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.

 

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Hundreds protest in Iran after horrendous acid attacks

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Masdar to build first large-scale wind farm in GCC

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria