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A major diplomatic defeat

Posted by Richard Tuesday, August 09, 2005

It comes as absolutely no surprise that Iran has ignored the blandishments of the EU "troika" and decided to resume enrichment of the uranium. That it was going to happen was evident from the belligerent tone of the Iranian government earlier this month.

Nor can there be any doubt that this represents a major diplomatic defeat for the EU's "soft power" approach to foreign relations, opposing the US line of referring Iran to the UN Security Council in preference to the "carrot and stick" of economic incentives in return for a commitment to discontinue enrichment.

But, while the US response has been highly emollient, not seeking to make any capital out of the EU's discomfiture, it is now becoming clear that the EU has made a monumental strategic error. A bad situation two years ago is now immeasurably worse.

According to report from Reuters (via DefenseNews), Iran has used the negotiating period secretly to build thousands of nuclear fuel enrichment machines and it now intends to use them at hidden sites across the country.

This is from an exile group, The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), citing what it claims to be an Iranian state document. This group has often been proved right in the past, having revealed the existence of a massive underground enrichment site at Natanz as well as a heavy water production plant in August 2002.

It now says it has obtained a copy of a report by Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council written a week after last month's presidential elections.

The report to the office of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was an assessment of Iran's two-years of talks with France, Britain, and Germany. The transcript says that the two years of negotiations with the EU had bought Tehran time to develop its atomic program, sign lucrative oil and gas deals and fend off UN Security Council sanctions.

"The situation was so negative that even (IAEA chief Mohamed) ElBaradei told us there was no way we could avoid being referred to the Security Council," the report continues. "In autumn 2003 the country was not ready, from the point of view of military, security, political and economic situation, to confront all the possible consequences of referral to the UN Security Council."

With the EU keeping the US at bay, which was calling for an immediate referral to the Security Council, Iran was able to assemble thousands of centrifuge machines that could be made operational in different sites across the country, the report says: "Through the talks, we gained the opportunity to take significant steps to prepare ourselves for all eventualities."

Although uncorroborated, diplomats who have had access to the UN nuclear inspectorate's reports on Iran's capabilities, the Islamic republic does have enough parts for about 1,000 centrifuges. At the moment, the NCRI cannot name the sites, but its research is continuing.

Now, two years later than could have happened, with Iran so much better prepared to deal with sanctions, the EU troika - Britain, France and Germany - have called an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Authority for today. The EU is finally admitting that Tehran could at last be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

That, people, is "soft power" for you. Let us hope that the US can sort out the mess before Israel decides to take a hand.