x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Tehran wedded to self-defeating nuclear strategy

Iran's leaders must compromise with the international community, for the sake of their people

The sanctions noose draws steadily tighter around Iran as the country's showdown with most of the rest of the world continues. How much longer can Tehran persist in its damaging strategy of nuclear obfuscation?

It is, unfortunately, business as usual this month: new talks with the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), originally expected in December, have now been put off again indefinitely after Tehran proposed new preconditions and baulked at setting a date and place for the meeting. Meanwhile, Iran has again stopped the International Atomic Energy Agency from moving towards resumption of its inquiry into the country's suspected nuclear-weapon development.

The government did, however, say it was moving to join the 75-country Convention on Nuclear Safety, which means the power reactor at Bushehr - just 610 kilometres from Abu Dhabi - would eventually come under international safety review. This step may have been an effort to dispel rumours of radioactive contamination around the plant.

All the while, daily life under sanctions keeps getting more difficult for the 75 million Iranians. The inflation rate reached 27 per cent at the end of last year. Oil exports, and the vital revenue they bring, have dwindled by a reported 40 per cent. Foreign goods - including medications - are vanishing or at best becoming much more costly.

And still more US sanctions, intended to freeze the country's oil revenue in foreign banks, take effect on February 6. Life in Iran is not anywhere near as bad as life in North Korea - which is now talking about a third nuclear-bomb test - but for Iranians things are going downhill fast.

In the face of that, Tehran's defiant persistence in its ambiguous nuclear programme appears steadily more fanatical. Until June's parliamentary elections, at least, there will be little hope of compromise, even though control of nuclear policy rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his coterie, not the elected government.

And yet a reasonable compromise is obvious: this month, seven former Iranian parliamentarians, all now living outside the country, urged direct Tehran-Washington talks, starting with agreed goals: a limit of 5 per cent on uranium enrichment in Iran, a long-term promise to supply enough 20 per cent enriched uranium for Iran's medical reactors, and the lifting of sanctions.

But Iran has repeatedly rejected such proposals. Considering the cost to ordinary Iranians, this stubbornness leads to alarming conclusions about the Iranian leadership and its intentions. The only way this can end well is for Iran's leaders to summon up enough courage to compromise.