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Nuclear time-wasting

Iran Focus

Editorial

Another round of negotiations with Iran over its precarious nuclear program took place on December 6-7 in Geneva without any results except an agreement on a date for more talks in January.

The chances of success for the negotiations between the P5+1 (permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran remain elusive and bleak. Iranian officials have made clear uranium enrichment “is not up for negotiations,” which prompts the question what exactly does the West expect from more negotiations.

In fact, the 8 year history of talks with the Tehran regime does not bode well for the argument that negotiations bear any significant promises. Yet, not only do Western powers continue to play into the Iranian regime’s hands, they are actively making tacit and explicit concessions along the way. In October 2009, Tehran came out of the talks gaining a tacit approval of its enrichment program, a Western nod that shockingly directly undermined UN resolutions calling for Tehran to stop enrichment.

In the latest round of talks, Tehran gained two more months to continue with its nuclear program, to poke holes into the international consensus against it, to avoid more sanctions, to put a lid on its own divisions and to clamp down on internal dissent. It is no wonder that it is claiming victory.

Earlier this month, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi – who just this week was appointed as the caretaker foreign minister replacing Manouchehr Mottaki – announced that Iran has delivered domestically mined raw uranium to its facility in an attempt to bypass UN sanctions barring import of raw material, which is key to building nuclear weapons.

This was not only a message of resolve by Tehran to defy the international community, but it was also significant because Iran’s domestic supply of uranium is not enough to sustain a peaceful nuclear program, raising further international concerns about Iran’s true ambitions.

This trend clearly speaks to the fact that the clerical rulers in Iran are more interested in keeping the international community preoccupied with fruitless talks rather than reaching a genuine compromise.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to speak with Mottaki three times on the sidelines of the 2010 IISS Manama Security Dialogue in Bahrain, but was deliberately rebuffed by him. The episode was the latest confirmation that Tehran does not take the US seriously and in fact perceives it as irresolute and rather weak.

A US decision to ramp up sanctions against the regime until the January talks is a good start. But, pinning hope on the talks is a nonstarter. As the sense of urgency and alarm increases around the world about the Iranian regime’s nuclear ambitions, Washington should lead the way on several important fronts.

First, sanctions should be broadened to cut off the regime’s major artery in the form of oil revenues. Second, instead of putting all its eggs in the basket of negotiations, the US should convince the international community to give centrality to the democratic voices against the regime.

The Iranian people should be reminded that the international community has not abandoned them for the sake of reaching a bargain with the rulers that oppress them. And, the West should remember that the Iranian people and democratic opposition forces hold the strategic key to resolve the nuclear crisis because they promise democratic change in Iran and as such deserve international support.