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Governments Debate What to do About Iran’s Nuclear Program


There have been mixed signals from Iran's hard-line government: it is removing 40 ambassadors and senior diplomats from office, some of whom support closer ties with the West. And it announced it is processing more uranium at its nuclear plant in Isfahan. At the same time, Iran announced it will allow UN inspectors to revisit a high-security military site to look for signs of nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the year, Iran and members of the European Union negotiated a deal to freeze all nuclear work at Isfahan -- but Iran re-opened the plant in August. That led the three European powers to suspend talks on Iran's nuclear program.

While Iran repeatedly denies it is building nuclear weapons, and insists its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, the Iranian government acknowledges concealing many nuclear activities from the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, for the last 18 years.

In September, the IAEA declared Iran was in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

All of which leaves the Bush administration and European powers wondering if there is any way to get Iran to give up its nuclear program.

Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform in London, and Philip Gordon of Brookings Institution, both say diplomacy -- not military action -- is the answer.

"I think there's no alternative but to keep going with diplomatic strategy. I don't think a military action of any sort would make things better," says Mr. Grant.

Adds Mr. Gordon, "I think the results of that [military action] would be an absolute Iranian determination to develop nuclear weapons at all costs."

Military action is one of many options that are on the table, according to the Bush administration. The United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, and has imposed sanctions preventing U.S. businesses from trading with the Islamic republic.

Both the United States and Israel were targets of derision during a rally Wednesday outside the former U.S. embassy in Iran's capital, Tehran. The embassy was taken over by militant Iranian students November 4, 1979, following the overthrow of the Shah and the formation of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Volker Perthes, Director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, says Iran's hard-liners remain deeply suspicious of the United States.

"... if you look at the geopolitical map there, the U.S. is not only in Iraq, not only in Persian Gulf, they're also in Afghanistan. They have close relations to Pakistan, they have close relations to India, they are in central Asia. So there is a certain reason for Iranians to feel surrounded. They're not surrounded by Israel, they're surrounded by the United States!"

But it was Israel that Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said should be wiped off the map. That only worsened relations with Western countries. Even Russia, normally Tehran's ally, condemned the statement.

Volker Perthes says, no matter how much Western governments may dislike Iran's hard liners, they should allow the country to have a nuclear program for peaceful purposes.

"And I think we have to see that there are people who really think that nuclear, peaceful nuclear energy, is something they need for economic and technological progress, and that's fine for them," he said.

The IAEA will meet in late November, to decide whether to refer Tehran's activities to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. EU countries have moved closer to the U.S. position that, unless Iran suspends its conversion activities, they have no choice but to support possible sanctions. But it's not clear that Russia will support any action against Iran. Which could leave the international community still struggling to know how to deal with Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

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