International Papers

Carrots and Fuel Rods

On Tuesday Iran announced a breakthrough nuclear agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency during a visit by the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Great Britain. Iran’s nuclear ambitions have long been under scrutiny (see this “International Papers” from September), and the IAEA suspects Tehran of manufacturing weapons-grade uranium with special gas-enriching centrifuges. Under the agreement, Iran suspended uranium enrichment, turned over documents on its nuclear program to date, and promised to allow snap inspections by IAEA teams. To that end, on Thursday Iranian authorities handed a thick binder to the IAEA that it claimed was a “comprehensive and full” accounting of its atomic program. In return, European leaders promised Iran technical assistance with a non-military nuclear power program and more generous aid and trade packages.

World leaders met the news with guarded skepticism. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell called the measure “positive” in an interview with French daily Le Figaro but noted that in light of Iran’s past behavior, “you could say that I don’t trust them.”

European papers were generally positive about the news, which many heralded as a landmark instance of EU cooperation on an international issue. Opinion was divided on how the Americans fit in. Austria’s Kronenzeitung took the negative view, suggesting that European “diplomacy and their promise to support [Iran’s] civilian nuclear program in the future … achieved more than Washington with its show of muscles.” Germany’s Handelsblatt argued the opposite and said that Europe and the United States “have simply shared the task among themselves, with the U.S. threatening Iran with a stick and Europe coaxing it with a carrot” (translations by Deutsche Welle). At least one analyst  suggested that Iranian hatred of the United States motivated its choice to acquiesce to IAEA demands during a European visit.

Good cop vs. bad cop disputes aside, a few commentators focused on the tenuous long-term impact of Iran’s agreement. A Guardian op-ed contended that the news “does not mean Iran has discarded the nuclear military card. Instead, both sides have bought some time.” The move should be interpreted as a pause while Iran considers whether to continue its weapons program covertly and how to gauge Western reactions. The piece also blamed President Bush for the tensions surrounding Iran’s program: “[T]he larger problem still is that Bush’s preemption and counter-proliferation policies have created a situation in which every proliferation possibility produces a diplomatic, and, potentially, military crisis.”

Anger toward the United States was much more evident in Middle Eastern coverage of the news, especially in the Iranian media. Jomhuri-ye Eslami, a hard-line Iranian daily, disputed the idea that Iran could diplomatically divide and conquer: “Our acceptance will not create diversion between the USA and Europe. On the contrary, the enemies of the Islamic revolution will become even more insolent in their demands.” The more liberal Yas-e Now defended Iran’s move, arguing that the nation “was in a tight spot. It had to decide between accepting something bad now or waiting for something much worse later” (translations courtesy of BBC Monitoring).

A news article in the Lebanese Daily Star titled “Iran nuclear pledge is victory over Washington” shed more pragmatic light on the details of the new agreement. According to the Star, Iran does not recognize the Oct. 31st deadline for proving that its nuclear program is “entirely peaceful,” though it has now turned in documents to prove that point. Moreover, Iran has said nothing about how long it will suspend its uranium enrichment program or what might cause it to resume the process. The article quoted Israel’s military intelligence chief ominously asserting that “if Iran completed its uranium enrichment program, it would be able to produce nuclear weapons without outside help within one year.”