The clock is ticking on Iran, or so we’re told. But whose clock, and what exactly is it timing? Obama administration officials say Iran has until September to respond to the US offer to negotiate over its nuclear programme or face what the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, calls “crippling sanctions”. But what exactly is being demanded of Iran, and what is being offered? And what if those sanctions don’t change its stance?
Iran insists that its programme is entirely for peaceful energy production, and that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. But – and this is perhaps the crucial point in the conversation – it very much insists that as a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty, it does, in fact, have the right to enrich uranium, and has no intention of surrendering that right. That, moreover, is not only the position of the hardline Ahmadinejad government, but also of its pragmatic and reformist rivals who continue to challenge the legitimacy of the president’s reelection.
The US and its allies believe Iran is using the cover of a civilian nuclear energy programme to put in place many of the key elements of a bomb, particularly the ability to enrich uranium. The Non Proliferation Treaty allows its signatories (including Iran) to enrich uranium as reactor fuel, under monitoring by the International Atomic Energy to ensure that it is not enriched to weapons grade. According to the US Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, the US intelligence community believes Iran won’t have the technical capacity to produce weapons-grade material until 2013; that its leaders have not taken a political decision to create a bomb; and that they won’t do so as long as their programme remains under international scrutiny. [continued…]