-confident society
with a strong economy, which now stands further
boosted by high oil prices. It is a middle-level
military power with a popularly elected
government. It will not be easy to isolate Iran,
"In fact," said Hari
Vasudevan, professor of international relations at
Calcutta University, "Iran enjoys a unique
strategic advantage because of the highly troubled
situation in Iraq, which the US has failed to
quell." He added: "Sixty percent of Iraq's
population is Shi'ite, and Iran wields enormous
influence in Iraq. It has so far desisted from
fomenting further trouble in Iraq, but could do so
if cornered and provoked by the US and its
Iran has two more advantages in
its favor. It has been working closely with Russia
in its civilian nuclear program. Russia is helping
it build a power reactor at Bushehr, due to be
commissioned this year.
It also enjoys a
degree of support and sympathy from the
Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and China. The bulk of
the NAM group at the IAEA, barring India and a
handful of small countries, abstained from or
voted against the US-sponsored September 24
resolution against Iran. As did China and Russia.
"All this might only frustrate US efforts
to diplomatically isolate Iran," said Qamar Agha,
a Middle East expert at the Center for West and
Central Asian Studies at the Jamia Millia Islamia
university in New Delhi. "Western Europe is far
too dependent upon Iran's oil and gas to go to
extreme lengths in sustaining sanctions that
cripple Iran's energy generation. Therefore, the
US might be tempted to use military force, jointly
with Israel, to bomb select facilities in Iran."
In recent weeks, US Central Intelligence
Agency director Porter Goss visited Turkey and
briefed a number of other states in Iran's
neighborhood on US plans for attacking Iran.
Israel has already declared that Iran's nuclear
program "can be destroyed".
magazine Der Spiegel wrote that Goss had asked
Turkey to provide unfettered exchange of
intelligence that could help with a mission to
attack Iran. It also reported that the governments
of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Oman and Pakistan had
been informed in recent weeks of Washington's
And Israel's Likud Party
leader Benjamin Netanyahu has nostalgically
invoked his country's 1981 attack on Iraq's
experimental nuclear reactor under construction.
A number of US doctrinal
pronouncements, and reports about a recently
approved US "global strike plan", with a nuclear
option, suggest that a preemptive US strike
on Iran's nuclear facilities, either unilateral or
jointly with Israel, cannot be ruled out.
A former Indian
intelligence officer, Vikram Sood, said that such
an attack might use nuclear weapons. "A
conventional attack on Iran would be expensive and
not quite cost-effective. It would allow [for]
Iranian retaliation." To preempt retaliation, the
US might use tactical nuclear weapons against
Iran's underground facilities.
tragedy unfolding," said Sood, "is that if the US
believes that its adversary possesses or has the
intention to possess WMD [weapons of mass
destruction], then it is justified to consider
this a threat to itself and to US forces in the
region. It must, therefore, act preemptively. The
fear also is that unlike in the case of Iraq when
considerable time was spent in building the case,
this time the attack will be sudden and actual
justifications will be given later."
Any such attack would break the 60-year-old, very
welcome, taboo against the use of nuclear weapons
- with extraordinarily negative consequences for
global peace and security.
Such an outcome
can only be prevented if the West moves away from
coercive diplomacy to isolate Iran and opens
serious talks with it, and if the nuclear weapons
states rethink their own policies.
West accuses Iran of nursing nuclear ambitions, it
has itself no intention of reducing nuclear arms.
The US has embarked on a plan to expand its
nuclear capability both upward, through "Star
Wars", and downward, through bunker-buster bombs.
Similarly, Britain has announced a $40 billion
replacement project for the Trident missile.
Smaller nuclear states such as Israel,
India and Pakistan have set negative examples.