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A defiant Iran banks on a split at UN

The Security Council receives a report Friday that gauges Iran's latest nuclear activities.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 27, 2006


With neither side blinking, Iran and the international community are preparing to take the next step in their showdown over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

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The confrontation returns Friday to the United Nations Security Council, where the Iranian regime is hoping a divide-and-conquer strategy will prevent the UN body from taking any coercive action to limit its nuclear program. It may be a bold gambit: Just a month ago, the Council acted - unanimously - to give Iran 30 days to show it had ceased uranium enrichment.

But the Security Council, in fact, is split over the need for action against a defiant Tehran - increasing the likelihood that steps such as economic sanctions will be taken not by the UN, but by a "coalition of the willing" of the US and equally adamant allies.

"Of course we have a strong preference for action by the Security Council, for legal reasons ... and [because] it sends a clear message to the Iranian people that action is against the regime and not them," says a French diplomat who requested anonymity because of the delicate nature of the negotiations. "But at the same time, we can't remain forever doing nothing in the case Iran goes forward with its process."

The United States as well has been emphasizing its preference for united Security Council action against Iran. But it is also floating with allies the possibility of steps outside the UN if the Security Council proves unable to bridge its differences - essentially with the US, Britain, and France on one side, and Russia and China on the other.

Beginning Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to attend a two-day meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Sofia, Bulgaria, where the issue of Iran and its relevance to the Atlantic alliance is expected to be raised, according to NATO officials.

The 30-day pause in deliberations on Iran was designed to give the Iranian government an opportunity to cease uranium enrichment, reassure the world that it is not proceeding along a path to nuclear armament, and stave off further international action.

But if anything, Iran has used the days preceding a return to the Security Council to rattle the international community: not only to boast of a perfected enrichment process, but to do it with veiled references to secret enrichment sites and to accelerated nuclear development.

The Iranian game plan appears to be to set up a confrontation with the West that not only divides the international community but shatters any consensus against its nuclear program, analysts say.

"They seem to be trying to replay the good-cop-bad-cop strategy the US and EU [European Union] used against them, but in their own way where they play both the good cop and the bad cop," says Ray Takeyh, an Iran expert with the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

He points to Iran's diplomatic forays to Russia and Persian Gulf states, as well as toward Sudan, even as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad taunts the West. And he says Iran is trying to look reasonable and cooperative to friends (like Russia) and Muslim countries, while also appearing to stand up to Western powers.