Atomic report puts Iran on the spot

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 November, 2011, 12:00am


A crunch time has come for Iran with the International Atomic Energy Agency's latest report on its nuclear programme. The assertion that there is a military dimension to Tehran's development goes further than previous assessments, raising the spectre as never before of air strikes on suspected facilities by arch-rivals Israel or the US. That may seem the remotest of possibilities, but the agency's conclusion is exactly the sort of confirmation that could be used to justify such action. Diplomacy, sanctions and threats have gone nowhere and patience is fast running out. It is time for Iranian leaders to be transparent, honest and flexible.

That is precisely the type of response being called for by Iran's ally, China. It is a sensible approach given the intransigence shown over the past decade. With the IAEA determining from 'credible information' that data 'indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device', there can be no more delaying and refusing to co-operate with inspectors. Instead, it is time to prove, as Tehran has contended, that the reason for the programme is only to produce electricity.

For Iran and other signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, that means unfettered inspections and monitoring of facilities. But these have been only partly allowed by Tehran, leaving more questions than answers. The response to the report has been, as always, bombastic - reiterations of a legitimate right to a nuclear programme, that the IAEA's work is politically motivated and that the US should live up to its NPT obligations by scrapping its atomic arsenal. Resolve to comply with provisions, not rhetoric and finger-pointing, are what critics want to see.

China has an important role to play. Iran is its third-biggest supplier of crude oil and trade has grown 58 per cent over the past year. That is significant leverage and while Beijing has supported UN sanctions that do not infringe on its economic interests, there will be pressure amid new calls for toughened measures for it to more pointedly use its diplomatic edge. Another key ally, Russia, has to also use its influence and the US and Israel have to show greater tolerance.

War, after all, cannot be an option. The US invasion of Iran's neighbour, Iraq, on the pretext of its weapons programmes clearly showed why, causing instability, massive loss of life and expense. Nor are tougher sanctions the way forward as ordinary Iranians, not the leaders who determine policy, are the ones who are most suffering.

The world has to eliminate nuclear weapons, not acquire more. Iran says it has no intention of building an atomic bomb, but the IAEA has evidence that questions that claim. It is up to Tehran to conclusively prove that it is telling the truth.