"Trust gap" lies deep in U.S.-Iran nuclear standoff

18:48, May 21, 2010      

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Recent moves over Iran's nuclear development program have exposed what analysts say is a "trust gap" between the islamic republic and the West and a tough road ahead to resolve the stand-off.

Iran appeared to go some way to meeting Western demands on the issue when it signed an agreement to ship to Turkey low-enriched uranium in return for nuclear fuel rods on Monday. But the United States handed the UN Security Council a draft resolution on expanding UN sanctions against Iran the following day.

Under the nuclear fuel swap deal, Iran will deposit 1,200 kg of its 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium in Turkey. In return, Tehran will get fuel rods containing 20 percent high-enriched uranium for a medical research reactor.

The agreement was widely praised as positive. But the White House has insisted it will not change steps to seek sanctions against Iran.

The draft resolution put forward Tuesday targets Iran's banking and other industries.

"I think that the swap itself should bring the issue of sanctions to an end because this is basically what the Americans were asking for," said Seyed Mohammad Marandi, professor of the Institute of North American and European Studies at the University of Tehran.

The deal was a major goodwill gesture and it was an Iranian initiative to decrease tensions, but the Americans were intentionally trying to create further tensions for many reasons, Marandi told Xinhua.

He warned that new sanctions would create a more dangerous situation in the region and lead to a "very slippery slope" toward confrontation and even possible military conflicts.

The West has been accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons. But Iran, which is a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, denies the allegations and insists its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

Last October, a UN-backed deal proposed that Iran ship its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be made into fuel.

Iran later rejected the proposal and announced the production of the first batch of 20 percent enriched uranium in Febuary.

In reaction, the United States and other Western powers started to seek a fourth round of UN sanctions against Iran.

James Acton, an expert on the Iranian nuclear issue at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the Western countries were working hard to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons because Iran had failed to prove to the world that its nuclear program was peaceful.

In his opinion, both sanctions and negotiations were needed to address the Iranian nuclear issue.

"What might work is using sanctions as pressure to force Iran to negotiate," he said.

"I think the U.S. will try very hard to continue with sanctions. It will argue the only reason Iran sat down with Turkey and Brazil is because of the threat of the sanctions. What is unclear now is whether the U.S. is going to succeed," Acton said.

Acton's opinion was echoed by William C. Ramsay, energy director in the French Institute of International Relations, a French think tank, who said Western countries were not convinced of Iran's purely peaceful intentions.

Economic sanctions would not be a determining factor but would add pressure on the Iranian economy and the politics, Ramsay told Xinhua, adding "it would hopefully be pressing for political reform inside Iran."

Iran launched its nuclear development program at the end of the 1950s with the help of the United States. U.S. support continued until the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran.

After the 1979 revolution, the Iranian government temporarily disbanded elements of the program, and then revived it with less Western assistance than during the pre-revolution era.

Iran would not give up its nuclear program because "it will be a waste of many billions of dollars and thousands of people have been trained in this field," Marandi said.

He believes that Iranians want to develop nuclear energy because they need alternative sources of energy.

"The (Iranian) government has decided over the past couple of decades to develop not only nuclear energy, but also solar energy and wind energy," Marandi said.

Although the nuclear impasse looms, neither Acton nor Ramsay believes a military conflict is imminent.

"I think military action by either state, particularly by the U.S., looks unlikely right now," Acton said. "Because there is just no good military options, destroying what we know about Iran's nuclear program."

Military options "at the very most might slow it down by a year or two years, but that doesn't solve the problem," he said.

"You might destroy a few installations but you can't destroy the nuclear capacity," Ramsay said.

Source: Xinhua

(Editor:祁澍文)

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