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The most dangerous thing in the nuclear chess game that has been taking place since 2009 with regards to the Iranian uranium enrichment file is its link to internal policies and procedures, whether this is in Iran or in the western capitals of the G5 + 1 countries (five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany).

Perhaps this explains the contradictions and ambiguity seen in the positions on this file. The Iranian regime has been suffering from a growing internal crisis since the presidential elections which took place year after the opposition questioned the government’s legitimacy, winning over a considerable sector of the Iranian street who took part in protests and demonstrations the likes of which have not been seen in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

In its struggle to assert its legitimacy in the face of the opposition that has become a powerful symbol, the ruling regime in Iran is using the nuclear issue to strengthen its internal influence and protect its radical and hard-line base within the official establishment that is showing signs of internal split and opposition towards the leadership. If Iran makes an offer that seems to be a response, even in part, to G5 + 1 pressure, Tehran would not hesitate to withdraw this, as can be seen with the contradictory Iranian positions seen over the past few days on whether or not a solution is close to being reached with regards to the enriched uranium exchange deal.

On the other hand, there are strong indications that western moves in this game of nuclear chess with Iran are taking into account the internal situation in Iran and the wave of popular discontent towards the ruling regime’s policies. For while looking on how to proceed following Iran’s lack of response to their offer of uranium enrichment, the G5 + 1 states do not want to make a wrong move and cause the Iranian public to side with the regime in the belief that there is an external danger that is threatening them all, as this would [also] place the Iranian opposition in a difficult situation.

There are other elements that further complicate this issue, and the internal policies in Washington have become more complex in light of the new wave of Republican attacks that are being made against the Obama administration after the gestures of good-will and the outstretched hand that Obama extended towards Tehran during his early days in office failed to achieve anything, and in fact threaten US national security. The Republican attacks on the Obama administration have intensified since the beginning of 2010, which will witness the congressional mid-term elections, and this means that the administration’s foreign policy will also have domestic considerations. In addition to this there are the relationships that exist across the international chess board, between superpowers like the US, China, Russia, and European nations, that share differences in opinion on issues such as the [Chinese] Yuan and the [US] Dollar, arms being sold to Taiwan, NATO, and Russia’s position towards the Iranian nuclear file.

During the past year, all players seemed keen to maintain the status quo on the [international] chess board in order to ensure that no player could suddenly turn on the others. However with the beginning of the current year, signs of impatience have begun to appear with regards to Iran’s ambiguous and contradictory positions and it seems that the end is in sight. This is clear from the statements issued on Monday by the US Defense Secretary and his French counterpart in Paris, and the option now is to impose more sanctions on Iran, and it seems that Russia supports this option.

If we take the recent Iranian announcement that Tehran is set to begin enriching uranium to 20 percent enrichment, something described by the French Foreign Minister as “blackmail” especially since Tehran does not even possess the technical capabilities [to do this], then this means that Tehran is making its final move in this chess game and attempting to improve its bargaining position. Other than this, the issue remains ambiguous and open to all possibilities, including irrational ones.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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