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    Middle East
     May 12, 2006
Iran finds an ally in Indonesia
By Breffni O'Rourke

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is visiting Indonesia as his country faces increased Western attempts to isolate it from the rest of the world because of its nuclear program.

His willingness to travel abroad as the crisis sharpens indicates how much he hopes for worthwhile results from the visit to the largest Muslim nation in the world.

Ahmadinejad arrived in Indonesia on Wednesday and met Indonesian President Susilio Bambang Yudhoyono, who said Jakarta had offered to help mediate the nuclear dispute. "Iran was receptive," Yudhoyono's spokesman said. Jakarta is on good

terms with Iran and other Middle East countries, as well as with the West.

Analyst Shannon Kile of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said that Ahmadinejad's trip was clearly connected to what is happening at the United Nations, where the United States, Germany, Britain and France are pressing hard for a UN Security Council resolution that would legally bind Iran to drop uranium enrichment against the threat of economic sanctions or military intervention. As a consequence, he said, the Iranians were courting Jakarta.

Russia and China are opposed to any UN resolution against Iran. This week, Washington agreed to let the Europeans first work out a package of benefits to induce Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. As a result, there might not be a decision on a UN resolution for about two weeks.

"Indonesia is an important player in the Non-Aligned Movement, the so-called NAM group of states, and Iran for quite a while has been cultivating the NAM states, countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, in terms of building support for its position on its nuclear program," Kile said.

At a press conference in Tehran before his departure, Ahmadinejad used effusive language to describe the possibilities for Iranian-Indonesian relations.

"The capabilities of the two nations provide extensive grounds for mutual cooperation," he said. "We know of no boundaries whatsoever for cooperation with Indonesia, whether it be in the cultural, scientific, political, technical or economic fields. In this trip seven draft agreements for cooperation will be, God willing, finalized and signed, and this will open up new horizons."

Analyst Kile said specifically that Ahmadinejad was seeking a statement of support from Indonesia that says Iran - as a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - did have a legal right to the full nuclear-fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment.

This has been Iran's position all along, that in enriching uranium it is behaving well within its NPT rights, and therefore it refuses to stop these activities, which the US, among other countries, believes is aimed at ultimately developing nuclear weapons.

Uranium enrichment is the step that the West wants to prevent Iran from taking because it can provide material for nuclear bombs as well as fuel for nuclear power stations.

Double standards?
Speaking in Jakarta, Ahmadinejad described Western allegations that Iran was seeking to build nuclear weapons as untrue.

The US and its allies are "themselves engaged in non-peaceful nuclear activities", he said. "They expand them day by day. Another indication of that is that in the Middle East region they have equipped some powers and some groups with nuclear weapons, and they themselves test new types of weapons of mass destruction every day."

He also said that his country was willing to negotiate, but that the US first must drop its "bad attitude".

"We are not only defending our rights, we are defending the rights of many other countries," he said. "By maintaining our position, we are defending our independence." (Ahmadinejad also made use of the occasion on Thursday to say that Israel was a "regime based on evil" and that it would "one day vanish".)

Yudhoyono has gone some way toward meeting Ahmadinejad's wishes, by saying that he believed Iran's nuclear program was peaceful and that all problems could be solved through diplomacy.
Yudhoyono said Islamic nations such as Indonesia could assist in finding a diplomatic solution to the standoff. He suggested widening the talks in a similar way that negotiations were with North Korea over its disputed nuclear-development program.

Kile said Iran was trying - with some success - to shift the terms of the debate away from the issue of nuclear proliferation and to one about who has the right to control access to advanced technology, including nuclear technology.

"What the Iranians are arguing is that this [dispute to deny enrichment to Iran] is yet another example of a discriminatory double standard employed by the Western industrial countries; and I think that argument has actually found some resonance in places like Indonesia and Malaysia," Kile said.

Yudhoyono nevertheless has to tread carefully so as not to inflame radical Islamic elements at home. The last thing he would want to do is to lend support to the fundamentalist Islamic regime in Tehran at the cost of fanning radicalism in his own nation. Similarly, Jakarta's ties with the US have improved significantly over the past year, with the US even resuming military contacts. Yudhoyono would not want to jeopardize this.

Enhanced economic relations
While in Indonesia, Ahmadinejad is holding talks with Yudhoyono and other political and economic leaders, as well as with cultural and Islamic figures.

Energy cooperation is expected to be discussed. The Indonesian Foreign Ministry last month said Iran was considering investing US$600 million in Indonesia's oil and gas sector. Kile said the Iranians would be hoping for similar investments from Malaysia.

"Presumably, Iran is looking also for Indonesia to invest in Iranian oil and gas, because Iran's gas-and-oil sector has suffered from chronic underfunding for a long time because of Western sanctions - especially US sanctions - presumably that is going to go both ways," he said.

Aware of Iran's economic troubles, the European Union's negotiating troika of Britain, France and Germany is reportedly preparing a new package of incentives to be offered to Iran if it halts uranium enrichment. The document, which could be prepared as early as next Monday, is also expected to list consequences for Iran if it does not halt enrichment.

Ahmadinejad is scheduled on Friday to attend a summit of eight leading developing countries (the D8) on Indonesia's island of Bali. The D8 countries are Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkey.

Copyright 2006 RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Ahmadinejad's letter: An opening quickly sealed (May 11, '06)

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