TAMIL NADU

IRAN'S SENSIBLE DECISION

IRAN HAS AVERTED a conflict with the United Nations Security Council by meeting a deadline set by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA had called upon Iran to suspend efforts to enrich uranium, permit intrusive and short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities, and provide a full disclosure of all nuclear activities undertaken in the past. Iran claims it has implemented a decision to suspend the uranium enrichment programme; it has handed over a set of documents to the IAEA; and it has signalled an intent to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that will facilitate inspections of the kind called for. The IAEA will not need to take the issue to the Security Council as Iran complied with the demands a week before the October 31 deadline. However, the controversy might not have blown over altogether. Iran announced that it would suspend the uranium enrichment processes either for a few days or for a few months. Statements of this nature are bound to provoke powers like the United States, which have pressed for stronger measures to make Iran comply with its NPT obligations. It is also not clear whether Iran has disclosed all details about the sources of its uranium, the extent of its nuclear facilities, and the nuclear-related activities it has carried out. It is also not certain that the IAEA will accept Iran's explanation for the small quantities of weapons-grade uranium found at one of the sites.

Iran's consistent denial of an intent to acquire nuclear arms failed to allay suspicions that it was pursuing a clandestine weapons programme. Its protestations did not convince even Russia, which is helping it build a nuclear power plant. A strong international consensus against any Iranian attempt at nuclear proliferation forced it to take a pragmatic decision. The Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, France and Germany provided a dignified way to a compromise. They went to Teheran to convince the Iranian leadership that excessive demands would not be made. These countries hinted that they might provide Iran with the technology and assistance to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes if they were convinced that all efforts at weaponisation had been wound up. Iran will win a point of principle if these promises are fulfilled since it has always maintained that it is entitled to assistance for its civilian nuclear programme as a signatory to the NPT.

The decision to comply with the IAEA's demands will affect the internal dynamics of Iranian politics. Conservatives in the Iranian regime accused the Government of undermining the national interest and threatened to launch a nationwide agitation. This is part of a ceaseless reactionary effort to regain the ground lost to the reform movement headed by President Syed Mohammed Khatami. While they are in a minority in Parliament, the Iranian conservatives control the Council of Guardians that monitors all decisions taken by the legislature. They might try to prevent the Government and Parliament from ratifying the agreement with the IAEA in order to show that they are the champions of the national interest. However, they might not push their opposition beyond a point. The decision to meet the IAEA's demands was taken by the National Security Council and not by the Government. This Council answers directly to the Supreme Religious Leader, Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, who has also publicly endorsed the agreement. It is unlikely that the conservatives will be so carried away by ideological fervour that they will defy Ayatollah Khamenei's endorsement of the sensible approach.