Iran Looks Set to Reject Deal Offering Way Out of Nuclear Crisis

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - A week before Iran is expected to deliver its response to a carrots-and-stick proposal on its nuclear activities, Tehran looks set to reject the initiative and escalate its standoff with the international community.

"Our atomic activities are advancing in line with international laws and regulations and we neither have any interruption nor problems," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a televised speech on Monday.

He gave no indication that Iran was giving favorable consideration to a package of incentives offered by the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany (the P5+1) in return for Iran ending its uranium-enrichment work.

Earlier, Iran said it would respond to the proposal on August 22. It now faces additional pressure in the form of a Security Council resolution, passed on July 31, giving Iran until the end of this month to comply, or face the possibility of sanctions.

The official Irna news agency said Ahmadinejad also warned Monday that Iran's enemies, having failed in their attempts to shut down the nuclear program, were now focusing on trying to sow discord inside the country.

He predicted the Iranian people would again demonstrate their unity in the face of hostility.

A defiant tone also came from government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham, who told a briefing that Iran was not affected by threats of sanctions.

Elham warned that "the West, especially the United States" would lose more than Iran if sanctions were applied.

"We control the energy sources," he said, in reference to Iran's position as a major crude oil exporter -- and also possibly to Iran's potential to disrupt oil shipments from the Persian Gulf to world markets through the strategic and vulnerable Strait of Hormuz. Iranian leaders have made that threat before in the recent past.

Elham was dismissive of the affect sanctions would have on Iran. Sanctions applied in the past against Iran, he said, had stimulated the Iranian economy.

"It was under these sanctions that we managed to acquire peaceful nuclear technology."

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday that the Europeans -- a reference to Britain, France and Germany, which for two years negotiated with Iran over the nuclear issue -- had "changed their path" away from one of cooperation.

Iran would respond by also choosing "another path," he said.

Also on Sunday, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Gholam-Hossein Hadad-Adel, said that Iran may withdraw from bodies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if it is deprived of its "inalienable right" to carry out a nuclear program.

Tehran insists the program is a purely civilian one, aimed at generating power, but the U.S. and other nations believe it is trying to acquire the capability to build atomic bombs.

No official statement in recent days has given any sign that Iran is preparing to accept the P5+1 compromise proposal, which promised economic and diplomatic concessions if Iran abandoned uranium enrichment.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack declined to assess the regime's thinking, but noted that thus far there had been no word suggesting it would accept the offer.

"And what happens next is that they face sanctions under a [new] chapter seven resolution."

At Chinese and Russian insistence, the July 31 U.N. resolution requires that if Iran fails to meet the month-end deadline, the council will have to hold further discussion on applying sanctions.

McCormack said there would be discussions in New York and in world capitals about exactly what sanctions would be imposed under a follow-up resolution.

With August halfway through and Iran giving no sign of backing down, China on Monday dispatched a senior official, assistant foreign minister Cui Tiankai, to Tehran in a bid, Beijing said, to resolve the nuclear issue.

China and Russia have significant energy and other links with Iran, and are averse to seeing sanctions applied.

According to analyst Ephraim Asculai of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, Iran is determined to obtain a military nuclear capability, and the international community has to act.

"Failure to impose sanctions, beginning with suspension of direct trade in scientific and technical materials, equipment and know-how that could assist in the quest for nuclear weapons and then moving, if necessary, to even more severe measures such as an embargo on refined oil products, would signal to Iran, rhetoric notwithstanding, that the rest of the world is actually prepared to live with an Iranian nuclear weapon," he said.

Asculai, a former official at the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, said the Ahmadinejad government has been using the nuclear program as a rallying issue to unite the Iranian nation.

It may be the only policy that does unite Iranians, and removing it could help to hasten the regime's downfall, he said.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow