The Iranian leader addressed a high-profile Muslim forum held in Tehran a week ago. "The main issue faced by the Islamic world is Israel's existence. The Islamic countries should mobilize their efforts to do away with this issue," said the Iranian president addressing the ministers of foreign affairs of Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt at the conference of Muslim countries.
Having repeated more than once Tehran's proposal for Middle East stabilization, the Iranian leader also shared his belief that "all the conditions for eliminating the Zionist regime" are currently in place. The obvious connection between such statements and the events in Lebanon, in spite of the fact that it may seem to be a mere coincidence, suggests that Tehran's insatiable desire to "eliminate the Zionist regime" might have motivated the recent attacks against Israel carried out by militants from Lebanese Hezbollah, which has pro-Iranian roots.
Many analysts note that the Iranian leader's rhetoric, including his criticism of Israel, is a clear signal of Tehran's ambitions to establish itself as a regional power. But experts think Tehran is running a serious risk in striving to become a regional political leader, oust the U.S. as one of the major players in the Middle East, push its Middle East solutions on the Arab world, and become a guarantor of stability in the Persian Gulf region.
The Bush Administration would never let Iran occupy the leading position in the Middle East. The Iranian rule, as it is (or at least should be) viewed by the White House, will inevitably frustrate the entire regional peace process and the last hopes for resuming Arab-Israeli negotiations. Iran's nuclear program also reveals the country's aspiration to be a regional leader. By some estimates, what Tehran is doing now is "talking the situation out" to win time. The Iran-6 countries have evidently been converging in their views on the steps that should be taken against Iran.
The Lebanese hostility began while the council of ministers of foreign affairs of the six countries (the five permanent members of the U.S. Security Council plus Germany) was meeting to discuss the Iranian nuclear problem. Giving up their hopes of getting a response to their proposals from Tehran, the six foreign ministers have substantially toughened their positions and sent it a clear signal that they would resume work on a UN Security Council resolution on its nuclear program.
According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who spoke about the results of the Group's session in Paris, the resolution would in effect approve the IAEA's call for Iran to "freeze its uranium-enrichment activities." "We will start working on a resolution that would make the IAEA's requirements binding on Iran," he said.
This time Tehran received a near ultimatum that "if the request that Iran comply with the IAEA's requirements fails to get an adequate response," the Security Council will review the Iranian nuclear issue again and "will consider all options." Tehran was advised not to delay its answer.
Certain improvements in the U.S.'s position on Iran are also obvious. During his recent meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, George Bush also spoke in favor of a diplomatic solution to the Iranian problem, something Washington has not said before. In another departure from previous policy, the U.S. president said his country is ready to establish "reasonable relations" with Iran, and Iran, in turn, "should stick to its promises."
Tehran still has some time to think the situation over. But, as the six foreign ministers said at the close of the session, the negotiators are "disappointed" by the lack of a positive response from the Iranian side. Moscow in particular is not satisfied with Tehran's wavering, since it runs counter to what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Russian President Vladimir Putin at their meeting. In this context, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Tehran to stop "guessing how much time is left and handle the situation in earnest."
The feeling in the Russian capital is that, while saying neither yes nor no, Iran is continuing with uranium enrichment and building up its enrichment capacities instead of adopting a stance that "is more in line with the words spoken by Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Shanghai." Iran should understand that the UN Security Council has "a wide array of tools," ranging from interim steps and persuasion to trade, economic and other sanctions. What will Iran say this time?
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