Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Last chance for Iran?

THE Feb.20 meeting between Russia and Iran on a compromise proposal to solve the crisis over Tehran's nuclear programme is seen by most as the last chance for the Iranians to avert international sanctions. The UN Security Council is expected to take up a report made to it on the Iranian programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) next month. While sanctions might not be imposed in a hurry — given the reservations expressed by some members of the council — but it seems to be a definite eventuality if the Russian proposal fails to produce agreement.
That is indeed on the diplomatic track. On a parallel track is the possibility of US/Israeli military action against Iran's nuclear installations. Observers in the US and Europe are almost unanimous that the US-Israel alliance does have a contingency plan to ensure that Iran does not proceed with its nuclear programme whether peaceful or for military purposes. There are even those who argue that the US and Israel are determined to remove by force any possibility of Iran gaining access to nuclear technology and material even for peaceful purposes and the stage is being set for use of military force to prevent the Iranians from pursuing their programme.
A London-based think tank has warned that air attacks on Iranian installation should not be an option for the US or Israel since there would be heavy casualties and it could trigger a war that would spill out of Iran's borders.
Against that backdrop, Iran is continuing its brinkmanship, vowing not to step back from its plans and defying the US and its allies. It is not as much as Iran's quest to use nuclear power for whatever purposes as it is a question of Tehran's sense of indignation that it is being denied the right to use nuclear energy as any other sovereign country. The situation turns worse when the leader of the opposition camp is the US, which has viewed Iran through hostile glasses since the 1979 revolution toppled the Iranian monarchy and brought theocrats to the seat of power in Tehran . There is no trust lost between Iran and the US and the equation is a perfect recipe for conflict and confrontation.
The only way out — a stopgap measure as indeed it might turn out to be — is Iranian-Russian agreement on the compromise proposal, which, in essence, would ensure that Iran would not have access to spent nuclear fuel that is central to any atomic weapons programme. The Middle East region — with the exemption of Israel of course — is hoping against hopes that Tehran and Moscow would be able to come up with a working arrangement and face-saving formula for all so that the prospect of conflict is warded away. At the same time, the world is fully conscious that it would only be putting off and not reversing the move towards confrontation. However, that is the only realistic expectation at this juncture in time.