Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Escalation with Iran

We are now entering some weeks in which the Iranian issue very rapidly will move up on the international agenda.

Tuesday the 22nd is the first critical day.

That's when Iran has promised to give its official answer to the offer that was put on the table by the EU3 as well as the US, Russia and China before the summer.

It's a rather genereous one - but an absolute precondition for moving ahead with it is that Iran suspends its ongoing enrichment of uranium. There is an ultimatum from the UN Security Council on that issue as well, and that expires Thursday August 31st - next week.

Then, on Monday September 18th there is the meeting of the IAEA in Vienna which will assess whether Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the Security Council.

And with the UN General Assembly beginning in New York the day after, there is little doubt that the consequences of the IAEA assessment will dominate the discussions in the corridors in New York.

It's unlikely - to put it mildly - that the Lebanon war has improved the climate on the issue.

From the Washington perspective, support for Israel's strike at Hezbollah was very much seen as a strike at "the Western front" of the power of Iran.

Some obviously saw the need to reduce the striking capabilities of that "Western front" in the light of the possibility of a coming military conflict with Iran, in which one of the risks is that Iran will answer a US strike also with using Hezbollah to attack Israel.

Rightly or wrongly - but those are the concerns.

But the problem was of course that this strike wasn't overwhelmingly succesful - although we donĀ“t know what's really behind the words, there is a serious risk that Teheran believes that it has come out rather well of that confrontation.

Indications are that Iran will continue with a policy of brinkmanship on the issue, trying to buy time and create divisions in the now rather solid international front on the issue.

My guess would be that Iran will say that it is ready to negotiate and talk about the entire package - including the suspension of enrichment. But talking about and doing are two very different things, and it is unlikely in the extreme that the US and the EU3 will be satisfied with such an approach.

Anyhow, it is most unlikely to pass the examination of the IAEA, since that will have to follow the strict wording of the Security Council resolution.

If I'm right, we will then see a further move up the ladder of escalation in the conflict with Iran.

The world is becoming an increasingly uncertain place.