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For Iran, the sanctions may be worth it

For Iran, the sanctions may be worth it

Iran continues to see nuclear programme as a matter of prestige and regime survival. That's why the government will stay defiant, despite economic pain, says Fredrik Dahl.

November 30, 2011 2:30 by

Iran regards its nuclear programme as a source of power and prestige and tougher sanctions look unlikely to alter Tehran’s cost-benefit analysis much despite the economic pain they cause.

Deep mistrust of Western intentions and security concerns in a volatile region where the United States maintains a strong military presence could help explain Iran’s resolve not to back down and curb nuclear work its foes fear have weapons aims.

That determination may have been further reinforced by the fall in August of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, who agreed in 2003 to abandon efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction only to be toppled after his people rose up and Western powers turned against him.

Iran is facing a new wave of punitive measures after a United Nations nuclear watchdog report this month lent independent weight to suspicions, rejected by Tehran, that it has been developing a capability to make atomic bombs.

“Iran’s nuclear programme is motivated by regime survival,” said international policy analyst Alireza Nader of RAND Corporation, a US-based research group.

“It appears the Islamic Republic has made the calculation that a potential nuclear weapons capability is worth the price of sanctions, as long as sanctions do not imperil the regime.”

If that is the case, the latest push by the United States and its European allies may do little to force a change of course by Iran in the long-running nuclear dispute, which has the potential to trigger a wider conflict in the Middle East.

“The mere fact that Iran is ready to bear the brunt of increasingly painful sanctions demonstrates that they are entrenching themselves in a siege mentality, ready for a showdown if need be,” said Bruno Tertrais, a senior research fellow at France’s Strategic Research Foundation think tank.

European Union foreign ministers meet on Thursday to discuss new sanctions on Tehran, after theUnited States, Canada and Britain last week announced measures against Iran’s energy and financial sectors.

Iranian leaders are responding in a characteristically defiant manner to the latest such measures to target the major oil producer, which is already subject to four rounds of UN sanctions as well as separate US and European steps.

In a sign of Iran’s uncompromising stance, a bill to downgrade ties with London won final legislative approval on Monday, compelling the government to expel Britain’s ambassador in retaliation for the new sanctions on Tehran.

“The escalating pressure only increases opposition in Iran to enter dialogue or to retreat from its positions as it would show weakness that they believe could be exploited by the West,” a senior Western diplomat in the Iranian capital said.

Political power struggles make it “in practice impossible” for Iranian leaders to show more flexibility as they would risk being attacked by their domestic rivals, the envoy added.

The United States and its European partners seized on the Nov. 8 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said Iran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon, to try to further isolate the country.

It also sparked renewed speculation that Israel, which sees Iran’s nuclear programme as an existential threat, might launch pre-emptive strikes against its atomic sites.

Iran dismissed the report by the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog, which also said that secret weapons-relevant research may continue, as based on forged evidence. It says its nuclear programme is a peaceful bid to generate electricity.

Iran can draw some comfort from Russian and Chinese opposition to further sanctions against a country with which they share substantial commercial ties, blunting the impact of harsher Western measures.

Iran’s leaders “find political gain is being able to survive US-led pressure,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies think tank, said.

Tehran’s thinking appears in part shaped by deep-rooted suspicions that…(CONTINUED TO NEXT PAGE)

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