ROAR: Sanctions or “rewards” await nuclear Iran

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
As the Iranian president declares his country “a nuclear state,” analysts still believe that diplomatic efforts have not been exhausted.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on February 11 told people celebrating the 31st anniversary of the Islamic Revolution that Iran had produced its first package of 20 percent enriched uranium. The country had become “a nuclear state,” he said.

On February 7, the Iranian president ordered to start enriching uranium to 20%, which produces fuel for nuclear power plants, but can also be used while creating material for nuclear weapons.

The move is considered defiance of international demands that Iran should stop the nuclear program and proposals to Tehran to enrich uranium in Russia and France.

On the one hand, international experts have no reason to criticize Iran at the moment, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. Tehran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about starting work on the enrichment, and international observers are allowed in the secret facility, it noted. The reactor in question “has been producing medicine for a long time and does not come under any sanctions that had been imposed against Iran,” the paper said.

At the same time, experts are increasingly concerned about what will happen to the radioactive material after the enrichment is finished, the paper said. But it is not ruled out that the Tehran’s main aim is to split the group of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, rather than to simply receive the fuel, the daily said.

Observers wonder if Russia may support new possible sanctions against Tehran. Moscow believes that any new sanctions “should pursue the goal of strengthening the nuclear nonproliferation regime,” the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov has said.

Russia would deem as inappropriate any other attempts to promote a possible future resolution which would go beyond this regime, Ryabkov told RIA Novosti news agency on February 10. Russia regrets that Iran has been unwilling to compromise on its nuclear program, he told Kommersant daily on the same day. Moscow recognizes that sanctions are necessary in certain circumstances, he added.

Analysts expect Russia to take a tougher stance on Iran. The decision to enrich uranium on its own makes Iran closer to possessing nuclear weapons and increases the possibility of war in the region, said Major-General Vladimir Dvorkin, a senior researcher at the Center for International Security at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations.

All the years that “the exhausting process of talks” lasted, Iran has been approaching the point of creating nuclear weapons, Dvorkin said. Now the strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities may be considered as a lesser evil by the US and Israel compared to Tehran possessing nuclear weapons, he told Interfax news agency.

Possible new sanctions against Iran after the five resolutions of the UN Security Council that had already been adopted are "unlikely to influence the Iranian leadership unless they do not include financial and economic blockade,” Dvorkin said. However, the Security Council will not be able to adopt such a resolution “because of the position of China and Russia,” the analyst noted.

As for China’s role, the worse the relations are between that country and Washington, “the stronger Beijing’s support for Iran is,” Gazeta daily said. Last year Tehran became the largest trading partner of China, leaving the European Union behind, the paper said, adding that Iran’s share of all energy supplies to China amounted to 11% in 2008.

Tehran’s hopes that China will block the sanctions in the Security Council may not be justified, Kommersant daily said. Beijing is using the Iranian argument “bargaining over new US’s arms deals with Taiwan,” it added.

If China comes to an agreement with the US, Beijing may refrain from using its right of veto in the UN during the voting on a new resolution, the paper said. Making the text of this document softer may be another condition of the deal between Washington and Beijing, the daily said, adding this will allow Chinese companies to continue working in Iran.

Some other analysts believe that Iran is still ready to send uranium to Russia and France. Initially this proposal was developed with the participation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and sent to the Iranian authorities in November last year. In January, Tehran refused to cooperate on the conditions set by the group of six countries.

“The stumbling block is the process of uranium supplies,” said Rajab Safarov, director of Russia’s Center for Contemporary Iranian Studies. “Iran agreed to send 70% reduced-enrichment uranium to Russia and France to enrich it to 20% and to smelt it into fuel slugs,” he told Gazeta daily. “But the Western countries insisted that the entire uranium should be sent abroad simultaneously and Iran rejected that condition.”

“Now Iran keeps insisting that uranium should be sent in parts,” Rajabov said. According to him, Tehran “does not trust the countries of the UN Security Council and is afraid that if all the uranium is sent at one time, it may be seized in Russia or France.”

“The nuclear program is a sacred cow for Ahmadinejad,” Aleksey Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center told Vremya Novostey daily. “For him, it is important that the world in the end recognizes the Iran’s capability to create nuclear weapons,” he said.

“Sooner or later, Russia will lose its patience despite the fact that Iran represents an important niche for Moscow and allows it to play the role of mediator,” Malashenko said. He does not rule out that Iran will agree on the IAEA scheme and will send 70% of its uranium to Russia for enriching and then to France for producing nuclear fuel.

If this happens, Iran will be rewarded for this – it “may be paid,” Malashenko believes. But if Tehran “drives the West to hysterics, then it will bring no good because both the US and Israel have plans to strike on Iran,” he said. And one should not forget about Saudi Arabia, which has “the same stance” as the West, he added.

At the same time, the nuclear crisis is accompanied by increasing pressure of the Iranian opposition on Ahmadinejad’s power, and he “is accused of tyranny and despotism,” Vremya Novostey said. Opposition to the president is very serious, and “it cannot be ruled out that the regime may be changed,” Malashenko said.

The fact that Iran has started the enrichment is treated as the country’s work on the creation of a nuclear bomb, said Georgy Mirsky, a senior researcher at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations. “But it should be understood that Iran does not need this bomb,” he told Rossiyskaya Gazeta. “It has nobody to drop it on,” the analyst believes.

At the same time, Tehran wants to enrich uranium to the level where it will be possible to make the bomb and “to speak with the West from a position of strength,” the analyst believes.

“Iranians think that time is on their side,” Mirsky said. “They understand that the US will not go for a military action now because it got bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Iranians consider Israel’s unilateral actions unreal.”

Diplomatic efforts have not been exhausted, Mirsky believes. However, it is not clear how a compromise agreement can be reached so that Iran enrich uranium under external control, he said. None of the sides trust each other, the analyst said.

The Islamic republic accuses the West of deception and the intention to seize Tehran’s uranium, Mirsky said. “But Iran is actually playing its own game, which nobody can solve so far,” he noted.

Sergey Borisov, RT