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Why Six Powers Can't Stop Iran By: Amir Taheri
New York Post | Wednesday, May 14, 2008

WOULD you take an offer if you knew that by refusing it you'd get a better one?

Tehran's answer to the latest "generous package" offered to end its uranium-enrichment program is an emphatic "No."

The offer comes from the Six Powers, the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany; it was shaped in London in days of hard bargaining between the United States and the European Union on one side and Russia and China on the other.

Yet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is already ignoring three Security Council resolutions and swallowing the bitter medicine of sanctions. And he has reason to believe that time is on his side.

He knows America will have a new president in nine months; the "mad Bush" will be gone. Sen. Barack Obama has said he'd invite Ahmadinejad for unconditional talks, ignoring UN resolutions that call on Tehran to stop uranium enrichment. So why pay now what one may not have to pay tomorrow?

Even if Sen. John McCain wins the White House, he'd need time before he has his team in place and is capable of taking any significant action against Iran.

Then, too, Ahmadinejad himself must seek reelection next year - and it won't be easy.

Iran's economy is suffering double-digit inflation, soaring unemployment and deepening structural fissures. "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei and the commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may well decide to blame it all on Ahmadinejad and ditch him in favor of another Guard officer.

Ahmadinejad's main hope for winning a second term lies in perpetuating the fiction that he's fighting to preserve Iran's independence against predatory powers bent on dictating to weaker nations. He'd be courting political suicide if he backed down now.

He has other reason to play for time.

Russia has a new president, with Vladimir Putin becoming prime minister. The new arrangement in Moscow needs time to settle and be tested. The last thing the Putin-Medvedev tandem wants is a hot crisis over Iran.

With the summer Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese don't want anything to distract attention from their big show, least of all another war in the Mideast, which supplies 70 percent of their oil.

Britain is heading for a general election in '09, which Labor now looks likely to lose. The German coalition is showing fissures that could force an election next year.

And this new "package" is far more generous than anything that his predecessor as president, Mullah Muhammad Khatami, could have imagined. In 2003, Khatami agreed to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of gifts. He kept his end of the bargain for two years but received nothing.

As soon as Ahmadinejad resumed enrichment, the Six Powers rushed to him with gifts. Each time he's hardened his position, he's gotten an even better offer.

So why say yes now when he knows that in a year's time, hopefully on the eve of his election campaign, he might get an even better offer?

The Six Powers are clearly unable to agree on a diagnosis of the problem. The British wanted the London statement to refer to Iran's nuclear program as "a threat China refused, insisting the dispute was "a technical one."

In other words, while the British and Americans think Ahmadinejad wants the atomic bomb for mischief, the Chinese and, presumably, the Russians see the whole thing as no more worrying than a case of bad plumbing.

This failure to agree produced the "Iranian nuclear crisis" in the first place, and it will prevent its resolution. Ahmadinejad's best bet is to continue his prevarications.

If Iran is no threat to anyone, where's the problem? Uranium enrichment is perfectly legal, something that the Six Powers, among others, have been doing for decades.

If, on the other hand, Iran is a threat, one should ask why before trying to do anything about it. This is precisely the debate, however, that the Six Powers haven't succeeded in holding among themselves.

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