Sunday, August 07, 2005

Iranian Nuclear Crisis?

Statement by the IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran

It was hardly to be expected that there would be a speedy and easy resolution to the issues connected with Iran’s development of advanced nuclear technologies. And now we are obviously approaching a crisis point.

Tomorrow Monday Iran is expected to reject the offer that the European Union after lengthy preparations presented to them on Friday. That in itself is hardly surprising. It looks as if the offer was rather vague on key points, and any bargaining around a deal is likely to be rather prolonged.

At the same time Teheran has announced that it will resume some limited enrichment of uranium at its Isfahan facility. Under existing treaties it has the right to do so, and it has made clear that it will not do it until IAEA has installed monitoring equipment so as to assure that no material is diverted for non-civilian purposes.

But still this means that Teheran crosses the red line that has been laid down by both the United States and the European Union. The EU has asked for a special meeting of the Board of IAEA on Tuesday to look at the details and how to react.

There might well be those in Washington that will be gloating over a perceived failure by the Europeans to sort out the issue. But they might well reflect on the fact that at the same time the latest round of six-party talks on the issue of the actual nuclear weapons in North Korea has been suspended without achieving much at all.

And the North Korean situation is by all standards worse. The country has left the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is already assumed to have a limited number of nuclear devices already, and could well start exporting technologies and capabilities as well.

Iran, by contrast, is rather far from that. Leaks from the latest US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran say that while the US intelligence community believes with "high confidence" that Iran is determined to develop a nuclear weapon, it is "moderately confident" that Iran is unlikely to make a weapon before the beginning to the middle of the next decade.

This is a more relaxed assessment of the situation than previous ones, and certainly less alarmist than those marketed by some other nations.

Iran certainly builds up capabilities and competencies, but it seems to be at the least a decade behind the North Koreans.

If the confrontation now heats up, there will be pressure to take the entire issue to the UN Security Council in order to try to get a decision on some sort of sanctions. The problem is only that such a decision might well be very difficult to get and that, if that happens, sanctions might as well lead the Iranians to accelerate their program and leave the NPT.

Then, of course, there are those advocating military action. But here the risks are very real indeed. Iran has the power to destabilize in both Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places. At the very best, air strikes could set back an Iranian program by some years, perhaps even less. And an invasion of Iran is not something that the US is even in the vicinity of having the capacity for given how its army is bogged down in Iraq.

In international affairs there are often situations where there are no ideal or immediate solution, and the only alternative is really to struggle along with the issue and hope that time improves prospects for solutions.

In Iran it seems as if we have more time than in the case of North Korea. Continued talks might well be not only the only realistic but also the best solution.