On Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that it had received an ‘initial response' from Tehran to a proposed settlement of the crisis provoked by Iranian nuclear ambitions. The proposal, hammered out in negotiations between the UN, US, Russia, France and Iran over two weeks ago, entails Iran shipping uranium to Russia and France for processing into fuel that can be used for power generation, thereby bypassing the stage at which nuclear weapons material might be harvested. The processed fuel would then be returned to Iran.
The proposal seeks to balance Iran's stated desire for a peaceful nuclear programme and international fears that the Tehran regime may be attempting to develop nuclear weapons. A source close to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator has said that Iran is suggesting two key alterations to the original agreement. Firstly, it is asking that the shipment of uranium to Russia and France should be gradual and, secondly, that it be matched by the concurrent exchange of additional nuclear fuel in return.
The ToD verdict: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has announced on state television that Iran is ready for co-operation on nuclear issues with the major powers but that the provision of nuclear fuel for Iran's test reactor would test their ‘honesty'. His comments underline how mistrust over Iran's nuclear programme on the part of the western powers is matched by misgivings in Tehran regarding the motives of the international community. With memories of former President George W. Bush's ‘axis of evil' speech still fresh, and mindful of repeated past threats to use military force to disarm them, it would be simplistic to regard this move by Iranian policy makers as purely an act of brinkmanship.
Equally, the counter offer does demonstrate a willingness to continue discussions, and raises the real possibility that an agreement can be reached. Encouragingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu called the initial proposal a ‘positive first step' in resolving the dispute. Even more importantly, he endorsed ‘the proposal to have Iran withdraw its enriched uranium, or a good portion of it, outside Iran'. His reaction suggests that Israel will not preemptively strike Iranian nuclear facilities while negotiations continue, and that the government may be willing to accept to an extent with Iran's counter proposal.
At the same time, a European move reportedly in progress to issue a joint communiqué censoring Iran's failure to meet its international commitments is likely to be counter productive. Iran is surrounded by states who have either never signed or have withdrawn from the NPT, and being scolded over international commitments will probably result only in Iranian accusations of double standards. At this delicate stage, renewed commitment to protracted and onerous dialogue is the far safer route to resolving the nuclear standoff in the middle east.
Honduras factions reach settlement
The constitutional crisis that has gripped Honduras for months appeared to be at an end on Friday as it was announced that the ousted president, Manuel Zelaya, and current head of the interim government, Roberto Micheletti, had agreed to a settlement that will see Zelaya returned to power. Speaking on Friday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who was apparently instrumental in achieving the breakthrough, called the settlement a ‘historic agreement.'
Manuel Zelaya was expelled from Honduras on 28 June in the wake of considerable controversy caused by his attempt to change the constitution. There followed a four-month standoff, which saw the interim government refusing to return him to power, despite international outrage at his summary deposition. This deadlock was not altered by Zelaya's dramatic and covert return to the country on 21 September where he took shelter within the Brazilian embassy in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa.
Micheletti's had insisted that fresh elections would be held on 29 November and that the interim regime would govern the country until then. International pressure was constant, with both the EU and UN refusing to send observers to any election held without the restitution of Zelaya. The critical intervention, however, appears to have come from senior members of the Obama administration, with Hilary Clinton spending half an hour in a teleconference with Micheletti demanding that Zelaya be restored.
Consequently, the agreement is widely regarded as a major diplomatic victory for the Obama administration, with analysts predicting that this will improve US relations in Latin America considerably. As an added windfall, it is expected to facilitate US Senate confirmation hearings for senior officials associated with Latin American policy, whose appointments had previously been blocked by Republicans who objected to the US aligning with Zelaya.
Abdullah quits Afghan run off poll
On Sunday, Afghan presidential hopeful Abdullah Abdullah announced to supporters that he would not stand in a run off election scheduled to take place on 7 November. Speaking to a loya jirga, a traditional tribal assembly of elders, he said that his decision was ‘in the interests of the nation.' Abdullah said that personal doubts over the integrity of the electoral process lay behind his withdrawal, telling reporters that he had ‘strong, strong reservations about the credibility of the process.' At present, he has ruled out a power-sharing agreement with any future Karzai administration but has refrained from asking his supporters to boycott the vote.
Despite his withdrawal, Daoud Ali Najafi, chief electoral officer of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, has said that the run-off on 7 November will still go ahead as planned. Other stakeholders are sceptical however, with Aleem Siddique, spokesman for the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, saying ‘it's difficult to see how there can be a run-off with only one candidate.' This scepticism, combined with Abdullah's stated rationale for withdrawal, now casts grave doubts over whether the Karzai regime can regain political credibility from either Afghanis or the international community at large.