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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 13:11 GMT
Nuclear stand-offs set to continue in 2007
Analysis
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent BBC News website

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Ahmadinejad has angrily rejected sanctions

2007 is likely to see a continuation of the confrontation with Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programmes.

Iran has angrily rejected sanctions imposed by the Security Council and renewed talks with North Korea have so far got nowhere.

"There will be tactical manoeuvres but no change can be expected in the basic positions next year," said Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear watcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.

Iran

The sanctions against Iran are aimed at preventing trade in anything that could help Iran continue to enrich uranium, develop a heavy water reactor (which could be used to make plutonium, the alternative route to a nuclear bomb) or make the missiles to carry any bomb.

The Security Council wants Iran to suspend these activities and enter talks about a Western offer to help it develop nuclear power.

The fear in the West is that Iran is developing enrichment technology in order to position itself one day to use that skill to make a nuclear bomb.

Iran responds that it has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel and that it will not use it for nuclear weapons.

Effect of sanctions

The sanctions will not stop Iran but might hinder it, says Mark Fitzpatrick.

"Iran is not self-sufficient in centrifuge technology. These measures will widen the current restrictions on nuclear trade with Iran imposed by leading nuclear suppliers to the rest of the world. Iran needs outside expertise to help it expand its very limited centrifuge programme and therefore tightened controls are important but won't stop it," he said.

"President Ahmadinejad says they are ready to start increasing the number of centrifuges to 3,000 but they are still having problems in running the two 164 centrifuge cascades they already have. They have not been able to connect them together as they will need to. It could take them another year to master this process."

If Iran's expertise remains in doubt for the moment, its determination to carry on is not.

The language used by President Ahmadinejad leaves no doubt that this is a central issue for his government.

Whether the United States and/or Israel will consider a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities in due course remains an open question.

There are indications that they will not in the immediate future.

Israel has given up using the phrase "point of no return" to describe technological advances in Iran. This gives it more time to consider its policy.

American difficulties in Iraq and consideration of likely Iranian responses to a military strike also argue for restraint by the US in the remaining two years of the Bush administration.

But any precipitate move by Iran - such as leaving the NPT as North Korea did - could change that.

North Korea

Unlike the Iranians, who have played their cards carefully, North Korea has gone all out in its defiance. It is already subject to UN sanctions on its nuclear and missile technology but these have not had much effect. It has actually carried out a nuclear test.

North Korean President Kim Jong-il
North Korean President Kim: defiant

It has offered on paper to give up its nuclear ambitions (it agreed to do so in September 2005 but that came to nothing) if the US relaxes its pressure on banks to block North Korean accounts suspected of being used to move counterfeit dollars.

And if it is given a modern nuclear reactor.

But the US insists that North Korea makes serious disarmament moves first.

The talks which re-started in Beijing recently will probably be continued at some stage, though nobody really expects there to be a breakthrough.

This is a well-trodden path and President Kim Jong-il might consider that he is in a stronger position with nuclear weapons.

So 2007 will probably see the stand-offs with both Iran and North Korea continue.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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