The Economist: Iran carries on enriching uranium regardless at its nuclear plant at Natanz. Diplomats from the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council (America, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany, unable to agree on tougher sanctions in the face of such defiance, are left sucking their pencils. The Economist
UN or no, the squeeze on Iran tightens
Oct 4th 2007
From The Economist print edition
IRAN carries on enriching uranium regardless at its nuclear plant at Natanz. Diplomats from the five veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council (America, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany, unable to agree on tougher sanctions in the face of such defiance, are left sucking their pencils. Does that mean, as Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, insists, that Iran’s nuclear case is effectively closed?
Iran has won a reprieve at the UN. Yet the six agreed on September 28th that it must still come clean about its nuclear past and still suspend its enrichment programme if further sanctions are to be avoided. Meanwhile deepening frustration in America and Europe at the pace of UN diplomacy could mean greater economic pressure on Iran’s regime, not less.
Sanctions talks are to continue among the six. So will the efforts of Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, to persuade Iran to suspend its nuclear work. But Iran, for its part, talks of stepping up enrichment efforts (used in fuel for power reactors but abused in bomb-making) to industrial scale.
Russia and China want to delay further UN action to see whether Iran is complying with a controversial work plan that it signed with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s watchdog, in August. By the time the IAEA’s 35-nation board meets again, on November 22nd, Iran is meant to have accounted for advanced centrifuges called P-2s (able to enrich uranium a lot faster than the P-1s operating at Natanz) and their parts bought on the black market.
After years of stonewalling, Iran’s centrifuge answers will be an indication of whether it will now co-operate with inspectors, though it could stop at any point. The deal lets it dribble out answers, including about military connections to its nuclear work, over months. Boasts by Mr Ahmadinejad of research using the faster P-2swork not reported to the IAEAhave fed concerns that Iran may have a parallel nuclear-weapon programme.
As Iran takes its time with its answers, its enrichment efforts gather pace. To give it pause, driving up the cost of its defiance, America is pressing banks and businesses in Europe, Japan and around the world to cut ties with the country. A lot of European banks have cut off dollar dealings with Iran and are winding down other business; Japanese banks have been refusing new business. European exports to Iran are falling, as are government trade credits.
France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, wants to beef up this arsenal of sanctions on Iran. He has called publicly on French companies not to tender for new Iranian contracts. When EU foreign ministers next meet, on October 15th, France and Britain will press the others to use the legal right they gave themselves earlier this year to extend Iran sanctions beyond those listed by the UN. Some, notably Italy and Germany, will be nervous at making trade restrictions legally binding without UN backing, for fear that competitors, notably Chinese and Russian companies, will muscle in on their hitherto lucrative patch.
Yet businesses are taking the hint. And such parallel sanctions bite more quickly than those negotiated tortuously among the six. Nor has the UN track reached its end. Despite a thirst for Iran’s gas and oil, China backed earlier sanctions. Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is expected to pay a visit to Tehran later this month. Yet he won’t ship enriched-uranium fuel to Iran’s all-but completed nuclear reactor while its enrichment work goes on. Iran hasn’t wriggled free yet.