- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Iranian tango, taking one step back then two steps forward, has resumed as the Islamic republic made clear its intentions to move ahead with its nuclear development program, come what may.

Upping the ante in the international arena, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad maintained his threats against Western nations for referring the Iran nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council.

“The countries of the West are vulnerable and they will suffer more than we will if they try to prevent Iran from developing nuclear capability,” said Mr. Ahmadinejad in a speech.

Meanwhile, Iranian and American officials continued talking across each other. Mr. Ahmadinejad made it clear Iran would not be taking any steps back, while Dan Gillerman, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, expressed optimism Thursday morning, saying he believed the Security Council could prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons program.

“The Security Council has proven in the last several months that it can be very effective,” Mr. Gillerman said in an interview with Army Radio. “We saw this in the decision to compel Syrian forces to leave Lebanon and in the investigation into the death of [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik] Hariri.”

Mr. Gillerman said if the U.N. Security Council were to act with the same resolve, it would send a clear message to Iran that it stands on the “brink of isolation.” But given Tehran’s response, Mr. Gillerman’s remarks seem to be based more on wishful thinking than on firm diplomatic planning. Threats of isolation have not been particularly effective in convincing the mullahs in Iran in the past.

Iran, as the world’s second-largest producer of oil after Saudi Arabia, can greatly upset world markets if it were to slow down its oil production, estimated at 4 million barrels a day.

Furthermore, there is another reason, better make that two reasons, why sanctions may not work: Russia and China — both countries which oppose slapping sanctions on Iran.

Russian representatives at the world body in New York criticized U.S. efforts, hinting that Washington may be trying to escalate the standoff in the Persian Gulf. The United States, say the Russians, seemed eager to take the issue out of the hands of the world body’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Cautioning against any impulsive decisions, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, alluded to the U.S. claim — and justification — for going to war in Iraq. “We don’t want to be the ones to remind who was right and who was not in Iraq, although the answer is obvious,” said the Russian minister.

Russia, much like China, holds veto powers in the Security Council. A veto by either country would put a halt to a vote on imposing sanctions on Iran.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration appears adamant that Iran not reach the point of nuclear capability. Addressing members of Congress in Washington Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “Iran would become a major threat to the United States if it acquired nuclear weapons.”

Iranian opposition groups rejoiced at the announcement the matter was brought before the U.N. Security Council.

“This is a welcome and necessary step that the IAEA has taken. It is long overdue,” said Alireza Jafarzadeh, president of the Washington-based Strategic Policy Consulting, a group closely affiliated with the Iranian resistance.

It was Mr. Jafarzadeh’s group that initially revealed to the West the previously secret nuclear sites, including the uranium-enriching facility at Natanz and the heavy water facility at Arak, in August 2002.

The onus, said Mr. Jafarzadeh, is now on the Security Council to make sure Iran does not buy the much-needed time to complete its nuclear weapons program. “The Security Council now has the option of adopting oil, technological and diplomatic sanctions on Iran, as rapidly as possible,” said the Iranian dissident.

But from a more realistic approach, sanctions alone, as in the case in Iraq, will not work any better in Iran. Sanctions will end up hurting the people far more than those governing them, and may in fact turn against the United States by uniting the Iranian people with their government.

Mr. Jafarzadeh wants a combination of sanctions and support for the opposition. “Sanctions are most effective when coupled with support by member states for the Iranian opposition.” Sanctions alone, Mr. Jafarzadeh says, will fail to do the trick.

“They will hurt the regime, and may slow down the nuclear weapons program, but will not stop it,” he said, urging the United States “to quickly adopt a policy that would encourage and support regime change by the Iranian opposition, and remove all restrictions on Iranian opposition groups.”

It remains to be seen if Iran will continue its tango unabated, or if the United States will ask to cut in.

Claude Salhani is international editor for United Press International.


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