One fast lane

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad’s announcement on Wednesday about the breakthrough his country has made in indigenous development and production of low-enriched nuclear fuel rods for its nuclear reactors has come as a bit of surprise.

Equally surprising are dismissive reactions it elicited from the US. Demonstrated technological capability to indigenously produce low-enriched nuclear fuel is considered to be a significant step towards acquiring the capability to produce highly enriched uranium required for producing nuclear bombs. The announcement said the fuel rods are set to be loaded at the Fordo nuclear enrichment facility, near Qom, the most important city for Iran’s programme. Not much was conclusively known about this fortified underground facility until Iran acknowledged it five years ago. Washington has all along suspected that this facility could be used for producing highly enriched uranium. Yet, it has dismissed the announcement as a domestic propaganda addressed to a restless and worried Iranian people.

The Obama Administration is convinced that Iran is already panicking about the implications of the sweeping economic sanctions imposed by the US and its allies, including the European Union countries. At one level, the Iranian leadership is reassuring a concerned populace at home, and at another level, trying to convey to the world that the economic sanctions would be actually counter-productive. Instead of slowing down the nuclear programme, it would actually get pushed on the fast lane. But, the US does not want to believe it. If it is Tehran’s message to the world that these sanctions would not yield the desired outcome on the nuclear front, it is also doubtful if the US and EU countries would buy that message for the time being.

The purpose of the sanctions was to induce Iran to return to the negotiating table. According to estimates, Iran will lose over 50 per cent of its current 3.5 million barrels per day crude exports by July. Since 50 per cent of the government revenue comes from crude exports that constitute 80 per cent of the country’s exports, western countries believe that the Iranian economy will be crippled sooner than later, leading to popular unrest against the leadership. On this, the US and EU countries pin their hopes of forcing Tehran to return to the negotiating table on the nuclear issue, though Israel gets very edgy in the meanwhile.

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