Sunday, May 20, 2007

Iran spins more uranium centrifuges

UN Security Council will consider a third round of sanctions

Iran is in a race to get its nuclear energy program to a point of no return making its acceptance a diplomatic fact of life and thus deterring future efforts by western powers to stop it. The New York Times reports Iran may be winning that race. In an exclusive interview this week with IAEA chief Mhamed ElBaradei, the paper reports Iran is making "rapid progress" in its nuclear program which is, in turn, creating new potential splits among members of the UN Security Council over ways to stop it. The more time the UN takes to make up its mind the more progress Iran makes with its nuclear program.

What triggered the current assessment is that IAEA inspectors showed up on short notice at Iran's main nuclear facility at Natanz last week and found 1,300 centrifuges in operation. Previous reports indicated that number were installed, but it was unclear how many were actually working.

ElBaradei told the New York Times, “Quite clearly suspension is a requirement by the Security Council, and I would hope the Iranians would listen to the world community,” he said. “But from a proliferation perspective, the fact of the matter is that one of the purposes of suspension — keeping them from getting the knowledge — has been overtaken by events. The focus now should be to stop them from going to industrial scale production, to allow us to do a full-court-press inspection and to be sure they remain inside the nonproliferation treaty.”

So far the main goal has been to get Iran to give up its uranium enrichment program, and, failing that, to convince the Iranian government through successive rounds of UN sanctions that the costs of pursuing its nuclear ambitions are too high. The UN has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran. There is plenty of debate over how effective the sanctions are, but some evidence indicates internal political problems are cropping up for the seemingly unstoppable Iranian nuclear bandwagon. An analysis by the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy says the financial sanctions are have some effect.

The results have been promising. Many non-US financial institutions and companies reduced or terminated commercial ties with Iran and early last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development raised its risk-rating for Iran. Months later the Iranian oil minister had to acknowledge that Iran was having trouble financing oil projects.

By the end of May the IAEA will submit a report to the UN Security Council on whether Iran has complied with previous resolutions ordering it to cease uranium enrichment. The short answer will be no. The long question will be what will the UN do next?

A third round of economic sanctions is clearly what the US has in mind. Nicholas Burns, the lead US State Department official on the issue, said that if the Iranians did not agree to suspend production by the time the leaders of the largest industrial nations meet next month, “we will move ahead toward a third set of sanctions.”

Hawks close to the Bush administration advocate military action, but that's unlikely given the question of how effective the strikes would be and the certainty of more political chaos in the Middle East as a result.

In June the UN Security Council must decide whether or how to impose a third round of sanctions against Iran over its continued pursuit of uranium enrichment. The threat is that Iran may have the components and know how to make a nuclear weapon. Together with its missiles which have a range of 1,200 miles, Iran could target cities in Russia and Europe. Even more to the point, if Iran has nuclear arms, they could provide an umbrella for a conventional arms attack against Israel by Arab countries making good on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threat to wipe Israel off the map.

There appear to be some cracks in the political front in Iran. According to the Jerusalem Post in a rare, if not unprecedented, conversation with an Israeli journalist, Mohammad Larijani, an Iranian politician and scientist whose brother Ali is his country's top nuclear envoy, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that Iran was not bent on wiping Israel out and that his president had been misunderstood and misreported when purportedly expressing this genocidal ambition. The response in Israel so far to this press report is disbelief.

In a separate development, some of Iran's Middle East Arab allies told the Persian country's leaders to back off on its nuclear ambitions. According to the Associated Press, they harshly criticized Iran's growing influence in the Middle East, telling the country's top diplomat at a high-level conference in Jordon that it must stay out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and be more open about its nuclear ambitions. The "butt out" message is a real shot across Iran's bow.

Maybe the UN Security Council ought to spend more time talking to the Middle East countries in addition to talking to themselves about what to do next with Iran. Watch this space because the UN, with strong US backing, will likely head towards an unprecedented third round of economic sanctions because of Iran's persistence in pursuit of uranium enrichment and the potential to acquire the ability to make its own nuclear weapons as a result.

No comments: