The World from Berlin
'Iranian Regime Will Make No Concessions'
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei insisted once again on Wednesday that his country was not pursuing nuclear weapons.
It would, of course, have been naive to think that Tuesday's visit to Iran by nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency could help defuse an increasingly tense situation. And indeed, the inspection mission ended with the IAEA expressing frustration at the lack of Iranian cooperation. The inspectors had hoped to be allowed to visit a site at Parchin, where the agency believes there is an explosives test facility. Iran, however, vetoed the idea despite having pledged prior to the trip that it would cooperate fully with the United Nations nuclear authority.
"It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said on Wednesday. "We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached."
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged Tehran to "put an end to this irresponsible path of obfuscation and lack of cooperation." He said it was "regrettable and damaging" that IAEA inspectors were forced to leave Iran with no result.
The failed inspection visit is the latest setback in international efforts to force Iran to come clean about its nuclear program. Tehran continues to insist the program is exclusively civilian in nature. But an IAEA report issued last November, which for the first time voiced the agency's strong suspicion that Iran was working towards the construction of atomic weapons, has led the West to redouble its efforts to isolate the country.
'None of Their Business'
The United States has imposed even stricter sanctions on Iran, in particular targeting the activities of the country's central bank, and the European Union has announced plans to impose an oil embargo in the coming months. On Wednesday, Reuters reported that German exports to Iran collapsed by more than 18 percent in 2011 as trade with the country dries up. German trade with Iran is now at its lowest level since 2003.
In addition, Israel has continued to hint that it may launch a pre-emptory attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, despite international appeals for restraint. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Tuesday: "With all due respect I have for the United States and Russia, it's none of their business. The security of Israel and its residents, Israel's future, is the responsibility of Israel's government."
Iran has remained defiant, despite the ratcheting upwards of international pressure. Over the weekend, Tehran announced it would cease selling oil to Britain and France, essentially pre-empting the EU embargo which will go into effect this summer. It has also threatened to strike countries making military threats against it -- a clear reference to Israel -- and vowed to continue its nuclear program. "With God's help, and without paying attention to propaganda, Iran's nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously," Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on state television soon after the IAEA talks collapsed. "Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit. No obstacles can stop Iran's nuclear work."
German editorialists on Thursday turn once again to the intensifying conflict.
The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"If Iran, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei recently repeated, rejects nuclear weapons for religious reasons, then why did the regime refuse to allow IAEA inspectors access to a suspicious military complex, to its scientists and to important documents? If the incriminating secret service reports were forged, as Tehran has claimed, why doesn't the regime respond with the transparency it has promised with regard to its nuclear program?"
"It is doubtful that new negotiations with the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany promise much success, particularly given Khamenei's insistence that the nuclear program cannot be stopped. Nevertheless, diplomacy should not be abandoned. There is still time for talks; there is still room for sanctions, particularly in the Security Council. The alternatives are, for the moment, no better."
The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"One might think that Tehran would be interested in credible cooperation given the growing discussion about an (Israeli) military strike. But Iran continues to play the old game, makes vague hints and remains intractable. And that despite the fact that the UN Security Council has demanded that Iran cooperate with the IAEA. ... Foreign Minister Westerwelle has called Tehran's 'obfuscation and lack of cooperation' irresponsible. And he is right. Iranian leaders can insist as long as they want that they are not interested in acquiring nuclear weapons. Their actual behavior intensifies suspicions that that indeed is what they are after."
The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:
"Whatever the reasons were for Tehran's lack of cooperation with the IAEA mission, they have played into the hands of all those who are calling for air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, whether they are in Israel, in the US Republican Party, or elsewhere. The danger of crisis has become greater as a result."
"There is still an opportunity for negotiations. In their most recent letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Iranian leaders have abandoned the precondition that the UN remove all sanctions. The West should react in a constructive manner and finally lift its demand that Iran cease enriching uranium prior to talks."
The left-leaning Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"The inspection ritual in Iran hasn't changed for 10 years, no matter what threats the West makes or how biting their sanctions are. And yet it has become apparent that the Iranian people are suffering from the latest measures and the country's economy is in deep trouble as a result of Iran's international isolation."
"But the current regime will make no concessions in the atomic dispute, particularly at a time when the country is just a few days away from parliamentary elections. Abandoning the program would raise lasting questions about the regime's legitimacy and authority. Particularly given that Israel has nuclear weapons and is threatening with a military strike. As a result, we will experience the (non-)inspection ritual again and again -- until Iran has the bomb."
-- Charles Hawley