Monday, January 30, 2006

Tehran's Latest Ploy


Secretary of State Rice, in London for talks on the Iranian nuclear matter, says Tehran's efforts at compromise are not satisfactory. At this point, the U.S. and its European allies seem likely to press ahead with efforts to refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council, through the IAEA. If that happens, watch for Tehran to play the Russian and/or Chinese "card" in the coming days.


With a diplomatic show-down looming over its nuclear program, Tehran has thrown a bone to the international community, allowing access to a razed military site in Tehran. Iran had previously blocked access to the site, which is believed to have links to Tehran's nuclear program. Iranian officials made the concession just hours before Monday's meeting between U.S and European officials that could result in the referral of Iran's nuclear program to the UN Security Council. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also considering a referral, and will address the issue on Thursday, at a meeting of its 35-nation board in Vienna.

The razed site in Tehran, named Lavizan, was dismantled more than two years ago, after Iranian opposition groups linked the complex to Iran's nuclear program. Prior to that disclosure, western intelligence agencies had detected a large-scale expansion program at the facility, which had known ties to a major Iranian university and nuclear research organizations. The IAEA originally asked for information on Lavisan and access to the facility in 2004, but the Iranians have denied those requests until now.

Given Tehran's change of heart regarding IAEA access, tt's a good bet that the Lavizan site has been thoroughly sanitized, and inspectors will find little of value at that location. The Iranians have employed similar tactics in the past, removing (or hiding) indicators of nuclear R&D activity at other clandestine sites. As late as 2001, Lavizan was described as a veritable beehive of activity, with hundreds of cars parked around the complex. Personnel, equipment and projects once assigned to Lavizan have likely been moved to other, undetected locations.

In announcing that the Lavizan site was no longer off limits, Iranian spokesmen also indicated that there was still time (and room) for negotiation. It will be interesting to see if Tehran's friends in the IAEA (most notably, Russia and China) "bite" on this offer, and use it as a pretext for postponing a referral to the Security Council. The U.S. and the Western Europeans still seem determined to elevate the matter to the UNSC, but it is hardly a done deal. With their commercial interests and investments in Iran, Moscow (or perhaps more likely, Beijing) will seize upon Tehran's offer as justification for more, pointless diplomacy.

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