A team of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began a potentially crucial three-day visit to Iran on Sunday. Tehran's top diplomat said he was confident that talks between inspectors and Iranian officials would soothe foreign leaders, who fear that the Islamic Republic is trying to build nuclear weapons. But tensions remain high. The U.S. and Europe recently announced tough new sanctions designed to deprive the Iranian government of oil income it needs to survive, and Iran reacted with a threat to block all oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf (See The Week's briefing on Iran's threat to close the Strait of Hormuz). Could the inspections prevent the confrontation from escalating?
This is a start: "The standoff between the U.S. and Iran has raised tensions in the Persian Gulf region to the boiling point," says Javid Husain in Pakistan's The Nation. The important thing now is to start cooling off. All concerned must "avoid hostilities and adopt the path of negotiations," because everybody loses if a shooting war erupts in the Strait of Hormuz. Inspections could be an important first step, but only if the U.S. will back down if its suspicions aren't confirmed by the IAEA.
"U.S. double standards and Iran"
These inspections are essentially useless: "If the intention is to browbeat Iran, the inspectors aren't going to get anywhere," says M.K. Badhrakumar at Indian Punchline. Even if the inspectors find damning evidence, Iran's leaders have made it clear they "won't blink" — which means they will continue defying the West by producing more nuclear fuel no matter what.
"Silver lining in the Iran situation"
It all depends what the inspectors say: Nobody knows whether Iran's leaders are "acting in good faith," says James M. Lindsay at the Council on Foreign Relations, or "using the visits as part of a delaying strategy to buy more time for their nuclear program." We simply need more information. That's why the world will be closely following the IAEA inspectors' mission, "and listening to what they say after they depart [Iran]."
"What will IAEA inspectors find in Iran?"