Intelligence Brief: Iran

Posted in Iran | 19-May-05 | Author: Erich Marquardt

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi

In an interview with Time Magazine on May 8, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, "There will not be any permanent freeze [of enrichment-related activities], because [it] is our legitimate right to have this [nuclear] technology and produce what we need for the country. No incentive can substitute for our legitimate right." He continued, explaining, "Our engagement with the European side was not to stop enrichment but to continue with enrichment in a manner that would assure the other side that we would not divert material for weapons."

Kharrazi's statement underscores how Tehran is committed to controlling the nuclear fuel cycle. While it agreed to suspend those activities temporarily, the deadlock in its talks with the European states of Great Britain, France and Germany have led it to threaten to resume its enrichment-related activities. These activities are Iran's right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, provided that it does not use this right to develop nuclear weapons. [See: "Tehran Buys Itself More Time from U.S. Pressure"]

The Deadlock

As part of the negotiations, the Europeans have aimed at convincing Iran to give up its desire to control the nuclear fuel cycle. Iran, whether out of nationalism, a desire to develop nuclear weapons, or the hope of winning concessions from the United States, has refused. If the Europeans are unwilling to balk, Iran may indeed resume enrichment-related work on the notion that the talks have taken too long and not yielded any results. For instance, on May 4 Kharrazi stated, "We are under heavy pressure from our parliament and media to show results for the time we spent on the negotiations."

The Europeans have threatened that they will join Washington in referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council if it resumes the enrichment-related activities.

Will Tehran Develop Nuclear Weapons?

It is unclear whether Tehran will ultimately attempt to develop nuclear weapons. Certainly, there are many reasons why nuclear weapons would be in its interests. Iran, unlike North Korea, shares good relations with states in the region and with the West, excluding the United States. Tehran may conclude that it is only natural for a state of its capacity to have a nuclear capability and that the international community will accept a nuclear-armed Iran the same way that it eventually accepted the nuclear capability of China, Pakistan and India. In the words of one unnamed senior Bush administration official, who recently spoke with Reuters, "Iran has thought for a long period of time ... it could both pursue its nuclear weapons program and still have relations with the rest of the world, maybe not great relations with us, but good relations with everybody else."

Furthermore, a successful drive for nuclear weapons would better shield Iran from threats to its power. A nuclear weapons capability would give Tehran more negotiating leverage when dealing with the United States and Israel, two states that perceive Iran as a potential regional menace due to its ability to spread its influence in the region. [See: "Iran's Bid for Regional Power: Assets and Liabilities"]

On May 9, Iran confirmed that it had converted 37 tons of uranium into gas. Nuclear scientists believe that this conversion would give Iran enough materials to develop around five nuclear weapons. Therefore, its capabilities to develop these weapons are increasing.

What's Next?

It is certainly plausible that upon controlling the nuclear fuel cycle Iran would refrain from developing nuclear weapons in the short-term. However, its control of the cycle would allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons at a rapid pace should the need arise. For instance, once the international community accepts Iran's control of the nuclear fuel cycle, it will be easier for the country to develop nuclear weapons quickly in order to display a nuclear deterrent in the face of what it perceives as a threat to its interests.

The Europeans enjoy good trade relations with Iran, and they do not wish to see the country turned into a pariah state. This explains why they have offered Iran political and economic incentives to back off its current drive to control the nuclear fuel cycle. The United States, on the other hand, would appreciate the isolation of Iran since Washington does not have economic relations with Tehran to begin with -- due to its ongoing trade embargo -- and realizes that the government in Iran will take actions to counter U.S. influence in the region.

But if the Europeans were to join the United States in referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for vote on possible economic sanctions, it is far from clear whether a resolution would pass. For one, China and Russia have assisted Iran in its growth, and will be unlikely to support such a resolution. Furthermore, if conclusive evidence is not presented that Iran has actually taken steps toward the creation of a nuclear weapon, states such as China and Russia will be in a decent position to veto such a resolution. As of now, no such conclusive evidence is known to exist.

May 24 will see the next step of negotiations between Iran's top negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, and the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany.

The Power and Interest News Report (PINR) is an independent organization that utilizes open source intelligence to provide conflict analysis services in the context of international relations. PINR approaches a subject based upon the powers and interests involved, leaving the moral judgments to the reader. This report may not be reproduced, reprinted or broadcast without the written permission of [email protected]. All comments should be directed to [email protected].