9/28/2004

Iran nuclear program should not be ignored

Is Iran with oil-export revenues of more than $30 billion expected this year - on its way to producing nuclear weapons that would threaten not only neighbouring Middle East enemies such as Israel but also European nations? Britain, France and Germany launched an initiative last year to engage Iran in a dialogue, offering cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy and closer economic ties if Tehran renounced all activities that could give it a weapon-making capability, including enriching nuclear fuel. All three countries are now disenchanted at the absence of full, transparent cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog and alarmed by Iran's announcement last week that it had begun processing raw uranium for enrichment.

Indeed, should it be allowed to do so? With growing unemployment among its young, and rising social tensions, can Iran afford to pursue the development of a nuclear arsenal? It is important to realize that the Iranian revolution has little to show for the 35 years of theocracy it has produced. The Mullahs have left Iran diplomatically isolated and in economic tatters. The ever increasing student demonstrations and civil unrest are the most visible signs of the nation's political turmoil.

And even with proven crude oil reserves of more than 130 billion barrels, and daily production of some 4.2 million barrels, can Iran - a nation of 70 million overwhelmingly poor people - afford to live off its oil revenues if imports, already at US$32 billion now, keep rising each year? The oil industry is not generating the volume of jobs required to alleviate Iran's reported unemployment rate of 16-17 per cent. Among those younger than 30 years of age, the jobless rate may be even higher. Inflation - usually a key indicator of economic health - is running in excess of 17 per cent annually.

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