Iran announces plans for more enrichment facilities

Iran intends to continue its uranium enrichment programme. Somali pirates take America-bound oil vessel. Israel outlines prisoner exchange. Britain insists Pakistan and Afghanistan contribute more to counter-insurgency. Saudi Arabian claims victory over Yemeni rebels. All this and more in today's update.
Maddy Fry
30 November 2009

 The government in Tehran yesterday announced its intention to build a new wave of uranium enrichment plants just days after it was criticised by the United Nations for deliberately being evasive about its nuclear program. The stated aim of the new infrastructure is increase generating capacity to 300 tonnes of nuclear fuel within two months, a move which has redoubled fears that Iran’s ultimate aim is to create a nuclear bomb.

The announcement came in the wake of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, America, Russia, France and China - displaying an unusual sense of unity in their condemnation of the actions of the Iranian government. The country’s latest move, along with the unveiling of its hidden enrichment plant near the city of Qom, has strengthened calls for the imposition of sanctions on the regime. Talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are thought to have completely stalled, while despite the insistence of many Western states that they recognise Iran’s right to usage of nuclear power, few feel that meeting the population’s energy needs is the real agenda of the regime in Tehran.

The openSecurity verdict: Despite the increased anxiety of governments over Iran’s latest announcements, many diplomats and analysts suspect that it is little more than a deliberate affront to what Iran sees as continual interference in its internal affairs. Doubts that Iran could afford the construction of the number of power stations indicated by the regime further decreases the weight of the gesture.

President Ahmadinejad also has a considerable range of domestic problems to address that are most likely consuming the bulk of his attention, from demands from the more conservative elements within parliament to ongoing accusations from the reformist opposition, who are continuing to protest against fraudulent elections held in June. In the context of domestic upheaval and contestation, Iran’s nuclear claims are as likely to be aimed at a domestic as an international audience.

However, this is unlikely to stem the flow of calls for sanctions, with Israel going as far as insisting publicly that it reserves the right to take pre-emptive military strikes against Iran if it perceives the threat it poses to its security to be too great. Iran can also, it seems, no longer rely on support from Russia and China, as even if the two do not fully throw their respective weights behind a new round of sanctions, it is now unlikely that Russia will sell Iran the S-300 anti-missile systems that it will need to deter a strike. President Obama has also indicated that his offer of diplomatic engagement with Iran will be up for review at the end of the year.

Iran continues to insist that it has “a friendly approach to the world,” but that at the same time it “won’t let anyone harm even one iota of the Iranian nation’s rights.” No-one can be certain what degree of independent nuclear capacity Iran determines to be its inalienable “right.” Nevertheless, such words are unlikely to allay international fears, and it will undoubtedly remain that way for a long time yet.

Somali pirates take America-bound oil vessel

An oil tanker en route to the US was hijacked yesterday by pirates 800 miles from the coast of Somalia. The Greek-owned ship with a 28 man crew was transporting crude oil from Saudi Arabia. The raid is thought to be the biggest yet, despite increasing attempts by EU naval forces around the coast of East Africa to intercept pirates. Although oil tankers have been targeted in the past, alongside many smaller vessels, pirates have never successfully seized a tanker. The one in question is thought to contain quantities of oil worth millions of dollars.

Israel makes concessions over prisoners

The Israeli government has revealed that in order to secure the release of the Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit it will set free 1,000 Palestinians prisoners. An initial 450 prisoners will be released, with 530 more being released after Hamas returns Shalit to the Israel. Talks between the two sides overseen by German officials have been going on for months. Although a full agreement has yet to be reached over exactly which prisoners are to be released, the move has already been hailed as a success. Shalit was seized near the near the Gaza border in 2006 and has remained captive ever since.

Britain insists Pakistan and Afghanistan increase troop levels

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has claimed that Afghanistan and Pakistan must commit more resources in order to match those sent by the UK and US to fight militants in the two countries. Both the US and UK are set this week to initiate the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan in an effort to step-up the fight the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Asking why “eight years after September the eleventh, nobody has been able to spot or detain or get close to Osama bin Laden”, Gordon Brown’s frustration with failures in Afghanistan was apparent. There are widespread suspicions among NATO governments that Islamabad has, in spite of recent targeted offensives in the country’s north-west, been willingly accepting aid while at the same time turning a blind eye, or even assisting, the activities of militant groups.

Saudi Arabian victory over Yemeni rebels

An area of Saudi Arabia close to the border with Yemen has been cleared of Ethiopian and Yemeni militants after weeks of bombardment by Saudi air forces. However, the militants claim to have kidnapped nine Saudi soldiers along with having stolen a pile of the country’s weaponry. The Houthi rebels deny Saudi advances have deprived them of all previously held territory.


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