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Iran Defies the International Community

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defiance of the international community reached new heights this week. In a speech on Thursday, Mr. Ahmadinejad said Tehran is no longer willing to negotiate with the international community over any aspect of its nuclear program. He announced his nation’s intention to produce a higher grade of nuclear fuel on its own.

President Ahmadinejad also denounced as “illegal” a resolution passed last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency that condemned Iran’s secret development of a uranium site near the city of Qom. In response to the IAEA censure, Iran then announced it would build another 10 uranium enrichment sites.

The controversy over Iran's nuclear programs centers in particular on Iran's failure to declare sensitive enrichment and reprocessing activities to the IAEA. Enrichment can be used to produce uranium for reactor fuel or, at higher enrichment levels, for weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Escalating the War of Words

The United States and Israel have expressed concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions, and they have not ruled out the possibility of using military action to stop Iran from creating a nuclear weapon. But President Ahmadinejad said this week that his nation will push forward with its nuclear program, adding Israel and it backers “cannot do a damn thing to stop it.”

However, according to journalist Nathan Guttman of the Jewish Daily Forward, Israelis see Iran’s defiance of the international community in terms of business as usual. “Israelis believe all that Iran is doing is employing delay tactics to gain more time to win another week, another month, or maybe another several months before the international community imposes sanctions that might be harmful to its nuclear program,” Guttman said. “So it’s time to move forward with international sanctions against Iran.”

Pursuing an Erratic and Confusing Policy

“Iran seems to be pursuing a deliberately confusing policy of moving in one direction and then in another,” said Ali Reza Nourizadeh, director of the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies in London. He says Tehran has taken advantage the international community’s inability to develop a unified position to buy time for itself. One move in the right direction, he suggests, was Russia’s support last week for the IAEA censure.

Iran’s stand against international pressure plays well at home. “Although Iran’s recent threat to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants may be totally unrealistic, it nonetheless serves a useful domestic purpose,” according to British journalist Ian Williams, who reports from the United Nations in New York. People in the West tend to forget that even the members of the political opposition are staunchly in favor of Iran’s nuclear program, Williams noted. “This is very much about pride; it’s not about reality. It’s a response to a profound resentment on the part of the Iranians that they are getting singled out in this way,” Williams explained.

Defiance and Domestic Insecurity

President Ahmadinejad’s criticism of the international community has sharpened since his re-election in June. And opposition charges of a fraudulent election and the government’s subsequent brutal crackdown against anti-government protestors made Mr. Ahmadinejad ripe for international condemnation. In fact, however, the response was relatively muted.

The stepped-up rhetoric unleashed at both traditional friends and foes in the international community may be intended for another audience. “Mr. Ahmadinejad is not recognized by millions of Iranians as the legitimate president of Iran, so he needs some sort of revolutionary legitimacy by showing that he is the man that millions of Muslims and Arabs look to as their leader,” said Nourizadeh. He suggests the Iranian president is intent on having Iran recognized as a super-power in the region.

Iran’s Nuclear History

Mid 1950s Iran’s nuclear program is launched with help from the United States’ Atoms for Peace program.

1967 The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is established. A U.S.-supplied 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor becomes operational.

1968 Iran signs the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, making its nuclear program subject to International Atomic Energy Agency verification.

1979 The Iranian Revolution overthrows the Shah. The new government temporarily disbands, then revives Iran’s nuclear program with less Western assistance.

2002 An Iranian dissident group reveals the existence of two nuclear sites under construction. The IAEA immediately seeks access to these facilities and co-operation from Iran regarding its nuclear program.

2003 An IAEA investigation concludes Iran has failed to meet its obligations under the NPT safeguards agreement to report those activities to the IAEA.

2005 The IAEA reports a formal finding of NPT non-compliance.

2006 The IAEA reports its findings to the UN Security Council.

The Council demands Iran suspend its enrichment programs.

The Council imposes sanctions after Iran refuses to comply.

2009 The IAEA says Iran continues to enrich uranium contrary to the decisions of the UN Security Council. The IAEA reports that, due to a continued lack of co-operation by Iran, it cannot determine whether Iran is using its nuclear program for military purposes.