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November 12, 2009

Flux In Iran affecting its handle on foreign policy, nuclear issues?

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Iran expert Ray Takeyh suggested that the Iranian government is preoccupied with internal divisions both among its officials and with a state-society divide that has subsequently impeded its foreign policy.

I don’t believe at this point that the Islamic Republic has a foreign policy if you classify foreign policy as when a country identifies its interests abroad and tries to achieve them, or as when a country seeks to export its revolution, or as when a country seeks to project its power. The Iranian foreign policy is currently derived almost entirely from domestic political considerations, which are evolving in unpredictable ways.

Further, he suggests Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is using the nuclear negotiations to mitigate international attention on Iran’s domestic turmoil and human rights violations.
Analysts have speculated that changes in the Iran’s political structure, with its increasing shift in power towards its military complex, has been an important factor.  Since June 12, the IRGC has monopolized telecommunications in Iran, violently cracked down on protests and dissidents, and established a new intelligence body led by the former head of the Basij, in effect nullifying the old intelligence ministry.
Recent reports also suggest that Iran has not significantly increased its uranium enrichment since September. Motives for the slower production are unclear. From the outside, it is unclear whether adjustments are being made due to shifting concerns in light of both domestic unrest as well as what appears to be a changing political structure, not to mention the ongoing negotiations with P-5+1 countries.

While Iran‘s stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) has likely risen by 200-300 kg from 1,500 kg reported by U.N. monitors in August, the number of operating centrifuge machines at its Natanz enrichment plant has remained at about 4,600, they said.

Iran‘s potential enrichment capacity was much higher. It had installed at least 8,700 centrifuges in all by late September, diplomats said. A fresh figure was not yet available.

But it was unclear why almost half the centrifuges were not yet enriching, remaining idle or undergoing vacuum tests.

Diplomats and analysts said possible reasons ranged from technical glitches to politically motivated restraint, to avoid closing the door to diplomacy with world powers and provoking harsher international sanctions or even Israeli military action.

“The situation is now pretty much as it was in September,” said a senior diplomat in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is based. Officials at Iran‘s IAEA mission were unavailable for comment.

The IAEA’s report on its visit to Iran’s Qom facility is also due next week, but Mohamed ElBaradei has previously suggested the facility is no more than “a hole in a mountain,” built as a backup facility in case of military strikes from an external source.

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