Page last updated at 20:13 GMT, Monday, 3 March 2008

Iran claiming victory despite sanctions

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
President Ahmadinejad - determined to press on with enrichment

Despite a new round of UN sanctions over its nuclear activities, Iran still thinks it is ahead.

The sanctions, passed by the Security Council on Monday, extend the two previous tranches to tighten the economic and trade squeeze on Iran.

The Security Council wants Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium and to stop construction of a heavy water reactor that could produce plutonium. Highly enriched uranium and plutonium are both key ingredients for a nuclear bomb.

Iran says it is simply exercising its right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In exchange for suspension, Iran has been offered a package of economic and trade incentives and help with the development of a civilian nuclear industry, for which fuel would be provided from outside Iran.

Is Iran winning?

"This vote is a reminder to Iran that the world is still largely united in demanding an end to uranium enrichment," said Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

"But it does not exert that much extra financial pressure on Iran, which has been prepared to pay the cost of losing access to international finance.

"Is Iran winning? One can say at the moment that the Security Council has failed to budge it, but Iran has paid a price.

"The Iranians are still on course to meet their assumed objective, which is to develop the ability to make nuclear weapons. It is less clear that they want to exercise that option and they don't have to make that decision now.

Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

"In the meantime they are still, it appears, having technical problems with enrichment and might have to abandon their current centrifuge technology [equipment used to enrich uranium] and go for modifications. That could slow them down."

'Great victory'

The Iranian leadership certainly thinks it is winning, however.

Before the latest UN vote, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei declared that Iran had "honestly and seriously achieved a great victory", for which he praised the country's political leadership.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared recently: "Everyone has understood that Iran is the number one power in the world.

"Today the name of Iran means a firm punch in the teeth of the powerful...

"The enemies of the nation and bullying powers do not dare to admit that this nation has won in the nuclear field."

US assessment

Certainly a great deal of pressure on Iran was removed when a US National Intelligence Estimate concluded in December 2007 that Iran probably did not have an active nuclear weapons programme.

This ended talk of an American military strike, though Israel remains unconvinced by the NIE assessment.

Iran can probably go on defying the UN for as long as it wants.

However, in the long run, it remains unclear as to what Iran can do with its "victory".

It might strengthen the current leadership but if it ever moved from enriching uranium to clearly making a bomb, then it might find that there would be those, in the US and elsewhere, who would want to turn that victory into defeat.

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