NEW YORK – Despite White House denials of reports surfacing in Arabic-language newspapers in Kuwait that President Obama was planning a trip to Tehran in the middle of next year, Iran is moving rapidly to become a full participant in the international community.
Tehran hopes to benefit from the momentum gained from a tentative agreement on its nuclear program with the P5+1 Western nations, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, U.S., Russia, China, U.K. and France, plus Germany.
Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, a veteran of the Iranian oil industry, is planning to return to Vienna this week to take advantage of an easing of Western oil sanctions scheduled to occur in six months by reasserting Iran’s willingness to resume full participation in OPEC oil production.
Iran hopes to regain its position as the second largest oil-producing OPEC nation, behind Saudi Arabia. In Iran’s absence, Iraq has moved into second place.
Tehran, however, will face difficulty negotiating resumed OPEC production because the 12-member nations are expected to continue until at least June their agreement to cap oil production at 30 million barrels per day.
“Iraq has replaced Iran’s oil with its own,” Zanganeh said in November, as reported by Reuters. “This Iraq move is not friendly at all.”
If OPEC does allow Iran to resume OPEC oil production, room will have to be made by reducing the oil production of other OPEC members.
Reuters also reported increased U.S. oil production resulting from new shale production may require OPEC to cut production in the second half of 2014 to keep the price of oil above $100 a barrel.
Iranian oil production has decreased 1 million barrels per day, down to 2.7 million barrels a day, since the start of 2012 when sanctions effectively closed Iran out from major world oil markets. Meanwhile, Iraq has boosted oil production to nearly 3 million barrels a day since 2012.
Readmitting Iran to OPEC as a full production partner may raise tensions with Sunni-led Saudi Arabia. With Iran’s restoration, OPEC’s second and third largest producers would be Shia-led governments.
Iran to continue uranium enrichment
Last Wednesday, in a television interview from Iran that was co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, vowed Tehran would never stop uranium enrichment.
“We will never forgo our inherent right to benefit from peaceful nuclear technology, including nuclear enrichment, under any circumstances,” Rouhani said.
He complained the sanctions imposed by the Western nations were an unfair infringement on Iran’s sovereign rights.
“The continuation of pressure, arms-twisting, intimidation and extraterritorially imposed measures directed against the Iranian people and innocent civilians trying to prevent them from having access to a whole range of necessities, from technology to medicine, from science to foodstuff, could only poison the atmosphere and undermine the conditions necessary for making progress and weaken our resolve.”
Rouhani asserted it was “natural for the people of Iran” to want to reassert a sovereign right to enrich uranium within the framework of the international agreement of the safeguards framework and under the supervision of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA. He pointed out that more than 40 nations have embarked on enrichment programs, “some within the framework of the safeguards agreement, and even some outside of the safeguards agreement framework.”
When asked exactly how many centrifuges Iran would need to keep operative enriching uranium, Rouhani dodged giving a direct answer.
“I don’t think the numbers really matter, for those who are asking the questions,” Rouhani answered. “In all the reports by the IAEA, which are periodically issued every three months, the number of centrifuges is announced, declared, the active centrifuges, as well as the inactive centrifuges.”
Despite evidence Iran has continued to play a role in Mideast violence by continuing to support the Assad regime in Syria, Rouhani denied Iran was a threat to other nations in the region.
“There is a group that through false propaganda has sought to portray Iran as a threat, and by portraying Iran as a threat, to bring pressure on people,” Rouhani objected. “Those who have placed this pressure on Iran should be asked when they chose to exert such pressure on the people of Iran, why to such extent, when Iran’s intended activities are fully peaceful and when the IAEA has said in all its reports that it has found no evidence of deviation in Iran’s activities.”
On Nov. 24, as negotiations were yet being concluded in Geneva, Rouhani in a speech broadcast on Press TV in Iran and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute vowed Iran’s enrichment activities would proceed, despite the Geneva agreement.
Iran threatens Israel
On Nov. 20, before the Geneva agreement was reached, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, declared in an assembly of thousands of Basij militia that Israel was doomed to fail.
Khamenei characterized the “Zionist regime” as the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region,” insisting Israelis “cannot be called human beings.” He prompted the audience to shout in response, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
On Nov. 21, at a meeting with Jewish leaders in Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Khamenei’s speech reminded him “of the dark regimes of the past that plotted against us first and then against humanity,”
Iran, therefore, must be prevented from attaining nuclear weapons, he said.
“This is the real Iran,” Netanyahu insisted. “We are not confused.”