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More Brinksmanship from Tehran

Prepared by: Michael Moran
Updated: June 13, 2006

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With diplomats focused on an initiative aimed at opening direct talks between the United States and Iran for the first time in a generation, the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), released a report noting Iran continues to defy UN wishes (Arms Control Today). In fact, the agency says, Iran stepped up enrichment activities last week in what some see as a sign Iran intends to drive a hard bargain as the latest American diplomatic initiative advances. Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said his country would not accept any "preconditions" before opening negotiations (NYT).

The report, made public ahead of this week's regular board meeting in Vienna, quotes IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei saying Iranian obstruction means his agency is "unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the nuclear material and activities in Iran" (NYT). ElBaradei opened the meeting in Vienna with a call for more cooperation from Iran.

Iran's IAEA ambassador earlier dismissed the significance of the report (IRNA). Still, the EU's current president, Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, says Iran has until the G-8 Summit in July to accept the deal or face the prospect of economic and diplomatic sanctions (eitb).

The deal on the table, made public just over a week ago by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, includes a U.S. offer to talk directly to the Iranian government, a major shift in American policy (BBC) since the 1979 Iranian revolution. It also mulls the possibility of allowing Iran a uranium-enrichment program as long as long as complete transparency can be agreed upon. That recalls for some experts the deal worked out by the Clinton administration with North Korea, which the current White House initially slammed (Wall Street Journal).

Yet Bush administration supporters remain quite divided. The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, for instance, says the offer amounts to "implicit U.S. recognition" of the Iranian regime's legitimacy. In Congress, too, there is opposition, and some see a potential showdown between Bush and Congress (BosGlobe) over a 2005 law banning the transfer of any military or nuclear technology to a country on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. Rice quickly moved to address such fears, saying no "grand bargain" is in the offing and portraying the move as a turning of the tables on Iran (FOX). CFR Senior Fellow Charles Ferguson says Iran may find the deal irresistible, though much hinges on the administration's condition: Tehran's willingness to stop enriching uranium before direct talks. He tells CFR.org's Bernard Gwertzman: "There might be some wiggle room in here, and I think we will see in coming days, from both sides, how they are going to define what they mean by suspension." Indeed, Iran has called for clarification on this point (ChiTrib).

For a deeper look at Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Center for Strategic and International Studies offers a new report on Iran's Weapons of Mass Destruction (PDF), while the Oxford Research Group's report, Iran: Consequences of a War, suggests serious difficulties pursuing any "military option." Experts made the same point at a recent CFR Symposium on the Iran question.

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