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Iran's Desire for Nuclear Power v. the Ability to Maintain It


Iran has indicated readiness to negotiate over its nuclear program. But it has not agreed to a United Nations demand that it suspend its uranium enrichment program by August 31st. VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports that if the international community agrees to negotiate, Iran will come to the table with inconsistencies between its desire for nuclear power and the ability to maintain it.

Iran has the world's third largest oil reserve. It also has huge amounts of natural gas, which many countries use to fuel electric power plants.

Middle East expert Patrick Clawson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy says it makes excellent sense for Iran to use that gas to produce electricity. "Whereas nuclear power makes very little sense for Iran, both because of the heavy capital investment needed for a nuclear power plant, and because nuclear power plants require amazing amounts of water to cool them and Iran is short on water. In addition, the brilliant engineers in the 1970s managed to identify the only earthquake fault within hundreds of miles and to locate Iran's nuclear power plant that's now under construction precisely on that fault."

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is designed to produce fuel for its nuclear power plant. But enriched uranium is also the key component of a nuclear bomb. So, many countries suspect Iran is seeking such a device. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says Iran has a choice between the pursuit of nuclear weapons and an offer from the international community to provide fuel for its nuclear power plant.

"They can either take up the very generous offer that the five permanent members and Germany have extended to them, and if they do there's a possibility of a different relationship with the United States and others,” said Mr. Bolton. “But if they don't, we've also made it clear that their unwillingness to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons will result in our efforts in the Security Council to obtain economic sanctions against them."

Tehran University student Amir Nasiri dismisses threats of new sanctions. "Sanctions have been imposed on us for many years and we are not intimidated by sanctions. We need this modern technology [nuclear] and our people back the government on this issue."

But another student, Navid Pourmirza, disagrees. "At the present time, sanctions would be a loss to Iran and our politicians should act tactfully and accept at least a short-term suspension of uranium enrichment."

An estimated 40 percent of Iranians live below the poverty line and could be further impoverished by sanctions. Middle East expert Patrick Clawson says the Iranian government favors gigantic projects, such as nuclear power or heavy industry, which do little to help average people.

"The bias in favor of big, prestige projects, instead of small investments that create lots of jobs; the orientation towards the domestic markets instead of exporting for global markets -- all of this is characteristic of Iran's economy and explains why the country has not done really not very well despite the substantial oil income," says Clawson.

He also says Iran has had meager success over the last 15 years in attracting major international investment in its oil and gas industry. Clawson says that problem could become worse if the international community applies new sanctions because of Iran's nuclear program.

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