Iran's N-provocation a bluff, say experts

PARIS: Iran’s latest nuclear provocation is a bluff, experts argue, and the West should be wary of being drawn into talks with Tehran that might hand a victory to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s fragile regime.

This week Tehran more or less managed to muzzle opposition protests called on the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, undermining hopes that the grass roots “Green Revolution” might sweep away the regime. Victory on the streets gave President Ahmadinejad and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei breathing space on the domestic front, but they still face mounting international pressure over their nuclear programme.

France, which holds the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council, is preparing a

motion that, if passed,

would impose crippling sanctions on Iran’s oil-dominated economy, a senior Paris official said.

Iran appears defiant in the face of the threat, however, and this week boasted that it had begun enriching its uranium stockpile to the 20 percent level which would allow it to fuel its research reactor.

Western powers believe Iran’s eventual goal is to make the highly enriched uranium that would allow it to build a nuclear weapon and radically alter the balance of power in the already unstable Middle East

and Central Asia. But analysts warn that Ahmadinejad may be exaggerating

Iran’s ability to advance its nuclear programme in order to force the West to come to the negotiating table on his terms and reinforce his shaky position at home.

“In political terms, Ahmadinejad is bluffing,

because the Iranian government has been fragilised

inside the country,”

Karim Pakzad, a researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations in Paris, told AFP.

Thirty-one years after the Islamic revolution, Tehran’s authoritarian regime is facing unprecedented street protests from a large but diffuse opposition movement, which some think could topple the government.

“Ahmadinejad wants a deal with the Americans,” said Francois Nicoullaud, a French diplomat who served as ambassador to Iran between 2001 and 2005.

“He’s said it several times and everyone slapped him down, because no-one wants to give him the benefit of overseeing a reconciliation with the Americans, which would give him immediate popularity and revive him politically.

“No-one, even inside the current regime, wants to hand him that gift.” A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that while Iran appeared capable of stepping up its enrichment programme, it doesn’t have the technology to transform the uranium into fuel rods for a reactor.

And for Nicoullaud, Ahmadinejad’s posturing is an empty threat. “He is announcing plans he has no hope of pulling off,” he said. “Iran will never develop a serious nuclear programme without international help.

“On the other hand, the West is bandying around sanctions that it knows wont be effective in the short or medium term. We’re seeing an odd game: one side announcing impossible plans, the other threatening pointless sanctions.”