View Single Post
Old Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Gladiator's Avatar
Gladiator Gladiator is offline
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Lahore.
Posts: 32
Thanks: 0
Thanked 34 Times in 10 Posts
Gladiator is on a distinguished road
Default Iran's Nuclear Crisis

Iran’s growing N-crisis

Earlier this month the Iranians, in the presence of IAEA inspectors, broke the seals on some of the equipment in the Natanz facility to recommence what they said was research activity on the nuclear fuel cycle. The fresh crisis this precipitated was the catalyst for the European request, after consultations on Monday with the Americans, Russians and Chinese in London, for the meeting of the IAEA board of governors on February 2 and 3, more than a month before the regularly scheduled meeting of the board in March.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that the US feared that if the IAEA waited until March, Iran would use the time to further “obfuscate” over any nuclear weapons plans.

It appears that the Europeans and Americans have been able to persuade Russia to go along with the call for the IAEA meeting and that even the Chinese, while saying in a foreign office statement “All relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to resolving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations” have not been sufficiently strident in their opposition to the calling of the IAEA meeting. Diplomats participating in the London discussions have cautioned that there remains a great deal of work to be done by the Europeans and the Americans to persuade the other members of the IAEA board to go along with any action, specifically a referral to the UN Security Council, that the Europeans will propose.

There is reason for this. President Ahmadinejad’s intemperate statements may have adversely influenced public opinion and provided grist for the West’s propaganda mills. But none of Iran’s actions so far have been in violation of the NPT, the safeguards agreement that Iran has with the IAEA or the additional protocol to which Iran has agreed, voluntarily, to adhere (the agreement has not been ratified by the Iranian majlis).

In September last, the EU and the US found that there was opposition to an immediate reference to the UN Security Council and ultimately settled for a resolution asserting that Iran’s nuclear activities and “the resulting absence of confidence” about its nuclear programme being “exclusively for peaceful purposes” had given rise to “questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Even at that time 12 members, including Russia and China, abstained on the resolution breaking the long tradition of decisions by consensus that had been the practice in the IAEA.

These abstentions were prompted by the concerns not only of Russia and China about their lucrative oil deals with Iran but equally importantly by developing countries — India being the notable exception — that Iran was being penalized for what a number of other countries had also done but without suffering penalties. South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt among others were countries that had engaged in nuclear activities without informing the IAEA or subjecting these activities to IAEA safeguards. These activities were subsequently investigated by the IAEA and the countries in question were given a clean bill of health — in the Korean case the IAEA accepted the Korean government’s explanation that scientists had engaged in uranium enrichment only on an experimental basis and without official authorization.

Further, according to one calculation some 106 countries, have yet to sign the additional protocol which would give the IAEA unfettered access to all declared or suspected nuclear-related sites and enable it to certify that there were no clandestine nuclear activities. Iran has voluntarily adhered to this protocol and at least until November Dr Baradei seemed to think that he was making progress in getting access to all suspect sites in Iran.

In November when the board met again Dr Al-Baradei presented what could be seen as a reasonably good report on Iranian cooperation in resolving outstanding issues and there was, therefore, no effort on the part of the EU to pursue a referral to the UN Security Council.

Many will argue that by resuming research activities under IAEA safeguards Iran has not done anything illegal and that this should be seen as an assertion of the right Iran enjoys under the NPT to develop its nuclear know-how and as a way of pressuring the Europeans to return to the negotiating table and present an offer better than the one put forward in August and rejected by the Iranians as “humiliating”. Many others will argue that the “red line,” if there is to be one, should be the commencement of uranium enrichment and this the Iranians have refrained from doing.

Do the Iranians have a reasonable case on the question of the EU’s negotiating stance? Iran signed the additional protocol in December 2003 having agreed to do so in October 2003 and after Dr Baradei had stated in November 2003 that there was no evidence of Iran pursuing a nuclear weapons programme. In November 2004, Iran agreed with the EU negotiators to halt all uranium enrichment activity. In January 2005, the IAEA got access to the Parchin site situated in a military facility but no sensational discovery was made. In April 2005, Iran threatened to resume uranium gasification but was persuaded to await detailed EU proposals promised by the end of July. No proposals were made by the indicated date Then, Iran announced the resumption of uranium gasification at the Isfahan facility and this acted as the spur for the submission, at long last, of a 31-page proposal by the EU for improved relations between the EU and Iran.

The main point seems to be that Iran would be required to commit itself to being bound by the NPT in perpetuity — renouncing its right to opt out of the treaty — and to for swear in perpetuity its right under the NPT to develop a nuclear fuel cycle and in return it would receive assurances for the supply of fuel for its nuclear reactors and for its research activities, apart from cooperation in other fields such as admission to the WTO. Earlier the US had said that it would, as part of the package, not stand in the way of Iran’s application for WTO membership and would allow the export of spare parts for Iran’s air fleet.

In a joint article by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the UK and the EU foreign affairs commissioner, published on the eve of the September meeting of the IAEA board, these proposals were termed as “the most far-reaching ideas for relations between Iran and Europe presented since the 1979 Iranian revolution and would provide the foundation for a new relationship based on cooperation”. Not only the Iranians, other objective observers were also doubtful about the value of these proposals. The US controlled or influenced the major sources of nuclear fuel and, in the words of noted nuclear expert George Perkovich, “I don’t understand how the Europeans can guarantee fuel supply if the US isn’t explicitly saying it won’t impose sanctions on companies that cooperate with the Iranians”.

Equally importantly, the Europeans knew that the Iranian establishment, before President Ahmadinejad came to power, had been extremely concerned about the US military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq and was seeking security guarantees from the United States in this context. One is sure that there was also an Iranian expectation that the United States would offer some concessions on sanctions that it had currently in force on Iran and that it would also offer to release $8 billion in Iranian funds that remained frozen in American banks. In the event, the EU was able to offer only European security guarantees and these as George Perkovich says, were not “relevant when it is the United States that Iran is worried about”.

Essentially it would seem that Iran — a proud and rich country — was being asked to accept a mess of pottage in exchange for giving up what it had set its heart upon and what had become a symbol of national pride. I don’t think that there is any developing country that does not empathize with Iran’s position and will not suggest that even if concerns about Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapon capability are justified — and that can almost be taken as said — there must be greater effort to address Iran’s needs and apprehensions than the present EU approach suggests.

Are these concerns and apprehensions justified? Israel has nuclear weapons and Ahmadinejad’s unwise provocative statements or the arranging of a conference on the “Holocaust” are less relevant to Israel-Iran relations than the fact that Israel is intent on ensuring that there is no country in the Middle East that can challenge it militarily. There is no advance on proposals for making the Middle East a nuclear weapons free state.

Given what appears to be implacable American hostility, Iran has also to contend with the fact that on its other borders, it has a nuclear-weapon Pakistan allied with the United States in the war on terror, a nuclear-weapon India seeking a strategic partnership with the United States, an American-occupied Afghanistan and an American-occupied Iraq. Iran’s traditional friendship with these countries (and the influence it wields in Iraq) and continued deft diplomacy to keep these relations on an even keel does not detract from the dangers that the situation could pose. Saddam Hussain had waged a chemical war against Iran and there are even today some 100,000 survivors of these attacks serving as a grim reminder of Iran’s vulnerability.

Iran has had problems in its Kurdish region and on a smaller scale similar problems have arisen also in the Arab minority province of Ahwaz. The hand of foreign intelligence activities has been suspected at least by the Iranians. The uprisings have been brought under control by the deployment of massive military force in the Kurdish areas and harsh repressive measures in Ahwaz but the unsettling prospects of internal disturbances remain a factor in Iran’s security calculations.

Under these circumstances, the Iranians could be forgiven for believing, even if they do not say so, that in the absence of the normalization of relations with the world’s sole superpower and its allies, their country’s security requires the possession of a nuclear deterrent.

With the new president in Iran it is not certain that the West’s fears, or indeed the world’s fears, about potential proliferation will be addressed as satisfactorily as the West would like, but an effort in that direction has to be made, and that effort has to be far better than what has been put on offer. The fact that the Iranians have not rejected the Russian proposal for enrichment activity being carried out in Russia on Iran’s behalf and that the talks on this are continuing may be only a deft diplomatic move to win time but it may also be a serious signal that Iran has not entirely slammed the door on certain elements of western proposals.

How the drama is likely to unfold in the next few weeks, how this will impinge on Iran’s relations with the countries of South Asia and how this will affect the prospects of the proposed pipeline will be the subject of my next article.

By Najmuddin A, Shaikh
[COLOR=Blue][B]The best way to predict the future is to invent it[/B][/COLOR]
Reply With Quote