On Friday, in the face of a looming deadline, an international agreement aimed at preventing a crisis over Iran's nuclear programme appeared on the brink of unravelling. The deal, brokered on Wednesday in talks between the US, Iran, France, Russia and the UN consisted of an agreement by Iran to ship its uranium fuel to Russia and France for processing for it then to be transported back to Iran for use in its research reactor. This would give Iran its ability to maintain a civilian nuclear programme while also giving the international community the required guarantees that Tehran was not using the uranium to manufacture nuclear weapons. The head of the IAEA, Mohammad El Baradei, set Friday as the deadline for agreement with the deal.
By Friday, the US, France and Russia had all agreed to the deal, with Tehran under significant pressure to accept. However, Iranian state television reported a member of its nuclear negotiating team as saying that the regime was interested in buying uranium for its research reactor, rather than shipping its own stock abroad for enrichment towards the same ends. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, was reported by the Lebanese National News Agency as saying ‘I cannot say that the situation regarding Iran is very positive.' US officials are more upbeat, saying that the Iranian television reports do not reflect the views of the Tehran regime itself.
The ToD verdict: Mohammad El Baradei's optimism after the agreement on Wednesday may be short lived. Brinkmanship was to be expected from Iranian President Ahmadinejad, who regards complete Iranian ownership of the uranium fuel cycle as a matter of national pride. What remains unclear is to what extent his tactics enjoy the support of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and whether he will go so far as to allowing the deadline to lapse.
The consequences were this to happen are uncertain, but represent potentially enormous risks to security in the Persian Gulf and beyond. The threat of further sanctions looms as ever, while the possibility of military confrontation will become ever more likely.
In an analysis piece, Ha'aretz correspondent Amos Harel suggested that, even were Iran to accept the deal, the possibility of a military confrontation with Israel would remain. Describing the expiring offer as ‘buying time', Harel quoted former Israeli National Security Council chief Maj. General Giroa Eiland as saying that such a compromise, acceptable to the US, is probably much less convenient for Israel.
The former deputy head of the US European Command, Charles Wald, judged that, in the event that Israel decides to strike Iran, the US would ‘probably' participate. The failure of Iran to accept the agreement brokered on Wednesday seems certain to bring this alarming possibility, and with it a general conflagration in the Persian Gulf, closer to being realised.
Terrorist violence continues to plague Pakistan
On Friday, multiple terrorist attacks in Pakistan left over 22 dead and at least fifteen wounded. In the tribal area of Mohmand, fifteen wedding guests, most of them children, were killed when their minibus struck an improvised explosive device (IED). At the Kamra aeronautical complex, 60 km southwest of Islamabad, a suicide bomber struck, killing themselves and six others at a checkpoint. The dead include two security officials. Finally, in the restive north western city of Peshawar, a remotely detonated car bomb wounded fifteen people.
Top US Afghan commander in NATO talks
The commander of ISAF and US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, is due to address ministers from the 28 members of NATO in the Slovak capital, Bratislava. His speech is likely to include both a briefing on current strategy and a call for additional resources. Speaking on Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen called on member states to back McChrystal's strategy, saying ‘there should be no doubt about our determination to fulfil this mission, and we should remain as long as possible in order to succeed.'
Material commitment to Afghanistan will be inextricably linked with the conduct of the run-off poll due to be held in Afghanistan in light of the widespread corruption that crippled the credibility of the first round of the presidential elections. On Friday, both the Dutch and Danish defence ministers said that any decisions on troop increases would be dependent on the conduct of the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, President Obama has announced that a decision regarding the fraught question of potential troop increases will probably be made before the election run-off, due to be held on 7 November.
Goldstone hits back over Gaza report
Michael J. Goldstone, the South African jurist who authored the controversial UN report into the recent Gaza war, has struck back at the report's critics, most notably the US administration. Goldstone was ‘yet to hear from the Obama administration what the flaws in the report that they have identified are,' he said. Goldstone claimed that he would be happy to respond to any specific concerns regarding the report's substance. He also hammered other critics, saying that he doubted the vast majority of them had read the report.
Goldstone's retort comes as Ha'aretz reported that, late on Thursday night, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had personally telephoned UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, asking him to prevent the report from going forward to the Security Council. Reiterating the Israeli government's position that continued debate of the report represented a threat to the peace process, Lieberman said that Palestinians should not be permitted to negotiate with Israelis on the local level while fighting against it in the international arena.