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Powers Study Iran's Nuclear Rejoinder

Envoys to Tehran at their August 22 meeting with Ali Larijani (epa) August 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The sponsors of an incentives package to limit Iran's nuclear program are studying Tehran's extensive response with the deadline for a UN-imposed halt to sensitive activities just over a week away.

Reuters quoted French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy as saying today that those countries will need "a few days" to pore over Iran's response.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, did not provide details of the document's contents to the public when he delivered it on August 22.

Larijani was quoted as saying that Tehran is prepared for "serious talks" concerning its nuclear program, but he made no comment on the crucial issue of uranium enrichment.

Iran's response followed weeks of insistence by Iranian officials that the country will not halt uranium enrichment, which the UN Security Council has demanded it do by the end of August or face possible sanctions.

The five permanent members of the Security Council -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States -- plus Germany crafted the incentives package in an effort to discourage an Iranian nuclear program that some in the West believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

'Long, Complex Document'

"It is a very long, complex document and we are studying it," Reuters quoted Douste-Blazy as saying, citing France 2 television. "In a few days, along with our European, American, Russian, and Chinese partners, we will say what we think and what we will do at the UN Security Council."

Russia and China -- whose countries have extensive economic ties to Iran -- have signaled reluctance to impose sanctions.

China has urged Iran to be constructive and to consider international concerns, Reuters reported, while Russia said it is ready to participate in further negotiations on the matter.

The United States, which has vowed not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, has not disguised its desire to seek sanctions if Tehran "thumbs its nose" at the UN Security Council.

"We will obviously study the Iranian response carefully," John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN, said after the Iranian response was delivered. "[But] we are also prepared -- if it does not meet the terms set by the Perm-5 (five permanent veto-holding members of the UN Security Council) foreign ministers -- to proceed here in the Security Council."

Bolton said that if Iran fails to comply with Security Council demands, "It really is a test for the [Security] Council, and we'll see how it responds."

The United States and other governments have accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have dismissed those fears, saying they have a right to peaceful nuclear technology and want only to fuel nuclear power plants.

The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), referred Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council after it concluded that Tehran had obfuscated and failed to provide convincing evidence that its nuclear program is intended strictly for civilian purposes.

Afraid Of Sanctions?

Afraid Of Sanctions?
Comprehensive sanctions could further slow development in Iran's strategic oil and gas sectors (Fars)

WHAT DOES TEHRAN REALLY THINK? On August 22, Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman spoke with Alex Vatanka, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group, by telephone from Alexandria, Virginia. Vatanka discussed the possible impact that comprehensive sanctions could have for Iran.

Radio Farda: Some Iranian authorities are trying to create the impression that they aren't concerned about the possibility of international sanctions against it. They emphasize that what Iran has achieved so far has happened despite the sanctions already in place against it. Are they really not afraid of sanctions?

Vatanka: I think that what the Iranians are trying to do is to continue to play this balancing act. On the one hand, they are trying to say, "Look, we have done without you for 27 years; we can continue." On the other hand, if you look at every other major Iranian overture toward the U.S., obviously what they are hoping to do is remove those sanctions. It is the sanctions that have been the biggest obstacle to a genuine expansion in the Iranian economy. It is the sanctions and U.S. policies vis-a-vis Iran that have, for instance, kept Iran from joining the World Bank. It is sanctions and so on that have made the Iranian oil industry have such a tough time in bringing investment into the strategic oil and gas sectors. People like [former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi-]Rafsanjani back in the mid 1990s even kept certain fields untouched because the idea was that U.S. companies should have those once the sanctions were lifted.
I think sanctions are quite important to the Iranians, but at the same time what they are trying to say is, "Don't assume that we are going to fall off our chair just because you mentioned the sanctions card." It is part of a kind diplomatic chess game going on by Tehran. But remember if we look and listen to Iranian reformists, this is being openly debated inside Iran. The question that is being asked of [President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and his entourage] is, "What is the ultimate objective?" Is it just Islamic independence? Is it just the ability to enrich uranium? The debate in Iran by the reformists -- and I think a lot of people would sympathize with this -- is, "What are we being sanctioned for exactly and what policies do you have to make sure that those sanctions don't hit us harder than we have already been hit?"
Remember, the big issue here is this: Iran has been sanctioned by the U.S. Iran has never faced comprehensive United Nations sanctions. The Iranian people have never suffered on a scale that the Iraqi people, for instance, suffered because of such sanctions. So it is kind of disingenuous of these senior leaders to pretend that Iran has already gone through comprehensive sanctions. Iran has not. And it will be totally different set of circumstances that will have a totally different impact on Iranian society and the economy, should the UN impose comprehensive sanctions on the country.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.