Iran’s hardline rulers had decided to tough it out against the international community in the dispute over their nuclear bomb program. This was decided finally in a series of high-powered consultations in Tehran.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Iranian capital describe Iran’s official tone on the nuclear issue as increasingly belligerent – especially in reference to Washington; so much so that European and International Atomic Energy Agency diplomats have declared the harshly provocative language issuing from Tehran unacceptable and unproductive.
The ayatollahs are unmoved. The final policy conference that took place at the home of spiritual ruler, Ali Khamenei on Sunday, August 1, decided that an uncompromising position would best serve the national interest and must be maintained. This was the view of all those present: former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, Secretary of the national security council and liaison on nuclear matters with international institutions Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s former delegate to the IAEA Ali Akbar Salehi, head of foreign affairs commission of NSC Seyyed Hossein Moussavian and also defense minister Admiral Ali Shakhmanai.
Rouhani and Salehi made haste to line up with the extremist view, anxious to make amends for persuading the government to sign the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that permits snap on-site inspections of suspected facilities. The pair had been severely rapped on the knuckles by Khamenei and Rafsanji for misleading Iran into meeting international demands halfway.
The meeting drew up tactics for the months to come:
By holding the line inflexibly, Tehran would bridge the gap still remaining before Iran attains self-sufficiency in enriched uranium for its first bomb. Therefore, nuclear watchdog inspections must be prevented so as not to disturb the rapid progress of centrifuge building and continuing uranium enrichment at secret installations so far undiscovered by the agency. Iranian officials will also announce the start of uranium enrichment soon at the large Natanz site.
Tehran will play on European repugnance for military confrontation and trading self-interest to divide the transatlantic alliance and so buy time to finish the program. Tehran is counting on strenuous efforts by Germany and France to hold the Americans back from any warlike action against the Islamic republic; the UK is expected to jump camp and join the Europeans after Tony Blair singed his fingers in Iraq. Iranian pugnacity is expected to bring the Europeans to heel, make them amenable to the Tehran line and lean on Washington to ease up on its pressure to make Iran forsake its nuclear ambitions.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources, Iran’s radical rulers have misread the European position and failed to recognize that EU leaders are as concerned as the Bush administration about Iran’s advance on a nuclear bomb. The meeting of Iranian officials with UK, French and German delegates in Paris on July 30, called to find a diplomatic way out of the nuclear impasse, left the European side feeling strongly that Tehran had pulled a fast one on them. The EU is very much put out with the Iranians and closer than ever before to the US position. Even Jack Straw, UK foreign minister, is quoted as saying in a closed diplomatic encounter: We are heartily sick of Iran and its sly tricks.”
Tehran is relying on America’s preoccupation with its presidential campaign and sinking fortunes in Iraq to prevent the Bush administration from venturing on any aggressive step against Iran before the November vote. Mohammed Bagher Zolghadr, acting commander of the Revolutionary Guards (Pazdaran) who control Iran’s forces and agents in Iraq and maintains ties with al Qaeda combatant forces offered this view: the Americans will never act before trying to negotiate. This will give Tehran leeway for dragging the crisis out for months until the November election. If Democratic candidate John Kerry is elected, Iran will gain several more months’ grace – at least until January 2005, which might suffice to reach the same point as North Korea which claims to have manufactured one nuclear bomb. Zolghadr noted wryly that the Americans are handling Pyongyang with kid gloves and continue to engage them via Beijing.
The worst the Americans can do at the moment is to bring about UN Security Council sanctions. All the participants at Khamenei’s conference agreed that Iran can easily ride out sanctions because it has set in a handy financial reserve from soaring oil prices. Tehran is sure its exports are safe from cuts because of the current squeeze on world supplies. OPEC is pumping to its limit, Iraq and Saudi Arabia live in fear of sabotage to their infrastructure, Venezuela and Nigeria are in the grip of unrest and Norway is beset by labor stoppages. President George W. Bush, who will have to do something to cool oil prices in the coming months, is hardly likely to press the international community to forego Iran’s 2 million barrels per day, so the Iranians believe.
They are also counting on Washington’s awareness of Iran’s subversive strength in Iraq, certain stable government cannot be assured in Baghdad without Tehran’s cooperation. Iranian agents will therefore continue to be pumped in large numbers into the embattled country.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly adds that their numbers have been boosted by thousands of Afghan refugees living in Iran who have been recruited by Tehran, given lightning courses in religious indoctrination and sabotage, and pushed over the border into Iraq. They were sent to stiffen the resistance of the Sunni insurgents to the secret US-Sunni talks in progress. Dozens of these Afghans have been caught after crossing over. But the Iranians are not worried. They don’t believe US military and Iraqi security forces combined are equal to stemming thousands of infiltrators.
The radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr was back on the warpath this week, egged on from Tehran to resume his rebellion against US forces in Najef and neighboring al Kufa. Wednesday, August 4, Sadr’s Mehdi Army militiamen abducted 18 Iraqi policemen in Najef, demanding the release of their comrades and touching off violent clashes Wednesday night and Thursday with US and Iraqi forces.
The Iranians are encouraged by Russian nuclear collaboration persisting in the face of US ire. They perceive Moscow as using its ties with Tehran to climb up the ladder of world powers. The Islamic republic’s rulers regard themselves as a lever for the Russians to apply against Washington and a major source of revenue. The rocketing price of oil, the Kremlin figures, is putting billions of extra dollars in the Iranian treasury, some of which will be spent on the purchase of Russian weapons and sophisticated missile and nuclear technologies. Iran is also waving under the Kremlin’s nose its plans for another six nuclear reactors in the coming decade for an outlay of $10 billion.
The Khamenei conference reached a firm decision not to let the Additional Protocol go through the majlis for ratification. Even if the Tehran government finds its back to the wall and is forced to submit the AP to the vote, the hardline parliamentary majority that forcibly displaced the reformists in the last general election will vote against it.
Iran meanwhile continues talking to the European trio in Paris, which suits both sides.
But Iran’s delegates were ordered to warn that any more pressure on the nuclear issue will lead to Iran’s withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty.