Praveen Swami – Telegraph.co.uk June 23, 2011
Talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group – the UK, US, Russia, China, France and Germany – were at stalemate after Tehran’s negotiators laid down several conditions for discussing a deal which would give Iran access to peaceful nuclear technology in return for halting enrichment.
“Each passing day,” a senior US diplomat told The Daily Telegraph, “means one less before Iran has the means to assemble a nuclear weapon. We’ve held out the carrot; perhaps its time to hold out the stick.”
Hardline comments from Tehran have emboldened the other side. Asghar Ali Soltanieh, Iran’s nuclear envoy, struck a defiant note in Tehran, claiming that the United Nations sanctions imposed on his country were “illegal”. He asserted Iran would “never halt its enrichment activity”.
Bruno Tertrais, an influential French nuclear expert, said it “might be time for the P5+1 to say that the diplomatic process is over, and give a deadline for Iran to take their offer or leave it”. Dr Tertrais argued that Barack Obama, the US President “should not hesitate say he will use force if Iran made nuclear weapons”.
The P5+1 has quietly been bracing itself for military strikes. Last year, Russia reneged on a contract to sell Iran modern S-300 air-defence missiles to guard its nuclear facilities. But top Western officials have made it clear the military option will not free of costs. “Iran building a nuclear weapon will be incredibly destabilising”, said Admiral Mike Mullen, the head of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a recent talk. “Attacking them will have the same outcome.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, has confirmed that Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make a single nuclear bomb. Iran is also constructing a heavy-water reactor at Arak, which will allow it to produce plutonium – the building-block for lighter, more lethal nuclear weapons.
Iran’s military forces have developed the capability to hit oil infrastructure in the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s fuel supplies travel. That could lead oil prices to spiral.
Some experts, though, have been arguing that Iran has often blinked in the face of credible threats. In 2003, following the destruction of regimes in its neighbours Iraq and Afghanistan by US forces, it offered a comprehensive nuclear deal.
Israel and the monarchies on Iran’s southern border have also been urging attacks. Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz, Saudi Arabia’s king, is known to have privately urged US officials to bomb Iran as early as 2008.
But Turkey is torn. “We do not want Iran to have a nuclear bomb,” says Mustafa Kibaroglu, a Turkish nuclear expert. “But we do not want a middle-eastern crisis that will undermine our economy and society, either.”