Confrontation Instead of Libya’s Nuclear Disarmament

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources in Teheran, Iran’s conservative rulers have adopted a course contrary to the one blazed by Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi when he gave up his country’s nuclear capabilities. They are gearing up for a major scrap with the United States and if necessary with Europe too over their adamant refusal to back away from their aspirations to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Iranian representatives at the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna this week and in various world capitals have been handed tough directives to lay down the law on five issues:

  1. Iran is determined to continue developing nuclear fuel.

  2. Iran refuses to allow any further exposure of its nuclear facilities.

  3. Iran demands international acceptance of its independent capability to enrich uranium.

  4. Iran requires notice of the date beyond which all inspection procedures in Iran will cease. In addition, the international watchdog must stop publicly censuring the Islamic Republic and publish an announcement that Iran has met its international obligations in full as regards its nuclear activities

  5. Personnel from the IAEA and other organizations will be barred from inspections in Iran until all the above conditions are met.

The Iranians are fully aware of the decision by US President George W. Bush to put the Iranian nuclear crisis on a back burner until June. They will use every minute until then to mount a media offensive to vindicate their posture while speeding up their forbidden nuclear programs.

No rewards for concessions

The decision to tough it out with the world on their nuclear aspirations was finalized at a secret meetings held by Iran’s hard line leaders on March 2, at which new directives were formulated for the Iranian delegation when it attended this week’s IAEA board meeting in Vienna.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Tehran sources have seen the minutes of that meeting.

The delegation to Vienna was told to do whatever necessary to get the UN nuclear watchdog off Iran’s back without exposing the Islamic Republic to the same fate as Iraq; second, to press ahead with efforts to clear the way for the immediate resumption of uranium enrichment.

When on Monday, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei criticized Iran for failing to declare advanced “P2” centrifuges that can be used to make nuclear bombs. Iran’s delegates fought back with a letter disputing this finding.

In Tehran, defense minister Ali Shamkhani told reporters: “It looks as though our leadership members who warned that Iran would never win the world’s understanding for its nuclear activities were correct. Look at what is happening to us. There may be no other way but to change the rules of the game.”

On March 2, the all-powerful spiritual ruler Ali Khamenei set his country on a course of nuclear brinkmanship after a showdown with Iran’s delegates to the IAEA, who were accused of capitulating to the IAEA over recent months in the mistaken belief that confrontation over their nuclear program could be avoided. They were told their strategy was misconceived. The two officials who took most of the flak were Hojjat-Ol-Eslam Hassan Rouhani, secretary of the supreme national security council, and Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s representative at the IAEA who was ousted in favor of Pirooz Hosseini.

Here are some extracts from the transcript of that meeting:

Khamenei: We were wrong to expect an agreement with – or even understanding from the IAEA. It is my impression they are looking for ways to hurt us and bring the situation to confrontation and war rather than cooperation. We shall respond in the same spirit and not be led away from our course. On October 21, we were persuaded to make three hard concessions by the French, British and German foreign ministers who came to Tehran to discuss an accommodation. We agreed to sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, suspend uranium enrichment and permit UN inspectors to make spot checks – all in the hope of setting the crisis to rest once and for all.

(A week later, on March 9, Rouhani answered Khamenei’s bitter comments: If Tehran had not accepted these measures, it would have suffered the same fate as Saddam Hussein’s Iraq).

Khamenei Contd: The concessions we made have not ended the controversy but fuelled it. True, we have gained a point here and there, for instance, we broke up the solid US-European front against our nuclear program, but the March IAEA discussions do not bode well for us. We have locked horns with the world over the nuclear issue for 17 years. The pressure is mounting, not easing. UN inspectors have now made surprise visits to three of our most sensitive nuclear facilities on two hours’ notice.

UN watchdog scolds Pakistan, but not Europeans

But letting them in has not only failed to dispel the suspicions against us but provided them with more ammunition for redoubling their attacks. Here is one example: Despite our best efforts, the Inspectors who examined the Dovshan Tapeh air force base near Tehran turned up a system for the manufacture and operation of uranium-enriching centrifuges. This is something we can no longer tolerate.

Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, head of the Iranian atomic energy agency: To abide by our promise to the three European foreign ministers to suspend uranium enrichment, we could have merely stopped the injection of UF6 gas into the centrifuges. But as a show of goodwill, we halted the preparation of uranium for conversion into gas at our Esfahan site.

Moreover, we leveled with the IAEA by telling them we had purchased the centrifuges on the black market from Pakistani and Europeans suppliers. They scolded the Pakistanis but turned a blind eye to the Europeans. Why? Were they uncomfortable about taking Europeans to task?

Rouhani: We had no choice but to kowtow to certain demands. International pressure was mounting by the day and Iran could not take on the whole world single-handed. Tehran needs goodwill in Europe. Its help is pivotal to Iran’s aspirations to lead the Middle East, the Muslim world and western Asia in industry and technology. Furthermore, dealing with the three European foreign ministers drove a wedge between Europe and the United States. Europe may yet frustrate US efforts to drive a tough resolution through the 35-nation IAEA governing board.

If the world was afraid of the Islamic Republic, it is for three reasons:

  1. Iran’s foreign policy is the offspring of its ideology of Islamic supremacy rather than strategic interests. That supremacy is perceived as encompassing control of the region and ultimately the world by raising Iran to the status of a military and technological superpower.

  2. Iran holds no constraining membership in any bloc or regional organization. It acts solo with no set boundaries.

  3. Iran is proud of being one of the few world nations to produce nuclear fuel on its own. Even laboring under siege, it has been able to enrich uranium for the manufacture of nuclear bombs.

Europe will avoid quarreling with Tehran

Akbar Velyati, ex-foreign minister, now Khamenei’s adviser on international affairs: Europe will not quarrel with Iran over the nuclear issue – first, because of its economic interests; second, because it follows an independent path that takes care not to toe the Washington line. The Americans, for their part, won’t push for a crisis at this time, because they are mired in Iraq and counting on Europe to help pull them to safety.

Even if Iran is hauled before the UN Security Council, a veto from a European member or Russia is on the cards. Iran can therefore safely refuse to cooperate with the IAEA on the grounds of the hostility it faces within the agency. Iran is even at liberty to revoke its signature on the Additional Protocol, maintaining Europe has not kept up its end of the bargain to give Iran nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in return for Tehran’s suspension of uranium enrichment.

Shamkhani, interrupting at this point, pointed out that since the Iranian parliament had never ratified the Additional Protocol, there was not need to abrogate it. Better to continue delaying tactics and meanwhile keep the UN inspectors out of Iran.

Mohandes Abbas, an Iranian nuclear expert, said that even if the main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz remained closed, Iran could achieve 80 percent enrichment within 16 to 24 months at the clandestine alternative sites never discovered by the UN inspectors.

Ali Akbar Hashem Rafsanjani, chairman of Iran’s powerful Expediency Council, remained silent during the meeting. Rafsanjani says very little in public these days, fearing to commit himself to positions he might be forced to recant somewhere down the line.

Diplomatic offensive

According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Iran has not neglected diplomatic action, overt and discreet, to keep members of the IAEA governing board from approving harsh penalties. Rouhani made the rounds of various capitals to reassure doubters. Two senior Iranian envoys were assigned to Paris to persuade France to rein in the UN agency. The envoys, Mahdi Karroubi, the current speaker of the parliament, and Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, its former speaker, did not come to the French capital empty-handed. They promised France rewards in the coin of oil and economic concessions for resisting US plans. Four years ago, French oil giant Total received Iranian oil rights worth $1 billion and is thirsting for more such deals. Historically, France has never been bothered by Iran’s nuclear program. The Osirak nuclear reactor that Israel bombed in 1981 came from France.

Rouhani’s next stop, according to our Tehran sources, is Tokyo where he lands on March 16. There too he will wave a $2 billion concession for developing the Azadegan oil field to head off US pressure on Japan to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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