Measures of the new sanctions reach beyond Iran's nuclear programme and are directed at individuals and the IRGC - the powerful, ideological force separate from the regular army - to limit Iran's growing influence across the region. US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told The New York Times Washington was trying to "change the actions and behavior" of Iran, adding: "And so the sanctions are immediately focused on the nuclear weapons research program, but we also are trying to limit the ability of Iran to be a disruptive and violent factor in Middle East politics".
Iran's reaction was given in New York by Foreign Minister Mottaki, in lieu of a planned visit by President Ahmadi-Nejad. Tehran claimed the US "deliberately" failed to issue visas on time for the president's flight crew, a charge US officials deny. Mottaki told the UNSC: "The world must know - and it does - that even the harshest sanctions and other threats are far too weak to coerce the Iranian people to retreat from their legal and legitimate demands. I can assure you that pressure and intimidation will not change Iranian policy", adding that suspension of nuclear work was "neither an option nor a solution".
As a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran is allowed to develop peaceful nuclear technology, which includes the complete nuclear fuel cycle. But outstanding issues remain, which have so far prevented UN nuclear inspectors from confirming that Iran's programme is peaceful. Key Western powers, led by the US, accuse Iran of using its stated quest for nuclear fuel expertise as a cover for a weapons programme.
The British Ambassador to the UN Emyr Jones Parry said: "This resolution sends an unambiguous signal to the government and people of Iran...that the path of nuclear proliferation by Iran is not one that the international community can accept". Even as the UN vote was taken, the circumstances and location of the British sailors and Royal Marines remained unclear. Their detention echoed a similar incident in 2004, when eight British sailors were picked up, subjected to mock executions, and held for three days after straying into Iranian waters. Iranian officials on March 25 said the Britons had "confessed". But the political situation could not be more different today, with both sides in the "Iran versus the West" struggle looking for strategic advantage.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a stern New Year message on March 21, in a sign that Washington's mounting accusations about Iranian meddling in the region were being felt in Tehran. He said: "In case the enemies of Iran intend to use force and violence and act illegally, without a doubt the Iranian nation and officials will use all their capabilities to strike enemies that attack".
The British sailors were detained - British officials say "kidnapped" - less than two days later. Iran's Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Ali Reza Afshar said: "The captured British sailors are under interrogation and admitted...that they have transgressed Iranian territorial waters. The US and its allies know that if they make any mistake in their calculations...they will not be able to control the dimensions and limit the duration of a war".
The London-based Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat, quoting "a source close to [Iran's] al-Qods Brigade" - an elite unit of the IRGC which the US accuses of targeting Americans in Iraq - has reported that the arrest of the Iranians in Arbil had compromised al-Qods operations in Iraq. The paper quoted the source as saying: "The decision to detain the Britons was made at an emergency meeting of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) for the purpose of bargaining for the release of the IRGC and intelligence officers being held by the Americans in Iraq".
Shahram Chubin, an Iran specialist at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, says: "The issue is much more than the nuclear program [and] in recent months that has become clearer, as the Americans have started explicitly linking Iran with destabilizing Iraq, and putting a carrier task force into the Gulf, to reassure its allies and have more leverage on Iran. In the background, the fact is the nuclear program is only a symptom of the problem". Chubin, author of 'Iran's Nuclear Ambitions', adds: "Because the nature of Iran's activities in the region - that is anti-Americanism - is what animates most of the skepticism and the distrust of Iran's motives...which are unacceptable to the US and many European countries".
Iran recently issued a new 50,000 rial banknote, the largest denomination, which showed an atomic symbol over a map of Iran, and words from the Prophet Muhammad: "If knowledge is in the heavens, the Persians will go and get it".
Analyst Laylaz says: "For the last six months, the military forces of Iran have been under very high pressure - not only in Arbil, but in Istanbul, in Lebanon, everywhere in the world. The US is trying to make them nervous, and more or less it seems they have been successful. And because of this, the system [Iran's theocracy] should do something. They have to react against that action".
New UNSC's March 24 Resolution 1747 tightens the Dec. 23 sanctions on Iran. The new resolution tells Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing, and heavy water-related reactor projects. The IAEA is to report within 60 days on compliance. It extends an assets freeze to 28 additional groups, companies, and individuals engaged in nuclear activities or development of ballistic missiles. The new list includes the state-owned Bank Sepah and commanders and firms controlled by the IRGC. It imposes an embargo on exports of conventional weapons - which particularly affects Iraq's Shi'ite militias and Lebanon's Hizbullah - and calls on states to "exercise vigilance and restraint" in exporting weapons to Iran. It calls on states and international financial institutions not to give financial aid or loans to Iran except for humanitarian and developmental purposes. It calls on states to "exercise vigilance and restraint" in barring travel by Iranian officials engaged in sensitive nuclear activities.
US Sees Divided Theocracy: The FT on March 28 quoted US Under-Secretary of State for Policy Nicholas Burns, the man at the heart of American policy on Iran for the past two years, as saying the Shi'ite theocracy was divided, its nuclear programme was less advanced than many thought and that the world was stepping up the pressure on Tehran. As a result, he concluded, there was still time to reach a negotiated solution with Iran on a dispute others feared could end in military conflict.
Burn said of the Iranian leadership: "It is not a monolithic regime; it's a cacophonous government that is fighting, we think, within itself... We do know that there are people there who want to negotiate and we hope that they will be able to engineer a decision to do just that". He swiped aside Iran's claims that by May it will install 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium - which if they were working perfectly would be enough to produce fissile material for a bomb within a year.
Burn said: "I think the Iranians have had a considerable degree of difficulty in proceeding with their enrichment experimentation. They have made these fantastic claims...and yet according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they have not been able to manage quite as well as they thought they would".
The FT said Burns, a former US ambassador to NATO, showed "conviction bordering on passion when defending the US policy to work with the European Union, Russia and China to persuade Iran to halt its enrichment policy" - a policy which two years ago the State Department convinced President Bush to adopt. Burns said: "We've patiently helped to construct this big international coalition", highlighting the unanimous UNSC vote on March 24 to impose further sanctions on Iran.
Burns said: "I think we have time in which to work. Diplomacy, if it is to be successful, will require patience and persistence and some time if it is to play itself out". He added that, due to the mixture of UN sanctions, US activity in Iraq and steps by third parties such as European banks which have halted financing, Iran was "clearly in a disadvantageous position internationally - much more so than where they were six months or 12 months ago". That, he said, was why diplomacy "could be an answer, not will be, but could be" for the problem of Iran.
The Arab Position: Saudi Arabia, which on March 28-29 hosted the Arab League's 19th summit conference in Riyadh, is leading an alliance of Sunni Arab states to contain Iran's regional ambitions. The nucleus of this is an Arab Quartet - Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the UAE - with the latter representing the GCC as it holds the chair of the GCC's late 2006 summit. Among other things, the Riyadh summit formally Arabised a Saudi plan calling for peace between the Arabs and Israel which the US is backing.
However, Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab states have begun to play into American politics by indirectly joining US Democrats in challenging President Bush's Iraq policies. In his speech opening the Riyadh summit on March 28, King Abdullah ibn Abdul-Aziz called the US presence in Iraq an "illegal" occupation. This has prompted the US to demand a Riyadh explanation (see news14-USproducesArabQuartetApr2-07).
Iraq's Kurdish President Jalal Talabani also told the Riyadh summit the US-led occupation of Iraq lacked legitimacy and had played a major role in spawning the escalating violence in the country.
Until recently, the Arab League wanted little or no part in stabilising or rebuilding Iraq, even though the country's worsening security situation threatened to have the worst ramifications on neighbouring states. Arab Leaders have been quick to condemn the US for its mistakes in Iraq, but they have been slow in offering assistance or possible solutions of their own.
Ultimately, Arab states will need to become more involved in facilitating dialogue, identifying political solutions and fostering national reconciliation in Iraq, because a US military solution alone cannot salvage the country. Dialogue will need to be accompanied by more specific steps, such as improving border security and curtailing the flow of weapons into Iraq. More importantly, regional leaders will need to listen and be more responsive to the Iraqis themselves, and encourage their Western counterparts to follow suit.
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|Title Annotation:||nuclear programs, reaction to Western sanctions|
|Publication:||APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula|
|Date:||Apr 2, 2007|
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