Monday, August 15, 2005

Iran's revolution is in its infancy - but it may have just found its Stalin

Never underestimate a revolutionary regime. In particular, never underestimate the durability of the revolutionaries' fervour to fight for their cause. The French revolution began in 1789, but it was only after two decades of war that the fight was finally knocked out of the revolution's heirs, and repeatedly - in 1830, 1848 and 1870 - they threatened to make a comeback.

The Russian revolution began in 1917, but the Soviet Union posed a mortal threat until the mid-1980s. As for the Chinese revolution of 1949, it was only last month that the regime in Beijing was threatening to go nuclear over Taiwan.

We in the English-speaking world never give up hoping that the revolutionaries will suddenly see the advantages of peace, the rule of law and representative government. That may be because we think our own revolutions - the English revolution of the 1640s and the American revolution of the 1770s - followed that pattern.

Yet there was no more bellicose British government than Cromwell's. And the United States was scarcely a peaceful power as it expanded from sea to shining sea in the century after independence.

So it was pure pie in the sky to imagine that the Islamic Republic of Iran, founded in 1979, was just about to morph into a touchy-feely democracy. Yet people did. Only last year I had dinner in Washington with the son of the deposed shah. His country, he assured the assembled company, would soon make the transition to democracy. People were fed up with the ayatollahs and the mullahs.

The same kind of argument used to be made by neo-conservatives such as Richard Perle, the former chairman of the US Defence Policy Board, and Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute.

"In Iran," President Bush himself declared in a speech back in November 2003, "the demand for democracy is strong and broad." Dream on. Far from being on the brink of democracy, Iran is now on the brink of becoming the single biggest threat to democracy in the world.

Iran has reasons to count on China

China’s opposition to taking the Iranian nuclear crisis to the UN Security Council is largely driven by their long-term oil relationship, sparked in part by the US occupation of Iraq, analysts say.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Gholamali Khoshroo is currently in Beijing to explain Tehran’s position on resuming uranium conversion activities at a plant in Isfahan, which has caused an international outcry.

The move prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to set a September 3 date for a report on Iran’s compliance, which could lead to a possible referral to the Security Council for sanctions, such as a ban on oil sales. China, a nuclear power and one of the Security Council’s five permanent veto-wielding members, has made it clear it does not want the issue before the UN body.

“It would not be helpful. We all want a peaceful solution to the Iranian issue. So I think the best place is the efforts between the EU (European Union) and (the) Iranians or the IAEA,” China’s UN ambassador Wang Guangya said this week.

“The council has too many things on the table. Why should we add more?” Beijing’s stance is partly because it has a policy of not interfering in other countries internal affairs, driven by the fact that it does not want similar outside interference in its own domestic matters.

But mostly it is down to economic interests, in particular oil which China needs to keep firing its remarkable economic transformation, experts said.

Israeli hawks circle Iran's N-plants

Ever since its 1979 Islamic revolution the only fate Iran has had in mind for Israel has been simple: its destruction. Now that Teheran seems to be moving towards acquiring its own nuclear arsenal, its plans for its great enemy threaten to be both fiery and radioactive.

Sometimes Iran's stated policy towards Israel is couched in inflammatory rhetoric, like that on a 40ft banner that used to hang outside the entrance of the foreign ministry in Teheran bearing the message: "Israel Must Burn".

Sometimes the language is tamer, such as the "Down With Israel" chants of students who march after Friday prayers in Teheran week in, week out.

But whatever the tone, the message remains the same. The Jewish state has survived wars, internal upheaval, intifadas and bloody entanglements in the internal affairs of its neighbours. But now a major enemy, one committed to its annihilation, appears close to deploying the most destructive force known to Man.

"Having the ayatollah regime armed with nuclear weapons is an existential threat to the state of Israel," Mark Regev, senior spokeman at its foreign ministry, admitted grimly. "We take the issue extremely seriously.''

Iran Rejects UN Criticism, Vows to Continue Uranium Processing

Iran rejected a resolution from the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency urging it to freeze a uranium processing program, and vowed to become a nuclear fuel exporter within the next decade.

The resolution "is a vote of no-confidence in the agency,'' said the Middle Eastern country's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Cyrus Nasseri, at a press conference in Vienna. "It is absurd.''

The IAEA's 35-member board of governors earlier passed a resolution drafted by European diplomats criticizing Iran's resumption of uranium processing and calling on the Islamic government to freeze its nuclear fuel program.

IAEA allows Iran to remove nuclear seals

The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog has given Iran permission to remove seals at its Isfahan Uranium Conversion facility, Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said on Wednesday.

"Some minutes ago we received a letter from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), authorising Iran to remove the seals at Isfahan plant," Saeedi told Reuters by telephone.

"Two hours ago the installation of surveillance cameras finished. The IAEA inspectors will oversee the removal of seals," he said.

Iran began resuming activities at Isfahan on Monday, boosting fears that it may be pursuing atomic arms.

EU officials have warned that it could be referred to the U.N. Security Council for punitive action which could include sanctions and Britain, France and Germany are trying to persuade other members of the IAEA board to warn Tehran to stop the work.

Iran says has new nuclear proposal as IAEA meets

The U.N. nuclear watchdog held a crisis meeting on Tuesday to try to stop Iran pursuing a nuclear programme after Tehran resumed work at a uranium plant, stoking Western fears it was bent on developing atomic weapons.

As the governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met in Vienna, Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he had new ideas to resolve the nuclear standoff with the West and was ready to continue nuclear talks with the EU.

"I have new initiatives and proposals which I will present after my government takes office," he said in a telephone conversation with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the semi-official ISNA students news agency reported.

He added that Iran -- which says it is only seeking nuclear power -- had done nothing unlawful by resuming uranium conversion at a nuclear facility near Isfahan on Monday.

A senior Iranian delegate to the Vienna meeting said U.N. seals were to be removed at Isfahan which could allow it to take the work a step further.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said IAEA inspectors surveying developments at the plant would unseal a mothballed section by Wednesday.

"The agency has promised us it will remove the seals by noon (0830 BST) on Wednesday because the installation of cameras has been completed," he told Reuters.

Halt uranium conversion "without delay", Russia tells Iran

Russia called on Iran to halt work on uranium conversion "without delay."

"The wise decision would be to stop work that has begun on uranium conversion without delay," the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

"We are convinced that the situation that has arisen now has not gone beyond the point of no return. With goodwill it can be corrected," the statement said.

But Tehran should immediately halt its nuclear fuel work and continue to work closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) "to resolve remaining question over Iran's nuclear program," it added.

The Russian statement said that "unfortunately" Iran had resumed work on converting uranium but said it could stop this again with harming its efforts to develop nuclear energy program for civilian use.

"We think that Iran could definitely maintain the moratorium without any damage to the realization of its nuclear energy programme," the statement added.

Ahmadinejad ready for more nuclear talks despite ‘insult’

Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad described a European Union offer of nuclear cooperation with the Islamic republic as an “insult” but said he was still ready to carry on negotiations with the bloc.

Accusing Europe of “living in the last century”, Ahmadinejad said he wanted talks that are teetering on collapse following Tehran’s decision to resume uranium conversion activities to continue, but with different proposals.

“We are ready to continue the negotiations with the Europeans. I have initiatives and new propositions that I am going to announce after my government is formed,” the student agency ISNA quoted the new president as telling UN chief Kofi Annan in a telephone conversation on Monday.

Moment of pride for Isfahan N-experts

The resumption of Iran’s uranium conversion work at its Isfahan plant brings to a end almost nine months of frustration for technicians and the country, despite the serious risks it brings to the Islamic Republic.

The diligence with which three technicians in white protective clothing sawed off the lid of the first uranium powder barrel and poured its contents into converters yesterday was only matched by the feverish agitation leading up to this moment.

“It is a historic day,” said Mohamed Saidi, the vice president of the Iran Atomic Energy Agency. “With the help of God the plant is back online today, just as the people wanted, who pushed the leaders to do this.”

Just like its ancient Persian empire, which had its capital in Isfahan, the majority of Iranians consider the country’s nuclear programme a source of national pride in the face of intense pressure from the international community.