HOW seriously should we take the threats and warnings emanating from Tehran over the past few days? The British sailors whose yacht “drifted” into Iranian waters will probably be released in due course when their propaganda value has run out -- unlike the previous incident of this kind, these five men are civilians and it will be difficult even for Iran's most fevered imaginations to make them into a security issue. David Miliband's moderate and measured tone in his media interviews yesterday seemed just right although he must be ready to revise it if progress in releasing the men is not made.

However, Iran's reaction to last Friday's IAEA resolution, calling on it to halt all uranium enrichment following its rejection of a deal with western countries, is a rather different matter. The threat to construct ten more enrichment plants sounds empty -- Iran neither needs nor can afford them; as with many other pronouncements from Teheran it gives the impression that the message is intended primarily for domestic consumption rather than the nominal external recipients. The effectiveness of United Nations approved sanctions will soon become a critical issue. Unless the five permanent members of the Security Council can agree without qualification on more severe sanctions against Iran, nothing will be achieved. Even with such agreement it is difficult to see how sanctions in themselves can make Iran a more reasonable country to deal with.


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