First Published: 2007-05-28

 
US-Iranian Dispute Grows More Dangerous
 

Intimidation between Iran and the United States (and its allies) is intensifying. Dr. Mohamad ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEI), supports diplomatic negotiations to resolve issues around Iran's nuclear energy development, writes Patrick Seale.

 

Middle East Online



With no sign of compromise on either side, the confrontation between the United States and Iran over Iran’s nuclear programme is hotting up and looks increasingly as if it may run the risk of escalating into an armed clash.

• In an intimidating show of force, two US carrier battle groups, with 150 aircraft on board, have started air and naval manoeuvres in the Gulf close to Iran’s coast. A leading US hawk, Vice-President Dick Cheney, has stated that these deployments were intended to deliver a message to Tehran.

• ABC News reported last week that President George W. Bush had authorized clandestine CIA operations to destabilize the Iranian regime.

• The United States and Israel are intensifying their international campaign to undermine the Iranian economy. They have been trying to persuade major companies, banks, pension funds and other financial institutions to cut export credits to Iran, to stop dealing with its banks, to ban all arms sales, and to punish and sell stock in companies trading with, or investing in, Iran.

"The Iranians need to know that we’re serious about this," Nicholas Burns, US under-secretary of state for political affairs told The New York Times.

• The United States, Britain, and France will this week seek to persuade the UN Security Council to pass a third resolution imposing new political, economic and financial sanctions on Iran if it fails to halt uranium enrichment. Iran has ignored two deadlines to do so in two earlier Security Council Resolutions passed in December 2006 and March 2007. The new Resolution is expected to impose a mandatory travel ban on senior Iranian officials, including those involved in nuclear activities.

In a new development France’s recently elected President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has joined the United States in adopting a harsh tone towards Iran. "For my part I think we should not hesitate to toughen the sanctions," he told a German magazine.

Dr. Mohamad ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEI), is known to be most anxious to prevent a resort to arms. He has proposed a formula that would allow both sides to step back from the brink without losing face. But his suggestion has been brushed aside by the United States, Britain and France.

As a pragmatist, ElBaradei has said that the call for a total suspension by Iran of its uranium enrichment has been "superseded by events." It is too late, he argues, to insist that Iran give up uranium enrichment in order to delay its acquisition of the knowledge to make nuclear fuel. It has already mastered the uranium fuel cycle. Centrifuges are already at work at its Natanz plant.

Instead, he has suggested that Iran should be allowed to retain part of its enrichment activities -- say the 1,300 centrifuges now operating -- provided it goes no further.

Iran has claimed it has enriched uranium to a level of 4.8 per cent, enough to produce nuclear fuel for power plants, but far from the 90 per cent level need to produce a nuclear weapon.

Dr. Elbaradei has said that the CIA, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and French intelligence are all agreed that Iran would need another 4 to 8 years to manufacture an atomic weapon. In other words, he seems to be saying that there is still plenty of time for diplomacy and no need for the Western powers and Israel to panic.

The United States, Britain and France have criticized Dr. Elbaradei for these statements which, they say, he is not entitled to make. They are said to be considering making a formal rebuke to him. Germany, however, has not associated itself with this step.

In early 2003, before the US-British invasion of Iraq, Dr. Elbaradei declared that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein had reconstituted his nuclear weapons programme. This position earned him the bitter enmity of the Bush Administration, and especially of Washington’s pro-Israeli neo-conservatives, who were bent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein as a first step -- or so they thought -- to ‘reshaping’ the entire Middle East to make it pro-American and pro-Israeli.

In the event, the Iraq war has proved to be a catastrophic mistake and Dr. Elbaradei was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to prevent it.

Reacting to the intensifying Western pressure, Iran has struck back by accelerating its uranium enrichment activities and by arresting a number of Iranian-Americans, including Haleh Esfandiari, from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars in Washington and Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner working for George Soros’s Open Society Institute.

These moves by both sides do not augur well for the scheduled meeting of US and Iranian envoys due to take place in Baghdad on 28 May, to discuss the situation in Iraq. It is hard to see how the two countries can agree on measures to stabilize Iraq while at the same time quarrelling violently over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.

 

New US law could sanction Hezbollah officials

ISIS-rebel clashes grip northeast Syria town

Hundreds of civilians flee Fallujah area in Iraq

Khamenei urges Iran lawmakers to resist Western 'schemes'

Turkey Muslims demand right to pray at Hagia Sophia

Iran delegation leaves Saudi Arabia without Hajj deal

Thousands of protesters gather in central Bagdad

99 lashes for partying Iranian students

100,000 Syrians trapped after shock IS advance in Aleppo

Iran sticking to nuclear deal: UN watchdog

Turkey party seeks constitutional change to boost president's powers

Turkey accuses US of 'hypocrisy' on Kurdish militia in Syria

Israel environment minister resigns from 'extremist government'

US-led coalition pounds IS near Raqa

Tunisia mulls allowing women to serve in army

US-backed fighters battle IS near Syria stronghold

Tunisia tourism sees 'slight recovery'

UN envoy calls for economic rescue plan for Yemen

Bahrain jails 19 for attacks on police

Up to 30 dead in shipwreck off Libya

UN says Syrians will 'starve' unless aid improves

Christian homes set ablaze in Egyptian village 'love story'

Kuwait's main opposition group ends polls boycott

Twin offensives on IS edge forward in Syria, Iraq

Private firms to help in hunt for Egyptair black boxes

New Israeli defence minister's tough talk to be put to the test

Syria most dangerous place for health workers

Concern for civilians trapped in Iraq's Fallujah

Brent rises past $50 a barrel

Iraq PM urges protesters to stay home

Juncker warns Ankara against migrant deal threats

Israeli air force carries out strikes on Hamas sites in Gaza

Annual Jewish pilgrimage starts in Tunisia

Sudan accuses UN official of 'false' reports on displaced

Egypt quashes prison sentences for 47 protesters

At least 5 drown off Libya coast

Coalition airstrike kills six Yemen civilians 'by mistake'

Erdogan chairs first meeting of new Turkey cabinet

Pope prays to 'convert hearts' of ISIS extremists

Egypt expels French journalist amid crackdown on media

Israeli rights group gives up on army complaints system

Hamas-led council backs executions without Abbas approval

Netanyahu forms ultra-nationalist Israel government

Major assaults target IS jihadists in Iraq, Syria

Yemen warring parties 'closer' to agreement