Tensions over the Iranian nuclear issue

(Press review – week from September 28 to October 2, 2009)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has persistently defended Iran’s nuclear rights and has, according to Tehran Times, threatened to withdraw Iran from the Non Proliferation Treaty thus jeopardizing any hope of improvement in settling tensions surrounding the issue of Iranian nuclear capability.  Indeed, questions remain over the true objective of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions, an issue aggravated by a week marked by the uncovering of a second Iranian enrichment plant and long-range missile tests, despite high hopes placed in the one-day talks held in Geneva on Thursday. Marked by tensions, security concerns, sanctions, secrecy and a lack of cooperation between Iran and the international community, the issue of Iranian nuclear ambitions has secured a central position at the forefront of the international press. We shall concentrate on regional newspapers, both Arab and Israeli, as a means of putting into greater perspective the regional importance of the Iranian issue.

The past week has been marked by a number of developments in the Iranian nuclear case. From the discovery of a secret Iranian enrichment plant and long-range missile tests in reach of Israeli targets, to the optimistic outcome of long-awaited talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UNSC accompanied by Germany held in the Swiss Alps on Thursday, Iran was once again at the centre of debates, which The National reviews in a very insightful manner. Al Jazeera has, for instance, extensively covered events over the past week, offering simultaneously a special focus news interview regarding “Iran’s capabilities”.

According to Sabah, efforts towards a “peaceful solution through dialogue” have been put at test following the discovery of a second Iranian uranium enrichment plant. The recent news of a second uranium enrichment facility built near the city of Qom produced a “global outcry”, despite persistent claims by Iranian officials that the dispersal of enrichment installations was by no means for military purposes, reports Al Jazeera. Israeli Prime Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, states in the Jerusalem Post that the Islamic Republic is “without a doubt” pursuing nuclear weapons. The international community, led by the United Nations nuclear supervisions watchdogs, described the development of a second facility to represent a “flagrant violation of international law” and have reiterated accusations that Iran is constructing its own nuclear arsenal “under the guise of a peaceful and civilian nuclear programme”, says Al Watan.

Similarly, tensions were later aggravated following the successful tests of long-range Shahab-3 and Sejil missiles, the longest range missiles developed by the Islamic Republic until today, states Al Jazeera.

These dramatic events for relations between Iran and the international community came just days before the long-awaited meeting between Iran and the 5+1 Group held in Geneva this Thursday. At a time when relations between Iran and the US appeared to see light at the end of a long and difficult tunnel with a swift visit of Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki , of the Islamic Republic’s officious embassy in the US, many optimists have placed much hope in the success of these talks.

Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, underlines the potential benefits of these efforts which, if successful, will consolidate their desire to bring this crisis to an end through peaceful means. The paper pinpoints the ground-breaking nature of these talks, underlining the first full participation of the US in diplomatic talks with Iran over nuclear issues in over three decades. Lebanon’s Daily Star emphasises that, despite the degree of public saber-rattling characteristic of Iranian cooperation with the international community, “something much more promising and positive is happening behind the scenes”. The Gulf Times has clearly underlined the importance of the talks in Switzerland, stressing the crucial role of “key powers” in getting Iran to “come clean” regarding its nuclear proliferation ambitions. Quoting a number of US and UN officials, the Qatari paper focuses upon the strategic necessity of reducing a threat of Iranian nuclear proliferation for military means.

Unsurprisingly, Israel remains leader of opposition in the region regarding Iranian nuclear developments.  Articles published throughout the week in Haaretz confirm a strong anti-Iranian position vis-à-vis the questions raised surrounding Iran’s second uranium enrichment plant. Growing Israeli fears following the launch of Iranian long-range missiles capable of striking Israel are discernable throughout articles covering the Iranian question. While the importance of “crippling sanctions” on Iran is reiterated throughout this week’s newsfeeds regarding the Iranian question, the Israeli newspaper warns Iran of its “last chance to dodge harsh sanctions” at the talks held on Thursday.  Israeli pessimism regarding the Iranian question is clearly discernable throughout the past week, as is the case with an article entitled “Washington doesn’t get it: Iran just wants the bomb”, published on the day of the Geneva talks. The unquestionable anti-Iranian stance held by the Israeli newspaper is once again reiterated with an article presenting poll results regarding American Jews in favor of a military intervention in Iran.

Despite diverging views, Arab and Israeli newspapers alike have unanimously covered the course of events involving Iran and the international community over the nuclear question. The Belgian Newspaper Le Soir has commented that, despite divergences between Arab nations and their Israeli neighbor regarding the Iranian threat, both sides appear to share the conviction that regional stability will best be maintained through the preservation of a nuclear status quo with Israel as the sole nuclear power in the region. The issue of Iran’s nuclear ambitions thus remains a “complex area”, remarks John Large for Al Jazeera. Nevertheless, according to The Jerusalem Post, recent talks held in Geneva have been described by President Obama to represent a “constructive beginning”, possibly the start of slow, but valuable progress.