Saturday, April 04, 2009

Clock ticks for Iran ...

From a Reuters Analysis, 2/4/09, by Louis Charbonneau:

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States will push for new U.N. sanctions against Iran later this year if President Barack Obama's effort to improve relations fails to stop Tehran from pursuing its nuclear program.

But plans for a fourth round of international sanctions will remain on hold at least until after Iran's presidential elections in June, diplomats said.

There are hopes in Washington and other Western capitals that a moderate will win the Iranian election and seize upon President Barack Obama's recent offer of new diplomatic engagement with the Islamic Republic.

...More important than the outcome of the Iranian election, analysts say, is the question of how long Israel will be willing to wait to see if the U.S. approach is working before taking a decision on whether to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a former U.S. State Department official and nonproliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said Iran will not have much time after its elections to change gears on the nuclear front.

"Israel is not going to wait forever," he said. "I couldn't give you a prediction of months, but I don't think that Iran has all that much time. They have an opportunity now and they should seize it."

...Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several of his military aides told Atlantic magazine this week that the Jewish state would not wait too long. One Israeli military aide was quoted as saying Israel's time lines are now drawn in months, "not years."

Israel bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osiraq in 1981 and has suggested it was prepared to do the same in Iran.

Obama's shift from his predecessor's policy of isolating Tehran has backing from Britain, France and Germany. These countries are helping to spearhead efforts to persuade Iran to freeze its enrichment program in compliance with five Security Council resolutions.

Russia and China have also welcomed the overture.

...Work on a new U.N. sanctions resolution would likely commence later this year if Iran continues enriching uranium, the analysts and diplomats said, but the focus at the moment will be on engagement, not punishment.

"He's (Obama) not going to be comfortable right off the box threatening," said Henry Sokolski, head of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. "They've branded themselves as the engagers and they'll stick to the brand for now."

Iran's progress in developing it's nuclear capability is also likely to provide a limit to Western patience.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog reports that Iran is making progress in purifying uranium using difficult centrifuge technology. According to one Western diplomat, that trend is "unsettling" and "cannot continue indefinitely."

The prospect that Russia and China, both of which have vetoes in the Security Council, will support new sanctions also hovers over the Iranian issue. Moscow and Beijing reluctantly backed three rounds of U.N. sanctions but watered them down.
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