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Radioactive costs
Strength enables Iran to name its price, but belligerence and subsequent isolation also increases the costs, substantially


April 4, 2006

Tel Aviv – These must be difficult days for Muhammad El Baradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Recently he has been at his wits end, trying to calm both the Americans and the Iranians. This week has been pretty difficult for him, and for his role as the chief international negotiator in the Iranian nuclear dispute.

The game of threat and counter threat between Iran and the US continued unabated, as if the IAEA doesn’t exist. First, Iran revealed its ‘invisible’ missiles. Then there were leaks of a possible US attack against Iran in the New Yorker magazine. In the middle of all this Mohammad El Baradei is scheduled to visit Tehran this coming Thursday, 13th of April.

Looking at Iran’s announcement today, El Baradei might as well not bother to turn up in Tehran. Why should he? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has just personally declared that “Iran has joined the club of nuclear countries”. This prescheduled statement is being made two days before the arrival of the man who has been trying to apply international law to judge Iran’s case.  

The Iranian masses, in their hundreds of thousands, chant energie hastei haghe mosallame maast (meaning nuclear energy is our certain right), based on international rights given to Iran. Ahmadinejad has said himself time and again that Iran is only bound by international agreements, not those imposed by the “imperialist powers”. International organizations and treaties such as the NPT have been Iran’s best legal defence.

Therefore Iran’s announcement today that it has completed “laboratory-scale nuclear fuel cycle” will reduce El Bradei’s visit to an embarrassing formality for him. This is because El Baradei, the man who has been trying to avoid an escalation in this crisis, has become sidelined. He asked a number of times for Iran to stop enriching uranium. Obviously Iran doesn’t put too much emphasis on his words. Nor does it care for the UN who gave Iran a 30 day ultimatum to stop enriching uranium. In fact, after the issue of the ultimatum, Ahmadinejad joked that “they have given themselves 30 days, not us”. Looking back two days later, those words make more sense.

So why is Iran doing this? The simple answer is, because the conservatives in Iran feel almost invincible. The world needs Iranian oil. Any attack against Iran will send the price of oil shooting up, which will bring stagnation at best, and recession at worst to the global economy. The West, especially, needs this as much as it needs Bird flu.

Iran is also a chief chef in the Iraqi kitchen. It knows that by spoiling the food, it can ruin the fortunes of other stakeholders, which include the US and the UK. Not wishing to burn their “soup”, the UK and US have a special interest to keep Iran happy. Acting as businessmen, Iran’s leadership (some of whom are millionaires) see that the price for their commodity is up, therefore, why not name their own price?

Their policy certainly has logic to it. Nevertheless Iran’s actions show that its leadership have a disregard for Islamic Republic’s history. Either that or they have a short term memory. In 1985, Ayatollah Rohollah Khomeini, gathered all of Iran’s ambassadors and told them “today, I can count all of Iran’s allies and friends in the international community on one hand. You need to make sure that this changes”.

It is a fact that then Iran was fighting an unjust invasion, started by Saddam Hussein, which killed and maimed thousands upon thousands of Iranian civilians. Iran did try to tell the West, but it was ignored. Why?  Precisely because of a similar belligerent attitude which it is showing today. Iran of 1980s paid for its isolation by having to fight with second hand, inferior weaponry, against a modern Iraqi army. This cost many more Iranian lives. Iran’s similar attitude today may mean that the road to acquire nuclear energy will be far more costly than it would be, if Iran co-operated, or at least didn’t act so belligerently.

Yes Iran is stronger than it has ever been in its 27 year post revolutionary history. And yes, according to article 4 of the NPT, Iran has every right to nuclear technology, for civilian purposes. However what must not be overlooked by the Iranian leadership is that, although Iran’s strength enables it to name its price, its belligerence and subsequent isolation also increases the costs, substantially. Any good Persian businessman will tell you the secret to a profitable business. Buy low, sell high. By the looking of things, Iran is buying high, and selling high. So where is the profit? 

Meir Javedanfar is a Middle East Analyst and the Director or the Middle East Economic and Political Analysis Company, He has been quoted and interviewed by the BBC, Radio Holland International, Haaretz Newspaper and the Boston Globe as well as a number of other newspapers and Radio stations. For rights to quote this article please contact

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