September 22, 2005

Nuclear 'victory' exposes flaws in Iranian diplomacy

But the lingering crisis over Iran's nuclear programme playing out this week at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna offers a more revealing test of Iran's diplomacy.

In sweeping away most of the team that negotiated with the Europeans for two years over Iran's nuclear programme, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has removed a lot of experience.

Hassan Rowhani, Cyrus Nasseri and Hossein Mousavian had won the grudging respect of their European counterparts. All three also talked to the international press, and were well capable of defending and explaining Iran's positions under questioning.

During June's presidential election, all candidates and senior figures denied that the nuclear programme was an issue. Policy was made, they said, by consensus in the "system", a word taken to mean the whole leadership including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader. Events since Mr Ahmadi-Nejad took office in August, however, show that practice is not always in line with pronouncement.


This is stalemate and a recipe for drift. Iran has won a victory in that it is not being referred to the security council. But it hasn't won international recognition of its "right" to enrich uranium. And Tehran is unlikely to resume uranium enrichment as this would jeopardise current support from Russia and China in blocking referral.

Beijing's foreign ministry spokesman called on Thursday for EU-Iran talks to resume.

It is hardly a victory for Iran that Europe is far closer to the US than for years. And while the Europeans are unhappy Iran is converting raw uranium into gas, they can at least draw satisfaction from the fact that Tehran's uranium enrichment remains suspended.

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