Time to Break Out of Diplomatic Impasse with Iran

As yet another deadline passed and Tehran again refused to suspend its uranium enrichment, the real response came in the form of naval missile tests, and threats to close the Strait of Hormuz for an ''unlimited period.''

Although this futile exercise of offering concessions and negotiations to convince the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions is not news, it serves as yet another demonstration of how Tehran is feeding off the West’s weakness and greed.

Last week, to set the record straight, again, in case anyone doubted its nuclear determination, the mullahs’ Supreme Leader Ali Khamene'i said that "Taking one step back in the face of the arrogant (powers) will lead them to take one step forward.'' He added that "The horizon is bright for us and we know what we are doing and where we are going... The way to reach that point is not to stand still but to go forward."

The July 19, 2008 nuclear talks in Geneva, where a senior U.S. official, William Burns was for the first time present, was meant to jump-start a new robust approach to send a decisive signal to Tehran that the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany mean business. They offered a package of incentives and a two week deadline for Tehran to comply. As expected, Tehran is nowhere near compliance.

Tehran’s two-pronged approach aims to buy time while dissuading the international community from adopting more punitive measures. On the one hand, there is hoopla intended to feign a genuine interest in negotiations, while on the other there is a flurry of inflammatory statements and belligerent actions.

Let’s take Monday, for example, when Tehran announced that its top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, was holding talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; meanwhile Mohammad Ali Jafari, Commander-in-Chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), boasted that "Closing the Strait of Hormuz for an unlimited period of time would be very easy." He told the state-run Fars news agency that "The Guards have recently tested a naval weapon, and I can say with certainty that the enemy's ships would not be safe within a range of 300 kilometers.''

On Tuesday, August 05, deliberately missing its deadline by three days, Tehran delivered its letter replying to an offer by major powers over its nuclear program. The reply was delivered to EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana earlier in the day. A European source said that the Iranian authorities "say there will be a response but that clarification is needed on certain points of the offer." The response was "more obfuscation and delays" by Tehran, according to an unidentified U.S. official. Tehran clearly hit the ball back as yet another way to gain time.

Tehran's response, again, left the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany with no choice but to agree on Wednesday to begin considering new sanctions on Iran. But Tehran has already bought two and a half months of precious time since it defied the UN Security Council Resolution 1803 by its deadline on June 5. Since 2003, the European Union has pandered to Tehran’s strategic goals. Bedazzled by lucrative trade offers, the EU has promoted the naive premise that with the right amount of incentives, the ayatollahs would eventually back down on their nuclear weapons program.

Last month the German newspaper Siegener Zeitung reported that SPG Steiner-Prematechnik-Gastec will build three plants in Iran that turn gas to liquid fuels, after Germany's Export Control Office gave its approval in February for a $157 million gas deal with Iran. In recent days Berlin has been talking tough, but its refusal to use its tremendous economic leverage detracts from a unified policy in response to Tehran’s continued breach of three UN Security Council resolutions demanding immediate enrichment suspension.

Tehran can be expected to continue to do its utmost to sow division and paralysis in the ranks of the group of 5+1. The mullahs have had some success, dangling the prospects of negotiations and lucrative deals, counter-poised with threats of belligerent action. They must be stopped now.

The Europeans have yet to grasp the apocalyptic prospect of a theocratic regime, armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, prone to terrorism, and hell bent on establishing the rule of God on earth. This prospect cannot be wished away or bought off. As Khamenei pointed out, his regime has to go forward, or it will fall. For Tehran, nuclear prowess in not a matter of national or technological pride; it is a matter of survival.

Contrary to what the ayatollahs and their trans-Atlantic advocates want us to believe, the world is not doomed to choose between bad and worse - Tehran’s trap of endless ''negotiations'' while it continues to enrich, or military confrontation. There is a way out of this impasse. The resilience of the anti-regime protests and unrest, despite a drastic rise in suppressive measures, is a tell-tale sign of extensive opposition to the regime simmering just beneath the surface. The ayatollahs are so fearful that in recent months the IRGC, the regime’s rear guard, has gone through an unprecedented reorganization to ready itself to put down ''internal threats.''

The democratic opposition has been handicapped by the shackling of the formidable organization leading the movement, the People’s Mojahedin (PMOI/MEK). The next round of sanctions must be toughened to reflect Tehran’s defiance and the dire threat posed by the ayatollahs. More importantly, according to some leading European experts, these sanctions must be augmented by empowering the democratic opposition in Iran. Not doing so in amounts to postponing, if not removing, the prospect of a non-nuclear, peaceful Iran.

That is exactly why in recent weeks hundreds of parliamentarians from Britain, France, and Italy have come together to voice their support for democratic change in Iran and for removing the stigma of terrorism from Iran’s main opposition. They see the highest security interests of Europe served through emergence of a democratic, secular, and non-nuclear government in Iran, and they see the Iranian opposition as indispensable to such a prospect.

Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).

Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.

Until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.