A welcome gesture

January 16, 2014 - 6:24:41 am
The invitation extended by an Iranian official yesterday to Gulf states to visit its sole nuclear power plant is the latest in a string of measures which Tehran is taking to burnish its image and allay concerns about its nuclear ambitions. Answering a question about the Gulf countries’ worries about Tehran’s nuclear programmes, Ali Akbar Salehi, the country’s nuclear chief, said that experts from Arab neighbours were welcome to visit the facility. “We are ready for the visit of nuclear experts of Gulf countries to Bushehr nuclear power plant,” he said.

The invitation assumes significance as it comes amidst efforts to resolve the row over Iran’s nuclear programme. Talks between the West and the Iranian government over the implementation of an interim nuclear deal signed by the two are making progress. Iran seems keenly interested in emerging from the international isolation it has pushed itself into and as part of these efforts, it seems keen to assuage the concern of its neighbours over its nuclear intentions. 

The conciliatory approach of the Iranian government deserves praise and needs to be welcomed, but the region would expect more clarity on the nuclear head’s statement. Though Ali Akbar Salehi is a senior official and has the power to speak on behalf of the government, the seriousness of the issue demands that the invitation has to come from a higher authority – preferably from the president Hassan Rouhani himself. This is because in Iran the religious establishment has the last say and it’s not clear if Salehi has the go-ahead from supreme religious leader Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian gesture also offers a golden opportunity for the Gulf states to voice its concerns about the Bushehr nuclear power plant. The Gulf countries have often raised concern over Bushehr’s reliability and the risk of radioactive leaks in case of a major earthquake, as well as a possible military dimension to Iran’s nuclear drive. Iran has said it aims to produce 20,000 megawatts of electricity from nuclear power, which would necessitate building 20 such reactors.

The Gulf states need to send a team of experts to inspect the plant and ask all the questions they have been asking. The GCC can enlist the services of global agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for the inspection. If the Iranian offer is made in good faith, it must take serious steps to address the concerns of its neighbours.

The nuclear programme of Iran is not an issue to be resolved between the Iranian government and the West. The Gulf countries, as neighbours of Iran, have serious concerns about the issue and these concerns must be taken into account at the time of negotiations. There is no alternative to solving the problem through diplomacy and if Tehran realizes this fact, its friendly gestures must not be ignored.