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Iran: Pressure Building To Increase Nuclear Transparency

  • Charles Recknagel

International diplomatic pressure is mounting on Iran to provide more transparency about its nuclear program. This week, two major trading partners -- the European Union and Japan -- both indicated they are considering slowing their commercial cooperation with Tehran if it does not allow more probing inspections by the UN nuclear agency. At the same time, Russia -- under contract to help build an Iranian reactor -- is urging Tehran to show it has no nuclear weapons development programs.

Prague, 3 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- This week has seen an almost daily ratcheting up of pressure on Iran to let the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conduct more intrusive inspections of its nuclear program.

The week began with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw's visit to Tehran on 29 June. He told top Iranian officials that trade ties with the EU could be jeopardized if they refuse to sign "immediately and unconditionally" an additional protocol with the IAEA to allow surprise inspections at nuclear sites.

Straw won no commitments from Tehran, which said only that it is open to further dialogue. Iran has said previously it would consider signing the additional protocol in exchange for greater access to nuclear technology.

But if Straw left Tehran empty-handed, there were plenty of signs that his visit was just the start of a growing international campaign to change Iran's position.

By mid-week, Japan -- another major Iranian trading partner -- said it is postponing finalization of a deal worth $2 billion to develop Iran's key Azadegan oil field. Japanese government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda told reporters that "Crude oil is very important for Japan but, on the other hand, the nuclear development issue has turned into a big concern."

At the same time, Moscow -- which is providing Iran with the technical expertise to build a major nuclear power reactor at Bushehr -- urged Iran to submit to tougher UN inspections. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told the visiting head of Iran's nuclear program, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, that doing so would be "another confirmation of the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program."

The growing international pressure comes as the head of the IAEA, Muhammad al-Baradei, heads to Tehran next week (9 July) for meetings with the country's top nuclear officials. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL's Radio Farda correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari that al-Baradei will again stress the need for Iran to accept more intrusive inspections.

"This additional protocol should be signed by every Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty country. We are not saying just Iran should sign it," Fleming said. "Everybody should sign it, and a number of countries have. Particularly in countries like Iran that have a big civilian nuclear program, that have a program to enrich uranium, we would like to see an additional protocol to provide the necessary transparency so that the world can have the assurances they are demanding that there is no secret nuclear weapons program."

The additional protocol is an addendum to Iran's obligations under the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran signed in the 1970s. The addendum would allow surprise inspections, including environmental sampling for the presence of nuclear weapons development activities.

The IAEA, which last month reprimanded Iran for its repeated failure to report on its nuclear material facilities and activities, has rejected Tehran's offer to sign in exchange for the lifting of restrictions on the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran. The agency calls the additional protocol nonnegotiable.

Analysts say Iran now faces the difficult choice of whether to continue to defy the IAEA's demands at the risk of losing foreign trade and investment.

Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in Washington, D.C., says Tehran has long been able to shrug off charges by the U.S. that it seeks nuclear weapons because America has no diplomatic or trade ties with Iran. But the countries that are now applying pressure on Tehran do have that leverage.

"I would think that the international pressure may establish within Iran's mind that there is a degree of concern about this on the part of the European Union, Russia, and a number developing countries, which Iran has traditionally thought of as an alternative to better relations with the United States. And the Iranian leaders may therefore think that this lack of cooperation on [Iran's] nuclear policy is a more costly policy than [they] thought."

Last month, British Prime Minister Tony Blair persuaded EU leaders to warn Tehran that its nuclear policy puts at risk a planned Trade and Cooperation Agreement worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran. Under the accord -- which has long been under negotiation between the two sides -- the EU would lower tariffs on a range of goods in exchange for Iran showing progress on human rights, ending support for terrorist groups, and abandoning any weapons of mass destruction programs.

The next round of talks on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement is due to start in September, effectively giving Iran a three-month deadline to respond.

Clawson says the test now will be whether the EU's approach of dialogue, linked to trade, will prove any more effective than Washington's long-standing strategy of trying to contain Iran through sanctions.

The analyst says the biggest challenge for Iran's trading partners will be to not accept compromises that allow Tehran to avoid unconditional acceptance of intrusive inspections. Clawson says any compromises would allow Iran to continue developing nuclear weapons capabilities while appearing to observe its Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments -- a strategy U.S. officials say Iran has pursued for years.

"Many in the United States government are concerned at Iran's effectiveness at exploiting the opportunities that are provided to countries within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty so long as the countries declare what it is that they are doing. The concern has long been that what Iran will do is develop a robust nuclear capability that would allow it to quickly break out, as the phrase goes -- that is, to quickly develop nuclear weapons -- from the facilities that it has developed within the framework of the IAEA supervision."

As Iran's trading partners now signal they are ready to apply economic leverage to alter Tehran's nuclear policy, Iranian officials so far are showing few signs of bending to the pressure.

Aghazadeh said yesterday at the conclusion of a five-day visit to Moscow that he has no objections to international calls for Tehran to agree to tougher inspections.

But he repeated that the issue must be negotiable and that the IAEA must offer "guarantees" to Iran in exchange. He did not specify the guarantees.

Aghazadeh said, "We want to clarify the IAEA's guarantees and obligations to Iran.... The propaganda campaign directed against Iran is incorrect and out of place. Our activity is perfectly clear."