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    Middle East
     Apr 2, 2008
Iran sees hope in war of words
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

You know something is amiss when Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden defends the recent US intelligence finding on Iran, that claims Tehran stopped its nuclear weapon program in 2003, and, in the same breath, alleges Iran has a "nuclear weapons drive".

Although in sharp contrast with recent statements by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, who is seeking damage control by saying that the NIE report he supervised should have put it differently, Hayden's "double-speak" at least has the protean value of neutralizing the anti-Iran war drive led by Vice President Dick Cheney, who in his recent tour of the Middle East stated unequivocally that Iran is enriching uranium to "weapons grade". There is no empirical support for Cheney's claim, that puts him at odds with the various International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports on Iran that


 

consistently cite low-grade enrichment on Iran's part, ie, about 4%, that is fully monitored by the IAEA's robust inspection regime. In comparison, Hayden's carefully-chosen vocabulary, emphasizing Iran's tendency or "drive" to be more precise, has the advantage of heating up the pot of allegations against Iran without necessarily bringing it to boiling point.

That is the likely decision of the next US president, who must choose between stark alternatives toward Iran, as many US think-tanks are now churning out reports on the Iran and Middle East priorities of the next occupier of the Oval Office. Meanwhile, the recent IAEA report, citing slow Iranian progress in installing cascades of its centrifuges, acts as yet another brake on Iran-bashing, by highlighting the fact that, contrary to some Israeli and neo-conservative claims, Iran is nowhere near the "point of no return".

There is still a great amount of time "left for diplomacy", to use the common catchphrase in Western capitals. Iran's reported difficulties with its old P-1 centrifuges and its bold, new attempt with the more advanced P-2/IR-2 centrifuges, have raised questions about the wisdom of devoting so much of the its scientific resources to the enrichment program, when other aspects of Iran's nuclear program could well benefit from the diversion of those resources.

That is a question that, perhaps, could become paramount the closer next year's Iranian presidential elections come. After all, whatever rightful national pride there is in mastering the nuclear fuel cycle, the light-years gap between Iran's P-1 and advanced European or American centrifuges reminds one not so much of Iran's technological progress but rather of its lagging behind. Iran's behavior is not dissimilar to the Cubans priding themselves on cobbling together 1950s foreign vehicles.

The real pride rests in an effective closing of the relative gaps, and it is precisely here where the down side of Iran's singular emphasis on the enrichment program deserves attention. (Especially as this is done to the detriment of other dimensions of its nuclear program, geared to address the nation's power grid, a necessity for economic progress.) This warrants consideration of recent media reports of the US taking issue with two Russian institutes, subsidized by the US, which are involved with the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.

US officials opposed to Bushehr have no legal ground to stand on, given that the United Nations Security Council has exempted Bushehr from any sanctions and, as repeatedly stated by Russian officials, has given Russia the green light to proceed with the completion of the much-delayed power plant. In addition, as pointed out by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in a recent letter to the UN secretary general, the UN Security Council has failed to take into account the successful resolution of the so-called "outstanding questions" that were for a long time the prime reasons for the US's and its allies' allegations of a nuclear weapons program in Iran.

Mottaki has dismissed some US information, much of it taken from a laptop computer of a "deceased person", and has called for sanctions on those imposing sanctions on Iran. The Security Council recently paved the way for a third round of sanctions on Iran over its uranium-enrichment program. From Tehran's vantage point, in the war of attrition over its nuclear program being fought in the arena of world public opinion, the chips are piling up against the US and its allies.

The Iranians see more and more nations, not only in the Third World, becoming convinced of the unfairness of the UN sanctions. The recent US$10-22 billion Iran-Swiss gas deal, raising the ire of US officials without a comparable negative backlash in Berlin and a number of other European capitals, points at frustration in the US's policy of isolating Iran, a main energy hub for Europe. Signs of a discrete parting of the ways between the US and the European Union are already discernible in the controversy about this gas deal. This is bound to encourage similar deals between Iran and European gas and oil companies; the net of sanctions is wearing thin and gaping holes in it will soon be so huge as to make it irrelevant.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of
Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

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