SCOTT SHANE & ROBERT F WORTH
A string of aggressive gestures by Iran this week assassination attempts on Israelis living abroad that were attributed to Tehran,renewed posturing over its nuclear program and fresh threats of economic retaliation suggest that Iranian leaders are responding frantically,and with increasing unpredictability,to the tightening of sanctions by the West.
As investigators unearthed new evidence implicating Iran in the attacks this week in Thailand,India and Georgia,President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced what he said was his countrys latest nuclear advance,and Irans Oil Ministry threatened to pre-empt a European oil embargo by cutting off sales to six countries there. These are all facets of the same message, said Muhammad Sahimi,an analyst and professor at the University of Southern California. Iran is saying,If you hit us,we will hit back,and we are not going to sacrifice our nuclear program.
The flurry of Iranian actions and statements comes as Western governments are watching closely for signs of Irans reaction to the tougher sanctions they have imposed. But the intentions of Irans divided leadership are notoriously difficult to divine,and even as Ahmadinejad declared defiantly that the era of bullying nations has passed, another Iranian official said Tehran was ready for new talks on the nuclear issue.
The EUs foreign policy chief,Catherine Ashton,confirmed on Wednesday that she had received a reply from a top Iranian official responding to her invitation to negotiations over the future of its nuclear program. Irans Al Alam television said the country had offered to hold new talks over its nuclear program in a constructive way.
American officials reacted with caution to the reported offer to talk and said they saw little substance in either the oil threat or Ahmadinejads announcement that Iran had new centrifuges able to enrich uranium more quickly. The Iranian president was shown on live television overseeing the loading of what was described as an Iranian-made fuel rod into a research reactor and declaring that the arrogant powers cannot monopolise nuclear technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing sanctions but failed.
Victoria Nuland,the State Department spokeswoman,said that Ahmadinejads remarks appeared calibrated mostly for a domestic audience. The Iranians have for many months been putting out calendars of accomplishments,and based on their calendars,they are many,many months behind, Nuland said.
Nor did the threat to cut oil sales to six European countries first incorrectly announced by Irans Press TV as already in effect have much of an impact. The White House spokesman,Jay Carney,noted that the EU banned new oil contracts with Iran last month and said it would halt all imports of Iranian oil July 1.