Nuclear conflict with Iran: Back to the old trenches


Published in “Die ZEIT” on November 19, 2009

Iran’s hardliners have canceled the uranium compromise with the IAEA, which is provoking sanctions of the West. The opposition in Iran could benefit from the rigid approach, though. A commentary.

by Martin Gehlen

Iran's regime is again basking in its favourite role: Alone against the rest of the world

The cat is out of the bag: The uranium compromise between the Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and the Islamic Republic is history. The intermezzo of a diplomatic convergence in Geneva and Vienna has evaporated. And the draft contract that was negotiated by Iran’s representative under the auspices of outgoing IAEA-chief Mohamed El Baradei only four weeks ago ended up in the bin.

If the draft had been turned into a signed treaty, the major part of the low-enriched uranium would have been sent to Russia and France for further processing into fuel rods for the medical experimental reactor in Tehran. The Vienna deal would have served both sides: Iran would have been provided with operative civil nuclear technology, and the international community could have been certain that Tehran for lack of fissile material will not construct a bomb any time soon. The nuclear conflict would have been alleviated – at least for a certain period of time.

But this will all come to nothing now. Following heated discussions within the conservative circles of power in Tehran, revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei apparently ended the internal struggle by an unusually sharp attack against the USA on the 30th anniversary of the occupation of the American embassy. And meanwhile all sides are back in their old trenches. Iran’s regime is again basking in its favorite role – alone against the world – while the West is openly preparing for a fourth round of international sanctions.

President Barack Obama has announced that the USA already in the coming weeks will be forcing the pace. France, Germany and England are tired of Iran’s endless hide-and-seek. While Russia’s rhetoric remains wavering and conciliatory, the Kremlin now seems to be more open-minded about possible sanctions than it had been a year ago. Thus, Moscow recently once more postponed the commissioning of the civil reactor in Bushehr and the supply of the required fuel rods, ignoring the protest of exasperated Iranian engineers. The SS-300 missiles to defend possible air strikes, urgently wanted by Iran’s military leadership, remain stored in Russian depots.

Only China continues to be the dark horse in a possible UN-boycott scenario. Sanctions of the Security Council against the Iranian energy sector are unlikely to be supported by China, since Beijing would not want to jeopardize their profitable oil treaties and major projects in the expansion of Iranian refineries.
This is, among other reasons, why the West is now concentrating on the banking sector and the boycott of Iranian shipping lines.

The green opposition against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, however, is the only one to benefit from the international turn to the worse. A great concern of the opposition leaders was that by reaching a nuclear compromise the West would be induced to de-facto acknowledge the controversial president, quietly filing away and forgetting human rights issues, democracy, detention and torture of politically unwanted persons, repression and censoring of dissidents. But since the nuclear issue will remain on the table, the power struggle has now also again become an open-ended question.


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