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Will Iran go the North Korea way?

By Atul Aneja

MANAMA Sept.15. Faced with an October-end deadline to prove that it is not seeking nuclear weapons, Iran has reacted angrily and has threatened to review its relationship with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the international nuclear umpire.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Kemal Kharrazi, said soon after the 35-member IAEA board of governors decided that Iran should prove it was not developing atomic weapons by a October 31 deadline, that his country would now have to take a fresh look at its relationship with the agency. "Naturally, we should now decide about our cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency," Mr. Kharrazi said in Teheran.

Iran's representative at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, Ali Akbar Salehi, who walked out of the conference just before the resolution was adopted was also blunt in his observations. "We will have no choice but to have a deep review of our existing level and extent of engagement with the agency," he said in a brief statement before leaving the talks. The senior Iranian religious leader, Hashemi Rafsanjani, in an address in Teheran, expressed similar sentiments. Iran's threat to re-examine its relationship with the IAEA has prompted international fears that Teheran could follow the example of North Korea by renouncing international treaty obligations that forbid research in atomic weapons.

Analysts point out the stage is set for a showdown between Iran and U.S.-led industrialised nations, where Teheran will either have to allow a comprehensive IAEA probe of its nuclear facilities or face the prospects of stringent U.N. sanctions.

The IAEA board has decided that Iran should give a "full declaration" of its nuclear programme, to open all nuclear sites for inspection and to accept environmental testing ahead of an agency meeting scheduled for November 1.

In case of non-compliance, Iran's case would be forwarded to the U.N. Security Council where further action against Teheran, including sanctions, can be taken. Iran has been recently subjected to intense international pressure after an IAEA inspection team found traces of enriched uranium which is used for building nuclear weapons, at its nuclear facility in Natanz, in central Iran.

While Iran has denied that it is building nuclear weapons, Teheran's case for building atomic weapons has been well-debated in the Iranian press. Its case for atomic weapons rests on two premises.

First, Iran needs to deter a hostile Israel, which, it is widely believed, has an undeclared atomic arsenal. Second, the possession of nuclear weapons, it is felt, will insulate Iran from possible U.S. military threats. Iran's security situation has been severely compromised after U.S. forces positioned themselves in Afghanistan along its northern borders and in neighbouring Iraq.

Besides, a showdown with the industrialised nations led by Washington on the question of nuclear weapons can help in blunting the sharpening differences between hardliners and reformers inside Iran.

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