Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nuclear Chicken in the Mideast

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Nuclear Chicken in the Mideast

Article excerpt

To no surprise, nuclear talks between Iran and major world powers have become stalemated.

Iran will not sink "to its knees" to win a nuclear deal with the great powers, said its leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after the failure of six months of talks in Vienna.

However, the talks will continue until at least next March. Pity the poor negotiators: besides being excruciatingly boring, dealing with the tough, savvy Iranians is like pulling teeth. The only nationality I ever saw get the better of Iranians in negotiations were Armenians.

The United States has been waging economic and political warfare on the Islamic Republic since 1979. Only Cuba has been pounded longer. Both have suffered hugely.

Of late, Iranian nuclear scientists and technicians have been murdered in broad daylight. Nuclear installations have been sabotaged. The Stuxnet virus allegedly unleashed by the U.S. and Israel against Iran's centrifuges risked a catastrophic explosion or the release of nuclear contamination. In neighboring Iraq, some 300 of its former nuclear technicians and scientists have been mysteriously murdered during the U.S. occupation.

Iran's economy has been very seriously damaged by the U.S.-led boycott and commercial restrictions. Iranians are suffering mounting inflation, shortages of goods, and a collapsing currency. Iranians are fed up being the target of Western sanctions.

In a major concession, last summer Iran converted or diluted 200 kg. of uranium enriched to 20 percent, rendering it unusable for any potential further enrichment into nuclear weapons fuel.

The International Atomic Energy Agency certified this procedure. The balance of Iran's uranium stockpile is at 5 percent-adequate for energy production but not for weapons. Half its 20,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium are shut down. U.N. inspectors or cameras closely watch Iranian nuclear installations-not to mention American and Israeli satellites.

So why does Iran stick to its guns-at least so far-and refuse to make a deal limiting or ending its production of nuclear fuel? Why endure all the political and economic punishment and the never very distant threat of attack by the U.S. and/or Israel?

First, because nuclear energy has become a potent nationalist symbol for Iran. Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly asserted that what he calls the "Western colonial powers" (read the U.S., Britain, France) have long sought to deny modern technology to the Muslim world in order to keep it backward and dependent on them. This is, of course, just what Imperial Britain did with India.

Iranians point to the dire example of Iraq-the most industrialized and technologically advanced Arab nation-that was destroyed, they say, for this very reason.

A self-sufficient nuclear power industry will help assure Iran's economic and political independence at a time when oil reserves in this nation of 70 million are falling. Nuclear power is a U.N.-granted right so long as it stays peaceful. Iran's nuclear industry has been vigorously inspected for over a decade by the U.N., with no major violations discovered.

Ayatollah Khamenei has issued a fatwa (religious decree) banning nuclear weapons, vowing that Iran would never possess or use them. U.S. intelligence has repeatedly stated that Iran has no nuclear weapons. …

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