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Iran bids to redefine nuclear limits

At the UN, Iran's president challenges the sway of Western powers on the issue.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 19, 2005


Iran has hardened its determination to pursue its controversial nuclear program, brushing aside US and European threats of censure while trying to create a new diplomatic framework for nonproliferation.

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Iran's newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared at the U.N. Saturday that nuclear power was an "inalienable right" for Iran and accused the West of practicing "nuclear apartheid" by depriving it of nuclear know-how.

Iran has increasingly seized the offensive in the standoff over its nuclear efforts. And it appears to be gaining ground as it casts its clash with the West as a spearhead for ending big-power dominance.

"It is, of course, an issue of proliferation, but really it is about the nature of the [Iranian] regime, its politics, and its ambitions," says Shahram Chubin, head of research at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

The dispute masks a power play "on both sides," between Iran and the US, says Mr. Chubin, who runs an annual arms control course for diplomats working on the Middle East. "It's a question of who is going to dominate the regional order."

In his address, President Ahmedinejad accused the US of trying to divide the world into "light and dark countries." The US was failing to abide by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) itself, he charged, with a doctrine that includes preemptive strikes and developing a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons. And Ahmadinejad laid down a defiant marker.

"If some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue," the populist Iranian president said.

Within days of Ahmadinejad being sworn in as Iran's new president in August, Iran resumed its nuclear enrichment activities. Those had been voluntarily suspended for much of the past two years during talks with the EU3.

"The US only takes countries seriously that have reached a certain degree of technological and economic power (hence the cooperation with India)," says Bijan Khajehpour, an analyst and chairman of the Atieh Group of companies in Tehran. "This fact certainly motivates Iran to become ... more powerful."

Washington alleges that Iran's program is a cover for making atomic bombs, an accusation the Iranian president dismissed as a "pure propaganda ploy."

But intense lobbying to censure Iran by the US and Great Britain, France and Germany - the EU3 - appear to have failed.

Iran is due to face tough questions in Vienna Monday, when the board of the UN's nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets. UN inspections in Iran have turned up no evidence of a clandestine weapons program, but the latest report, earlier this month, said the IAEA could not rule it out.

Still, US and EU3 plans to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council for reporting violations and possible sanctions have unraveled, as Russia, China, India and others voiced opposition, despite direct appeals to leaders, in some cases, from President George Bush.

To dispel fears of Iran's nuclear intentions, Mr. Ahmadinejad spelled out acceptance of broader oversight, suggesting the involvement of third countries such as South Africa, or even private companies working with Iranian scientists. He also appeared to indicate that Iran was constrained by Islam in developing weapons. "[I]n accordance with our religious principles, pursuit of nuclear weapons in prohibited," he said.