x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Swift UN resolution rankles Iran

Iran vows to press ahead with uranium enrichment after the UN Security Council unanimously passes a new resolution against its nuclear programme.

Iran, with characteristic defiance, has vowed to press ahead with uranium enrichment after the UN Security Council unanimously passed a new resolution against Tehran's nuclear programme. Less typically, Iran showed it was rankled by the unexpected development. The president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has shrugged off past resolutions as "a torn piece of paper". Iran's mission to the United Nations, however, conceded that Saturday's resolution had come as an "unpleasant surprise" - supposedly to the international community - but clearly more to Tehran itself.

The brief resolution imposes none of the new sanctions that the United States, Britain and France had wanted and issues no warning that Iranian non-compliance will lead to further punitive action. The 18-line text mostly reaffirms three earlier Security Council resolutions, which imposed increasingly tougher sanctions on Iran over the past two years for refusing to halt uranium enrichment. But Iran appeared taken aback that the resolution had emerged so swiftly and was passed unanimously. Its mission to the UN condemned the measure as hastily taken, "unwarranted" and "unlawful", and added in a defiant statement: "The Iranian nation will remain determined to exercise its inalienable rights for peaceful uses of nuclear technology."

The resolution serves notice that Iran cannot rely on recent tension between Russia and the United States over Georgia to shield it from unified Security Council action over its nuclear programme. Such concerns arose last week when the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, withdrew from high-level talks on the nuclear programme, insisting the time was not right to impose more sanctions. But there has also been speculation that Iranian officials have been engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with US counterparts to ease tensions. If so, Iran may view the resolution as an unexpected rebuff.

"Diplomatic pressure at the Security Council is an element in whatever talks might be going on - although it must be said reports of such talks is very speculative," said Michael Axworthy, an Iran analyst at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter University in England and a former head of the Iran desk at Britain's foreign office. Ali Larijani, the influential speaker of the Iranian parliament, accused the Security Council yesterday of serving the interests of US foreign policy and questioned how the resolution tallied with claims by the big powers that they wanted to build confidence with Iran. Within hours of passage of the resolution, it emerged that Washington has provided Israel with an advanced US-made radar system that will give Israel much greater warning of any possible ballistic missile attack by Iran.

The system can pick up a ballistic missile shortly after launch, slashing the response time of Israel's Arrow shield, which was designed to intercept incoming missiles. The new radar was flown into Israel last week along with 120 US crewmen and set up at the Nevatim airbase in the Negev desert, Israeli officials said yesterday. Analysts saw the move as compensation for reluctance on the part of the Bush administration to support Israeli preparations for an attack on Iran.

Tehran has sent signals in recent months that it is interested in ending its 28-year-old diplomatic rift with Washington. Mr Ahmadinejad, for instance, offered to debate the two US presidential candidates before he attended the General Assembly in New York last week. Meanwhile, five former US secretaries of state, including Democrats and Republicans, recently urged the next US president to engage directly with Iran as the best way to resolve the nuclear stand-off.

The Russians stressed that the new resolution highlighted diplomacy: it refers to the "dual-track approach" adopted by the Security Council. This presents Iran with a choice of incentives to stop enriching uranium and, alternatively, threats of new sanctions if it does not comply. Bernard Kouchner, France's foreign minister, said any progress on the negotiating track would probably have to wait for elections in the United States because the Iranians "certainly want to talk to the Americans".

Although the new resolution lacks potency, it was important for Washington and its allies to demonstrate that the Security Council would not ignore a sharply critical report on Iran by the UN's nuclear watchdog this month. The International Atomic Energy Agency's stated that a lack of Iranian co-operation meant it was unable to investigate intelligence allegations that Tehran in the past had conducted research into militarising its nuclear programme. The IAEA's assembly meets this week in Vienna.

The IAEA also lamented that Iran was still expanding its uranium enrichment programme instead of suspending it, as demanded by the three earlier Security Council resolutions. The latest resolution, 1835, calls on Iran to meet the IAEA's requirements. Some Iranian commentators portrayed the latest resolution as a face-saving document for the West that simply papers over their differences with Russia and China on Iran, which oppose new sanctions. It was a "mere show of unity", said Press TV, Iran's English-language satellite news channel. But the response of Iran's UN mission suggested it regarded the measure as a blow to morale. There is also likely to be concern in Tehran that while the new resolution lacks teeth it could galvanise the European Union to press ahead with a new sanctions of its own.

Mr Axworthy of Exeter University said in an interview: "The Iranians don't like resolutions against them. They actually do take the international community seriously and they take the UN seriously - they send their president to the UN General Assembly every year." mtheodoulou@thenational.ae