June 03, 2013

Iran: Nuclear Talks Fail As West Remains Adamant

THE latest round of talks to resolve the long running dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme seem to have once again ended without making much progress. The talks, the second within a short span of time, had taken place in the salubrious climes of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, in early April. The venue was carefully chosen, as Kazakhstan had positioned itself as an honest broker between the West and Iran. In the talks held in Almaty in February, between Iran and the P-5+1, meaning the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the two sides had decided to adjourn the meeting on a slightly positive note, claiming that some progress was being made to resolve the contentious nuclear issue. TALKS BACK TO SQUARE ONE But after the latest round of talks, the situation seems to have reverted to square one. The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who was head of the P-5+1 delegation, told the media that the two sides had failed to reach an agreement and that they still “remain far apart on substance.” The Iranian side once again refused to countenance the core demand from the West --- of bringing down its uranium enrichment level from the current 20 per cent. In return, Teheran was offered a modest relief from the international sanctions the country has been subjected to. At the February talks, the Iranians were specifically told that some of the sanctions on its petrochemical products and trade in gold would be lifted if Teheran closed one of its nuclear facilities. However, there were no promises from the West regarding the lifting of the major sanctions that have hobbled the export of Iranian oil and adversely impacted the Iranian economy. Teheran has stuck to its position that the international community should first recognise its inherent right, as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium before meaningful concessions from their side could be expected. Iran’s top political leadership, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the president, Mohammed Ahmadenijad, have repeatedly stated that the country does not want to be nuclear power. Ayatollah Khameinei had said that possessing nuclear weaponry was against the tenets of Islam. Two days after the collapse of the latest round of talks, Iran in fact announced the opening of a new uranium production facility and two uranium extraction facilities. Iran enriches uranium to both 3.5 and 20 per cent levels at the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilities. The UN Security Council had passed a resolution in 2006, demanding that Iran stop the processing of uranium. Both sides now have hardened their positions. On a visit to Israel, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, once again emphasised that the Obama administration has not ruled out the option of war against Iran. President Barack Obama repeated that “all options are on the table” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Israel has been threatening to use this option for many years now. Israel has been warning that Iran is only a few months away from having the material to fabricate a nuclear bomb. The Iranian president, speaking in the second week of March, claimed that his country now had mastery “over the entire chain of nuclear energy.” NO BREAKTHROUGH, BUT NO BREAKDOWN The two sides have, however, agreed to continue talking despite the rise in tensions and heated rhetoric. Ashton said that “there was a real back and forth” during the latest round of talks. The general consensus was that though there was no breakthrough, there was also no breakdown of communications between the two sides. Ashton said that she hopes to get in touch with Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili “in order to see how to go forward.” On his part, Jalili said that the ball was now in the court of the West. He told the media that Iran had put forward concrete proposals to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear programme. He said that the international community might need more time to study it and then come back for more meaningful talks. Jalili again emphasised that there was no question of Iran ever compromising on its right to enrich uranium. He also added that talks could only succeed if certain powers gave up their “hostile intentions” towards Iran. It has become increasingly clear that Washington’s real intentions is to bring about a regime change in Teheran and once again completely dominate the energy rich region, like it did till the 1970s. A former Iranian spokesperson for the Iranian negotiating team in nuclear talks with the US, Ambassador Hossein Moussavian, who is currently a research scholar in Princeton University, has said that the West’s strategy is “inadvertently pushing Iran towards nuclear weapons.” The Obama administration has continued with the previous administration’s policy of characterising Iran as a “rogue state” and keeps on issuing dire threats of war against the country. A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate, based on inputs from American intelligence agencies, had concluded that Iran had given up work on its nuclear weapons programme in 2002. Iran is the current chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and has considerable backing in the international community. The NAM has called for the denuclearisation of West Asia and demanded that Israel sign the NPT immediately. A UN resolution passed late last year, approved by a vote of 174-6, made the call for Israel to join the NPT “without further delay.” Israel has a nuclear arsenal said to contain anything between 75 to 400 nuclear warheads. SANCTIONS MUST GO The Non-Aligned Movement has voiced its strong disagreement on the sanctions being imposed on Iran that have caused widespread problems for the common man there. The sanctions have adversely affected the Iranian rial and triggered runaway inflation, making the prices of essential commodities and medicine go through the ceiling. The government has said that Iranian oil exports are down by 40 per cent, while revenues have been reduced by 45 per cent. The Iranian rial has lost half its value against the dollar. “Sanctions are painful but they make us more self-reliant,” Ayatollah Khameinei had said some time back. The unilateral American sanctions on Iran have come for strong criticism from countries like Brazil and South Africa. China has been ignoring the US mandated secondary sanctions and is continuing to do business with Iran. But countries like India have buckled down under US pressure, sharply reducing trade with Iran. The Indian government says that it only implements UN mandated sanctions and is, instead, blaming Indian private companies for backing down under pressure from the West. Iran, like North Korea, is seeking guarantees from Washington that it would not be subjected to an attack by the US or its allies in the region before it makes concessions on the nuclear issue. It also wants the West to spell out clearly a time line for the lifting of sanctions. The US after all had a long history of involvement in the internal affairs of Iran, starting from the time of the brief ouster of the Shah of Iran by the democratically elected government headed by Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. After the final departure of the Shah in 1979, Washington stepped up its interference despite the signing of the “Algiers Treaty” of 1981 which had ended the “hostage crisis” that had erupted between the countries. Washington had pledged at the time that it “would not intervene directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” The US had also promised to remove all the sanctions it had imposed on Iran that were imposed immediately after the success of the Islamic Revolution. Washington wasted no time on reneging on its commitment. It encouraged the Iraqi invasion of Iran and then stood by as the two countries bled each other to bankruptcy in the war which lasted for more than eight years. In 1988, at the fag end of that war, the US Navy shot down an Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 on board. There were more than a million casualties on both sides, but the Iranian military proved to the world that it was no pushover and would fight to the last to preserve the country’s sovereignty and integrity. WEST HAS ALWAYS BEEN CRYING WOLF On the nuclear issue, the West has been crying “wolf” for a long time, charging that Iran was involved in a clandestine programme to make a nuclear weapon. In 1984, the West German intelligence claimed that Iran was only two years away from the bomb. The claim was widely reported in the western media. West Germany was building a nuclear reactor for the Shah and work on it was proceeding apace when he was overthrown. Nuclear reactors were all right for Iran as Shah was a staunch ally of the West. His overthrow was never considered an eventuality as he commanded one of the strongest armies in the regions and presided over a dreaded secret service, known as the “Savak.” Every other year, reports appear in the West about a new “smoking gun” that had been discovered proving that Iran was on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. This year, the Israelis have been claiming that Iran can now make a nuclear bomb within four to six months. In 2011, the Washington Post had claimed that Iran was only 62 days away from the bomb. Taking the cake, there was a report in the Wall Street Journal this year stating that Iran could buy a bomb any time it wishes from North Korea. Israel has kept on threatening the use of force against Iranian nuclear installations. The US Congress recently passed a resolution that it is duty bound to come to Israel’s aid if there is a military confrontation with Iran. The new US secretary of state, John Kerry, had warned of “terrible consequences could follow the failure of talks.” The Pentagon has been systematically building up its military forces in the region while at the same time further strengthening the armed forces of its allies in the region. The Iranian president as well as the country’s supreme leader have warned Washington and Tel Aviv from making any foolhardy moves. Speaking on the occasion of Iran’s Army Day on April 18, President Ahmadenijad said that the foreign military presence in the region was the source of insecurity in the Persian Gulf. The US has military bases in almost all the monarchies that are in Iran’s neighbourhood. The Iranian army chief, General Hasan Firouzabadi, directly warned Israel about the dangers of military intervention. “We see Israel’s threats as a scream that comes out of fear. If they do anything wrong, there will be no Israel left on the political map,” the General warned.