As the deadline looms for Iran to prove that it has no secret
plans to build an atomic bomb, Iranians are being forced to make a
Will Iran guarantee to the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) that its advanced nuclear program is for energy only, and
permit snap, go-anywhere inspections? Or will Iran decide - as it
eyes nuclear Israel, Pakistan, and India, and with US troops now
deployed along its borders in three directions - that it must have a
nuclear deterrent that also appeals to national pride?
"We have not reached the fork in the road that tells us if this
is for military or civilian use," says a senior Western diplomat
here. "But if it is going for a bomb, Iran is entering the 'danger
zone.' Once you have it, you are secure. But when you are close,
this is a moment of great vulnerability. This is when there could be
a preemptive war that would have broad support. It's the Osirak
Syndrome," he says, referring to the nearly built Iraqi reactor
Israeli jets destroyed in 1981.
Iran must make its choice by Oct. 31, a US-backed deadline
adopted last Friday by the IAEA in the wake of heavy US lobbying to
censure Iran for noncompliance. It comes as the IAEA delves deeper
into a series of nuclear issues with Iran - such as misreporting its
activities and the presence of highly enriched uranium - that
experts say point toward the existence of a clandestine weapons
The IAEA resolution, adopted unanimously by the 35-nation
governing board, calls on Iran to "remedy all failures," to open all
sites, agree to environmental sampling, and to suspend its
enrichment programs to show good will.
Failure to meet the deadline could spark a chain of events
leading to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions and
prevent all nations from assisting Iran's nuclear programs.
Iranian officials declare repeatedly that Iran's intentions are
peaceful, and that it is Iran's right, as a signatory to the nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to pursue nuclear science and power.
"We don't need atomic bombs, and based on our religious teaching,
we will not pursue them," the reform-minded President Mohammad
Khatami, who has long called for a "dialogue of civilizations" and a
nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, said earlier this week. "But
at the same time, we want to be strong, and being strong means
having knowledge and technology."
That denial does not always square with the view on the street,
where many reformers and conservatives - normally at each other's
throats, politically - see nuclear weapons as a matter of patriotism
and national pride, befitting a regional superpower. "No matter what
they tell you, most Iranians want the bomb," says a middle-aged
Iranian professional, who asked not to be named.
The disparate views point to internal disagreements over how Iran
should exercise its power in the future, and how the Islamic
Republic, which was closed off to much of the West for years after
the 1979 Islamic revolution, should relate to the rest of the world.
Though Iran is a member of the NPT, like the United States and
most other nations, it has not signed the far stricter Additional
Protocol, which allows intrusive inspections. Israel never signed
the NPT; Pakistan and India are not members either - facts that
cause critics in Iran to speak of a double standard.
The IAEA ultimatum is a "historical opportunity for our nation to
clarify its relations with the international bullies and
blackmailers," the hardline Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper wrote. "This
has proven the bitter truth that, in today's world, the only way for
countries wishing to maintain their independence and survive is to
The conservative Keyhan wrote of a "calculated conspiracy" to
topple the Islamic regime, and pointed to NPT membership as a "weak
point." Withdrawal from the safeguard mechanism, the paper wrote, is
a "necessary move for Iran and any delay could entail irreparable
and dangerous consequences. …