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Iran: Mixture Of Defiance, Speculation At Prospect Of Tougher Sanctions

What gives the West the right to impose sanctions on Iran, asks President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (file photo) (ISNA) Iranian officials highlight the significance of Iran's cooperation agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), intended to clarify aspects of Iran's contested nuclear program. But comments show that many in Iran do not expect this agreement to deter the United States and its Western allies from pressuring Iran for its refusal to stop uranium-enrichment activities, in defiance of two UN resolutions.

September 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Said Jalili, Iranian deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, gave the United Arab Emirates daily "Al-Ittihad" Iran's official line on the controversy over its nuclear program: Iran is standing by its rights but is willing to negotiate.

He said resolution of the nuclear dispute could be resolved if the case is returned from the UN Security Council to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. He said Iran is willing to talk to clarify questions about its "peaceful nuclear programs" but would not negotiate on "the achievements of the Iranian nation" -- or its progress in nuclear technology.

In response to increasing reports that key Western powers are not apparently impressed by Iran's cooperation with the IAEA, Iranian politicians are responding with a mixture of defiance and speculation about the likelihood of more economic pressure or formal sanctions.

Their comments have echoed previous positions: Iran's program is peaceful and the West is moved by political and ideological grudges against Iran's political system. And while there is talk in Iran of a lack of consensus among the great powers, with Germany the new favored power said to be siding with Russia, China, and nonaligned states -- Iran's supposed friends in the nuclear dispute -- there have been no specific commitments on the part of these ostensible friends that they will block the United States.

Iran Faces 'Discriminatory Policies'

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aqazadeh, told the IAEA in Vienna on September 17 that despite being a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Iran has -- since the 1979 Islamic Revolution -- faced "discriminatory policies and double standards" from Western states previously prepared to do nuclear business with the shah.

Western states, he said, have refused to honor contracts signed with the shah's government. Aqazadeh said it is evident that certain states have a policy of technological "exclusion" with Iran, unrelated to suspicions over the peaceful nature of its program and in spite of its cooperation with UN inspectors.

He compared Iran's self-proclaimed cooperation with the IAEA with the "irrational" and "deceitful" approach of certain Western states. Aghazadeh said Iran is determined to pursue its technological progress and is willing to pay the price this would entail. No government, he said, could erect a "barrier" to this progress.

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad also stressed Iran's rights, speaking to the Jam-i Jam television channel on September 17: "We are looking to defend our rights in our foreign policy, and in the nuclear issue...They have told us we will put sanctions on you. Firstly, they cannot impose sanctions on us. With which right and why do they wish to impose sanctions? They are incapable of doing this," ISNA reported.

Flexibility And Defiance

The comments of Iranian politicians have conveyed a mixture of apparent flexibility and defiance, while some dailies have urged Iran to activate its diplomacy to counter the United States' efforts.

Naser Musavi, a member of the parliamentary Energy Committee, said in Tehran on September 16 that Iran will resist any decision threatening its national interests, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. He said "America and its allies" want the most extensive sanctions possible imposed on Iran.

The comments of Iranian politicians have conveyed a mixture of apparent flexibility and defiance, while some dailies have urged Iran to activate its diplomacy to counter the United States' efforts.

Hossein Nejabat, a member of the parliamentary presidium, told ISNA on September 15 that UN sanctions have so far proved ineffective, which he suggested indicate that diplomacy is the only solution to the issue. He urged a continuation of talks with the 5+1 powers, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, Russia, France, Britain, and the United States) and Germany.

Parliament deputy Musa al-Reza Servati told ISNA on September 16 that Iran does not depend on other states for basic goods and "infrastructure" material, and would simply pay more to buy high-tech products it does need in the case of tougher sanctions.

Another deputy, Darius Qanbari, told ISNA that "if the West wishes to continue with its pretexts, Iran can also adopt more extreme means, which would not be a peaceful solution to this dossier."

No Logic To 'Hostility'

Parliamentary presidium member Musa Qorbani told ISNA on September 15 that there is no logic to the "hostility" of Western states to Iran's program, and said the reason dictates that Iran's dossier be taken from the Security Council agenda, as the IAEA has effectively confirmed the absence of deviation from peaceful nuclear activities.

On a more moderate tone, Suleiman Jafarzadeh, a member of the parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told ISNA that Iran will not sever its interaction with the IAEA if a third round of UN Security Council sanctions were imposed.

He said Iran's case is becoming increasingly "personal," but he said states like Russia, China, and Germany have "fortunately" concluded that another set of sanctions on Iran would not help. Jafarzadeh was one of a number of politicians and dailies to mention Germany as aligned with states that Iran believes oppose U.S. plans for increased sanctions.

Hopes for German vacillation on Iran might be behind plans reported by agencies for Iran's former nuclear dossier chief and political moderate Hasan Rohani to meet with on September 20 in Brussels with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and an unnamed adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Tehran-based academic Davud Hermidas-Bavand told ISNA on September 15 that Iran's current cooperation accord with the IAEA may well dilute the provisions of any future sanctions, and deter Russia and China from voting for them. He said Iran should therefore continue to cooperate with the IAEA.

He admitted, however, that the Security Council would likely pay more attention to the IAEA's observation that Iran is continuing to enrich uranium. The head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaeddin Borujerdi, told IRNA on September 16 that there would likely be no third set of sanctions for now, given the divisions among the 5+1 powers and Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.

French Diplomatic Realignment

Iranian media and politicians have registered, not without anger, France's diplomatic realignment with the United States -- in contrast to its positions under President Jacques Chirac.

The daily "Iran" reported on September 16 the "contradictory" positions on Iran's dossier by France's "young and new" President Nicolas Sarkozy, taken "under the influence of organized international publicity." The daily, an effective mouthpiece of the executive branch, said Sarkozy has been showing "a more irrational opposition to Iran's nuclear program, which is supervised by the" IAEA.

But it noted that Sarkozy had also recently stated that the Islamic world should not be deprived of nuclear power. The reformist daily "Etemad-i Melli" noted the same day the "turn" in French diplomacy in a report headlined "Coalition of the supporters of sanctions on Iran led by France." It noted Paris's more "martial" tone toward Iran in contrast with that coming from Berlin.

There is an implicit uncertainty here, perhaps illustrated in references to "reason" and the "irrationality" of Western conduct with Iran, which seem to have become a more frequent refrain recently than references to the law or Iran's treaty rights.

Reason is being invoked, it seems, when references to the law have failed to shame Western powers into ending their "willful hostility" towards Iran. Iranian officials might bitterly observe that international "laws" like the NPT are twisted and misinterpreted to suit the interests of "forceful" powers. Certain Iranians might harbor similar thoughts about the application of Iran's domestic laws and the way some officials there bend and interpret laws when dealing with protesting women, trade unionists, liberals, or students. Indeed, the Islamic Republic's attitude to "the law" and lawfulness -- both inside and outside of Iran -- might be said to be at the root of its troubled relations with the West.

The Proliferation Threat

The Proliferation Threat

The Arak heavy-water plant in central Iran (Fars)

BENDING THE RULES. Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told an RFE/RL-Radio Free Asia briefing on January 9 that the West is hamstrung in dealing with Iran and North Korea because of the way it has interpreted the international nonproliferation regime to benefit friendly countries like India and Japan.


Listen to the entire briefing (about 90 minutes):
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