A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency has said that Iran has further boosted its capacity to enrich uranium. Tehran, the report says, has installed more than 1,000 advanced centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant. The report of the capacity boost comes after Iranians elected Hassan Rowhani as their new president following the controversial reign of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Iranian nuclear question has been one of the biggest rows between the Islamic Republic and the West, led mainly by the US. Iran has been continuously increasing its nuclear capability, deepening the furrows on the heads of western leaders and the Israeli establishment.
Ahmadinejad stood his ground over the nuclear question and his stance was often seen as one not given to compromise. Even after many rounds of talks, the enrichment standoff never came close to a resolution. Western powers kept piling the pressure in the form of debilitating sanctions.
Though Rowhani is a relative moderate, he is not likely to slow the pace of enrichment, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes. The latest information on the installation of centrifuges shows that Iran is pulling no punches.
The IAEA is to resume talks with Iran on September 27. All eyes will be on the negotiations — the first after Rowhani has taken office.
Iran’s nuclear question has to be seen in the light of the changed strategic situation in its vicinity. This is not the Iran that held its own against world powers pestering it to call off enrichment. It is now the Iran — Syria’s neighbour — that is supporting a regime under intense siege and in the cross-hairs of a US-led coalition.
After the purported chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus, Syrian president Assad’s regime faces US-led punitive strikes. Russia, China and Iran have been vocal supporters of Syria.
Yesterday, Rowhani matched words with Russia’s Putin to say that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. Russia and Iran maintain that the chemical attack in Syria that killed hundreds was not launched by the Assad regime.
It is a matter of time when Syria will be the target of western strikes. With western armaments in its vicinity, Iran will feel the heat of the onslaught that might make the Islamic Republic rethink its strategy. The West sees Iran as all the more culpable in what Assad’s forces are doing as the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah is propped up by Tehran. Hezbollah’s fighters are on the ground in Syria helping regime troops battle the rebels. The US-led strikes on Syria are going to complicate matters in the Middle East. Iran’s nuclear enrichment drive is an important element of the strategic equation in the region. The imminent armed confrontation may make Iran rethink its enrichment strategy•