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    Middle East
     Apr 1, 2006
What they think in Tehran
By Pepe Escobar

TEHRAN - A day after the UN Security Council, in a non-binding decision, gave Iran one month to stop enriching uranium, the Nayeb restaurant, serving the best kebab in Tehran for the upper middle classes, was absolutely packed for lunch.

In this worldly, secular atmosphere - no clerics, only two chador-clad women in sight, and most displaying authentic Hermes and Burberry scarves - some were nonetheless incensed that the decision in New York was timed to a particularly holy holiday in the Islamic Republic: the anniversary of the death of Prophet

Muhammad. The Iranian government has officially designated 2006 as "The Year of the Prophet".

Prophets of a more prosaic nature risk their take on the nuclear row. "We don't need a bomb," said a businessman with extensive interests in Dubai. "And even if we did, we could buy from the Chinese or the Pakistanis, or in the Russian black market."

Some accuse the EU-3 (England, France and Germany) of being two-faced, some point out that "the Italians told us they also want to be part of the negotiations, they want to invest even more here". Tehran's Westernized upper middle classes may not be die-hard fans of Iran's theocratic nationalism, but virtually everyone agrees with Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki about the "unjustified propaganda" of the West regarding Iran's nuclear program. As to a specific Mottaki warning that "we have readied ourselves to meet any threat", many are not so sure.

Before Friday's prayers - when top clerics inevitably lash out against "US imperialism" - Tehran had just responded to the UN via ambassadors and foreign ministry officials. The single most important authority in the Islamic Republic - Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - had not yet issued his verdict. But the consensus remains virtually iron clad, cutting across all social and intellectual barriers, that Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear program and is now the victim of double standards by both the US and the European Union.

From bazaaris and taxi drivers to clerics and economic analysts, Iranians also openly charge that the nuclear row is just an excuse by the US to undermine the Islamic Republic. Few would disagree with Iran's UN ambassador, Jafed Zarif, who said in New York, after the statement was approved, that "the single most active instigator of the concern about Iran is Israel, which is not a member of the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], is a known possessor of nuclear weapons, has a history of aggression against its neighbors, is in non-compliance with I don't know how many Security Council resolutions".

Zarif also charged that he was prevented from addressing the Security Council to make Iran's case. "We have been told this was a matter of procedure, but I believe it was more than that."

A few minutes away from the Nayeb restaurant, widely respected Ebrahim Yazdi, a former foreign minister under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, seems to have a solution to defuse the crisis.

"Iran should accept part of the Russian proposal, with a definite timetable for the completion of the Bushehr plant," said Yazdi, who "translated" Khomeini to the world in the late 1970s and is currently the secretary-general of the Freedom Movement of Iran, an opposition party. "After 40 years, we would finally have our electricity network."

The Russians have been working on the Bushehr nuclear reactor for years but have never guaranteed a date to finish the project, he said. At the same time they are still offering to enrich uranium in Russia in a joint venture with Iran, as along as it is part of a civilian program.

Russia and China only approved the UN statement because it does not imply sanctions against Tehran. Russia's UN ambassador, Andrei Denisov, once again stressed that there was no evidence by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran has embarked on a nuclear weapons program. Both Russia and China - as well as Germany and Italy - want the IAEA to solve the matter, not the Security Council.

A US-educated economic analyst commented: "But the statement was a blow to Iran anyway because the government was sure both Russia and China would never allow the US to deny Iran's rights under the NPT."

Yazdi's proposal concentrates on Bushehr. With the nuclear reactor completed, "Iran would have time to develop mutual trust" with the Europeans. The country should then welcome European investors "to come to Iran and enrich uranium here as joint ventures". Yazdi does not consider uranium enrichment in Russia a good idea - nor do Iranian negotiators for that matter. But Yazdi goes beyond that, charging that the Iranians "did not comprehend the full meaning of the Russian proposal". He dismisses the negotiators' "Cold War mentality". As a former foreign minister who knows the West in depth, Yazdi is on overdrive in the Iranian media, offering unofficial advice to the Iranian side.

He's adamant though that "if the Americans and the Europeans want to control and tame the Iranian government, this will only add fuel to the fire of the extreme rightists." He added that "the rightists even justify political repression at home by referring to the American government's internal policy after 9/11."

"Any foreign threat" - such as the ones constantly issued by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton - "will backfire". For Yazdi, "the only way to control Iranian nuclear activities is to help democracy in Iran. For us, the restriction of our civil liberties is more important than a nuclear program."

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