In an apparent retaliation against UN sanctions imposed last month on its controversial nuclear program, Iran barred 38 UN nuclear inspectors from entering the country and the US upped the ante saying that rapprochement with Iran was “not possible.”
The barred inspectors were from a list provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki insisted that its actions were “legal and in accordance with the agency’s regulations.” Iran did not explain the basis for the rejection of the inspectors although it is within its right to reject the proposed names from IAEA. The problem is not with Tehran’s right to reject but the intention behind the move. UN State Department retorted say that the rejection is “dictate the terms to the international community.” After the UN sanctions were imposed, the Iranian Parliament authorized the government to take appropriate steps to revise its cooperation without specifying what that should be although some hard-liners wanted the government to abrogate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Some believe that Tehran is “carefully calibrating its response” and may institute “harsher measures” for future sanctions that the UNSC is likely to impose should Iran refuse to accede to its demands by February 23 (60 days from the date of sanctions of December 23). The act itself is seen as a “symbolic act of defiance” since the IAEA has 200 inspectors it could send and hence its ability to inspect sites in Iran is not compromised in the short-term. However, almost everyone believes that the act itself demonstrates Iran’s intention not to accept the UNSC demands to suspend enrichment.
Meanwhile, as a second US aircraft carrier strike group steamed into the Persian Gulf, US Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns ruled out direct negotiations with Iran vowing that the West Asian region will not be “dominated by Iran.” In an address to the influential think tank Gulf Research Center, Burns said that the US would use its two carrier battle groups to not allow Iran to dominate the gulf. Burns also warned that the US “will protect its interests if Iran seeks to confront us.”
Iranian hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused the US of ratcheting up tensions and “cause insecurity and dispute and weaken independent governments in the region” so it can “continue with its dominance” over the West Asian region to “achieve its arrogant goals.” He also accused Israel of a “conspiracy to sir up conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in order to plunder the wealth of the regional nations.” He vowed that his nation is “ready for anything”
Weakened by the war of attrition in Iraq and Afghanistan, nuclear defiance by North Korea, and lack of consensus within the UNSC members seemed to have lent a view that the US is vulnerable. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sought to bury that view by ordering the USS John C. Stennis and several accompanying ships to the Persian Gulf to join USS Dwight D. Eisenhower late February. This is the first time since the invasion of Iraq, has the US deployed two carrier groups in the West Asia. Already, USS Gladiator joined four American and two British anti-ship minesweepers in the Gulf in preparation for the Stennis arrival and sanitizing the area of Iranian mining or subversive deployment. The US Navy said that it expected Iran to disrupt the busy Gulf shipping lanes if its disagreement with the rest of the world got worse.
Arab observers are extremely critical of the US accusing them of
which “had institutions” and inviting Iranian influence to
heighten sectarian conflict in the region echoing last month’s calls by Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani’s call to Arab nations to shut down American bases and join Tehran in defiance of the West.