Iran's Rogue Rage; Nukes: Iranians Want Nuclear Know-How-And Seem to Be Daring the West to Stop Them

By Dickey, Christopher; Bahari, Maziar et al. | Newsweek, January 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Iran's Rogue Rage; Nukes: Iranians Want Nuclear Know-How-And Seem to Be Daring the West to Stop Them


Dickey, Christopher, Bahari, Maziar, Dehghanpisheh, Babak, Newsweek


Byline: Christopher Dickey, Maziar Bahari and Babak Dehghanpisheh (With Scott Johnson and Michael Hastings in Baghdad, Owen Matthews in Moscow, Michael Hirsh in Washington and Alan Isenberg in New York)

On the ski slopes of Dizin in north Tehran, boys and girls mingle freely, listening to Madonna, Shakira and Persian pop diva Googoosh. Headscarves are reduced to hair bands, and Mahsid Sajadi, a 25-year-old graphic designer, is sporting a Star-Spangled Banner bandanna her cousin sent her from Orange County, Calif. Sajadi, modern and cosmopolitan, has almost no opinions in common with Iran's rabble-rousing ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad--except when it comes to nukes. "We have a right to have nuclear technology," says Sajadi. "We are a nation with an ancient civilization and rich culture. I think it's really hypocritical of Mr. Bush to criticize Iran for having nuclear technology while Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear bombs."

Atomic research, atomic power, even the atomic weapons the Iranian government officially says it doesn't want are issues of ferocious nationalistic pride throughout the country, and Ahmadinejad knows it. Last week he provoked an international crisis by removing the seals from nuclear-processing equipment, ending a voluntary moratorium on research. After a firestorm of outrage from the United States and Europe, with vows to isolate Iran and haul the regime before the United Nations Security Council, Ahmadinejad gave a rare press conference. He was relaxed, folksy, cracking jokes. "If they want to destroy the Iranian nation's rights by that course," he said, "they will not succeed."

He could be right. The complex, contradictory game of secrecy and revelation, cooperation and provocation that the mullahs have played since some of their hidden nuclear facilities were discovered in 2002 has revealed just how little leverage Washington and its allies really have. But the Bush administration and European officials clearly hope they can appeal to Iran's supposedly restive masses to somehow oppose the regime. "The Iranian people, frankly, deserve better," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last week. She took pains to say efforts to isolate the government would try not to isolate the people. But a senior European diplomat involved with Iranian negotiations, who asked not to be quoted by name because of their sensitivity, pointed out the basic problem with that strategy: "There are millions of people in Iran who want to move ahead with democracy, but unfortunately we have not been able to help them--and at the same time the nuclear issue unifies the country."

Increasingly confident, Ahmadinejad has played on the West's dire fear of nuclear weapons in the hands of a state that supports terrorism. Since he was elected last June, he's talked about wiping Israel off the map and questioned whether the Holocaust took place. "Outrageous statements that I don't think have been made in polite company in many, many, many years," Rice said. She suggested "it's entirely possible that the Iranian regime has miscalculated" and had not expected such an international uproar. "I would hope that now seeing the very powerful reaction of the international community that Iran would take a step back and look at the isolation that it is about to experience," said Rice.

But given the mood in Iran, Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may actually like being treated as outcasts. "The radicals can only exist in a state of crisis and isolation from the rest of the world," says Saeid Leylaz, a political analyst in Iran. "This way they can justify their presence in power and control the country however they want." That's no happy prospect for the skiers at Dizin, but the link between supporting Iran's nuclear "rights" and effectively backing the pariah regime that defends them is hard to break.

So where does the crisis go from here? At meetings early this week, the United States, Germany, France and Britain will try to find common ground with Russia and China for an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors, probably in early February. …

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