Iran: New Voices But Same Message

The cacophony of voices surrounding the potential nuclear power Iran continues. In the latest statements from Tehran, we hear a new speaker, this time the supreme religious leader, while the more familiar snarl of President Ahmadinejad is temporarily stilled. Although the words are that of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the strident tone remains the same.

“Until today,” said the ayatollah earlier this week, “we have been in accordance with international regulations…but if they take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and we will.”

Now here is a twist. The religious guy starts talking nuclear politics while the president presumably is out praying somewhere, probably praying that he can keep his job. But no matter whether it is their president or their pope talking about Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the rhetoric remains the same. It is we in the West who are totally wrong. It is the European nations conspiring against them. Iran says it is fully entitled to break any rule it chooses regarding the development of nuclear energy even though they are a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. That treaty says that certified inspectors are to be allowed into any signatory country so as to verify that the nations in the treaty are keeping their word.

Iran must think itself very clever by saying now that they have been complying with the treaty but should the United Nations impose any sanctions against them for failing to honor the treaty’s terms, they are then entitled to enrich their uranium. Obviously they are already doing so. We all know that. That is why they have refused all along to allow any inspections.

Ambassadors from the 15 Security Council nations have been meeting in New York in informal sessions, discussing amongst themselves possible changes to the draft sanctions that have been proposed. Most of these nations favor a tougher stance than has been announced publicly so far.

Most of the nations involved in proposing more punishments favor banning Iranian arms exports and freezing the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in the country’s nuclear and missile program. However, just as a consensus on the tougher sanctions seemed reachable, enter Russia. According to comments by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, his country “will not support excessive sanctions against Iran.”

There was also the rumor that Russia had actually refused to ship any fuel for the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in Southern Iran until the Iranians agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment program. However, Minister Lavrov denied that, saying that it was only attempt of other nations trying to drive a “wedge between us (Russia) and Iran.”

Most likely the causes of Russia’s refusals to ship material have to do with the fact that Iran cannot pay the bill. There does appear to be a limit to Soviet good-will and when the rubles stop flowing so does the nuclear fuel. How a nation with such direct economic involvement with the country it is supposed to be sanctioning can be a part of that decision-making process is just one more mystery of the so called “united” nations who are most usually anything but.

Meanwhile Iran is not content to lash out just at the West. Now it is Russia who is also to blame. Iranian state television on Tuesday said Russia was “an unreliable partner.” The report continued that “It is clear that Russia has stopped construction of this plant (the Bushehr nuclear plant) under pressure and for political reasons.”

The apparent feud between Russia and Iran could have to do only with money or maybe it is something else entirely: it may be just a ploy arranged between the countries to show apparent Russian unhappiness with Iran while at the same time they try to soften the UN sanctions. That is plausible because Russia has an economic interest in Iran’s nuclear projects that goes beyond one or two missed payments if that is indeed the fact. By appearing to be angry at Iran, Russia’s plea to the Security Council members to “influence Iran by gradually applying proportionate pressure” looks more like some kind of reasonable negotiating position than would otherwise be the case.

But what we must not forget is this is Iran attempting to muscle its way into a small circle of nations that maintain nuclear weapons. Given the unstable nature of their politics which seems somehow to divide power between the religious and the secular and which in any case is often hysterical and not very rational, it would be a very bad idea for the modern Persian nation of today to be allowed to build them or possess them.

Iran wants to pretend that this is all an internal matter and it is nobody else’s business as to what devices they develop for legitimate energy needs or for military “protection.” But, of course, it does matter.

Ultimately, while Iran says they should not be held hostage to the verdict of the UN Security Council, the fact is that neither should we. The simple answer in this case is the most appropriate. If we are not satisfied that the sanctions will do the job or if Iran won’t close down their uranium enrichment program immediately and allow other nations to verify that fact on a regular basis than we should quit talking and start acting to eliminate the threat entirely. We have the power and we have the ultimate responsibility to keep the Middle East and indeed the world safe from these unstable extremists whether they continue to rant and rave in business suits or in robes.