Ill winds over Iran's nuclear draft
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
After a five-day delay, Iran has furnished an "informal oral counter-offer" to
the fuel-for-fuel deal proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) that has been endorsed by the United States, Russia and France. Details
of the answer have not been revealed, but it has already been rejected by some
Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA, confirmed he had received
Iran's counter-proposal in Vienna, five days after the deadline for its
submission expired. In a draft proposal by the IAEA, Tehran was asked to ship
out most of its low-enriched
uranium before the end of the year for reprocessing into higher-grade material
under international supervision. The processed fuel would then be returned to
Iran for use in a medical research nuclear facility.
Various reports indicate that Iran's counter-offer is not the final response,
but rather one that has sufficient elements in it to motivate ElBaradei to
continue pushing for a compromise.
"We welcome the exchange of fuel and cooperation on the reactor and we are
ready for cooperation," Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday.
He echoed a statement by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki regarding Iran's
preparedness to export some of its low-enriched uranium for further enrichment
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, in an interview with the
Iranian Fars news agency, reiterated that "Iran follows the Vienna talks with a
positive perspective". In a separate interview with Iran's PressTV, he said,
"In the course of such a meeting, which is merely a technical discussion
between Iran and the IAEA, economic and technical concerns have to be taken
into consideration when dealing with the modalities of the supply of the fuel."
Iran's preference is to simply "purchase the fuel so that we do not have to
deliver any fuel made at home", to paraphrase Alaeedin Boroujerdi, the head of
the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign relations committee.
Other members of the committee, such as Fatemeh Alia and Hossein Ebrahimi, have
raised serious concerns about the possibility that the other side "will not
deliver" after gaining control of Iran's "strategic reserve", that is, 1,500
kilograms of low-enriched uranium. However, according to Kazem Jalali, the
spokesman for this committee, "The option of gradual delivery of fuel to the
other side can be considered."
This option, however, has run into a sea of opposition from both reformist and
hardline politicians, including reformist Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who
unsuccessfully ran against Ahmadinejad in presidential elections in June. He
has adopted a rejectionist stance that is in sync with the latest editorial by
the conservative daily, Kayhan, that states, "When Westerners openly declare
that their only intention of this deal is the removal of Iran's uranium
resources out of the country, they should not expect Iran to hand over this
objective to them." Still, falling short of an outright rejection, the
editorial prescribes "some kind of 'simultaneity' and 'gradualness' in the
export and import of nuclear material".
Citing repeated cases of broken contracts, Iran's politicians, experts and
pundits opposed to the deal have questioned the West's linkage of the issue of
nuclear fuel for the medical reactor in Tehran and the suspension of Iran's
enrichment activities. One of the concerns relates to the French government,
which has failed to deliver nuclear fuel to Iran for over 30 years, despite
Iran's part-ownership of a uranium-enrichment company, Eurodif, a subsidiary of
the French nuclear firm AREVA.
The administration of Barack Obama appears to have returned to the zero
enrichment option favored by the George W Bush administration. This is in light
of a key speech by the National Security Advisor, James Jones, before a
pro-Israel lobbying group, in which he categorically stated that the
administration remained steadfast on ending Iran's enrichment program.
"How is Iran to trust the West when they say they are afraid of Iran's
low-enriched uranium, and then expect them [the West] to deliver to Iran the
potentially more dangerous - from their own perspective - much higher-enriched
uranium?" a Tehran University political science professor said. He, like many
other Iranian experts, such as nuclear expert, Abulfazl Zahrevand, insists that
the "current climate is not a trustworthy one".
Adding to the Iranian distrust is an escalation in Iran-bashing, such as by
some US lawmakers. They are targeting Iran's dependence on imported petroleum,
which, if subjected to sanctions by the Obama administration, would amount to a
declaration of economic warfare against Iran, to paraphrase the Tehran
professor. He wonders whether Obama has been eclipsed by an avalanche of
"Iranphobic pressures, or whether he can still demonstrate that there is a real
change in US foreign policy?"
The latest initiatives in the US Congress have a similar air to the period
before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, when whipped-up fears of Iraq's
(non-existent) weapons of mass destruction prevailed over reason and fueled a
Undoubtedly, the joint US-Israel missile test conducted this week is meant as a
warning shot to Iran, to take the threat of a military strike seriously. "Obama
must prepare for a new Middle East war," the headline of a Washington Times
editorial read on Thursday. This as if Obama is like a global godfather who can
make an offer that others can't refuse without risking their survival.
If Obama is serious about treating Iran with respect, he would know that
holding hopes artificially too high - and without displaying flexibility - is
not a prudent move.
At this point, Iran has not rejected the draft agreement, but rather treated it
as it is named by the IAEA - a draft. This leaves open for negotiation such
issues as the modalities of fuel delivery and timetables.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.