Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Nuclear Iran

Everyone seems to agree that Iranian nuclear ambitions need to be stopped - and nobody seems to know how. The Financial Times has an interesting editorial by Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies:
Iran’s defiant decision to resume what it calls “research” into nuclear enrichment spells the end of the negotiation strategy the Europeans have so persistently pursued for two and a half years. Having bent over backwards to pursue every possible compromise and receiving nothing for their efforts, the Europeans should persuade the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to report immediately Iran’s transgressions to the United Nations Security Council.
The EU3 had been hoping to persuade Iran to prolong the suspension of enrichment, one day at a time if necessary, while relying on intelligence collection and IAEA inspections to detect any undeclared enrichment activity. As long as Iran was not enriching uranium (nor reprocessing plutonium – a more distant technology for Iran) it could not build a bomb. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that if Iran threw caution to the wind and went ahead with an enrichment programme, it could produce enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon by the end of the decade at the earliest. The trick for the European negotiations was to keep that five-year deadline a rolling estimate. The clock now starts ticking.
What the UN Security Council would do is anyone's guess, but according to the distinctly more worrying picture painted by The Business, it will do virtually nothing if one takes account of Russian and Chinese attitudes (both veto-wielding members):
The significance of this for Iran? Simple: this renewed (albeit barely reported) renaissance in US-Russian rivalry threatens to spill over in the Middle East, thanks to Iran. Russia has confirmed a deal to sell TOR-M1 surface-to-air missiles to Iran. The most advanced system available, it uses mobile launchers to shoot down multiple targets such as missiles or planes. Also on Christmas Eve, the Kremlin offered to process uranium for Tehran, a deal which has since been rejected by Iran, preferring to do it itself. Moscow has also refused to condemn Tehran’s nuclear programme, arguing that it should be handled by the toothless IAEA rather than the UN Security Council.
China has also behaved badly, refusing to haul Iran in front of the Security Council. The Iranians have cleverly ensured China’s support by signing a $200bn trade deal with Beijing to supply energy-hungry China with gas and oil. Iran will export 10m tonnes of liquefied natural gas annually for 25 years; the Chinese will help in exploration and drilling. So if military action against Iran is ruled out, so too are sanctions. Russia and China will veto any move by America, Great Britain and France to slap sanctions on Iran. The situation could hardly be grimmer, though few in the West seem to realise it.
Do read the whole thing. I wonder what Israel will do if the UN Security Council is deadlocked? Everyone (including the Israeli government) says a repeat of the Osirak raid is out of the question, but you never know.

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