Friday, July 21, 2006

Brewing action on Iran front

July 2, 2006

THE spiralling crisis in Palestine is dominating international news, and it has drawn increased media focus while the other festering issue, the US-Iran stand-off over the Iranian nuclear programme, is sidelined. However, that has no bearing on the steady build-up towards a real crisis that would have negative repercussions on the entire Gulf region. It is as if the scenario is following a script written collectively by Washington and Tehran. That was indeed the case from the word go three years ago when it became known that Iran was pursuing a nuclear programme that it had not revealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). That immediately raised suspicion that Iran was bent upon developing nuclear weapons. However, neither the IAEA or any other agency or individual has not been able to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Iran does have a nuclear weapon programme. At the same time, it is widely held that Iran does have ambitions of possessing nuclear weapons that it could use as a deterrent as the case seems to be with North Korea. That is the crux of the problem as seen from Washington, whose first consideration in any Middle Eastern context is the interests of Israel, the only country in the region known to posses nuclear weapons. Iran does not pose a nuclear threat to US security, but Washington is going by what the pro-Israeli lobby plans and dictates.
Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes while the US insisted that the Iranians should not be allowed near nuclear technology of any nature. Tehran rejected the US call and insisted on its right to develop nuclear energy under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and resumed nuclear enrichment although of a level far from producing weapon-grade material.
A compromise was produced in the form of a US-backed offer that would severely curtail Iran's nuclear options but provide a series of incentives to Iran. Tehran says it has seen "some positive" points in the compromise offer and it will formally respond to it after mid-August.
In the meantime, Iran has also stood firm on its rejection of the pre-condition that it should suspend nuclear enrichment. The US says the package is offered on a take-it-or-leave-it in its entirety and would not be amended to suit the Iranians.
Washington has now set a July 5 deadline for Iran to make up its mind about the offer. Predictably, Iran has rejected the deadline and said its response would not be forthcoming before mid-August.
The US in bent upon imposing sweeping UN Security Council sanctions on Iran or at least clearing the way towards that this month.
Iran's insistence on more time to study the compromise offer has raised suspicion that it might be hoping to make a breakthrough by mid-August and arrive at position where the US would not be able to exercise its options even it wanted to.
Caught on the fringes of the stalemate is the Arab countries of the Gulf. They have made it clear that they do not want any nuclear activity in their neighbourhood and called for the entire Middle East be declared as a nuclear-free zone — meaning that Israel should be stripped of its nuclear arsenal and Iran or any other country in the area should indulge in nuclear activities.
Their concerns and genuine and real and whoever is involved in efforts to resolve the crisis should take them into consideration. Indeed, they might even be able to offer positive help to end the stalemate so that the region's people could breathe easily.