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    Middle East
     Jan 28, 2006
Iran's challenge to the UN
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The US-Europe express train to the United Nations Security Council against Iran has been partially derailed on the eve of an emergency meeting of the UN's atomic agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), by the combined counter-punches of India and China, not to mention the news of an imminent Iran-Russia deal for fuel fabrication on Russian soil.

By all indications, the latter news should bring a sigh of relief, albeit temporary, to the administration of US President George W



Bush, which has overnight mismanaged its drive to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN by (a) coercive linkage diplomacy toward India, threatening to kill a nuclear deal with New Delhi if it dared to stray from the United States' script for action at next month's IAEA meeting, raising serious ire among Indian politicians, and (b) prematurely declaring China to be on board the US plan, only to be rather rudely repudiated by the Chinese, who have openly opposed the idea of a UN sanction on Iran, thus showing the falsity of a US top diplomat's claim that the US and China were in one mind over "core issues" regarding Iran.

Given the timing of the setback to US diplomacy, with the Palestinian election results showing an impressive victory by Hamas, the lone superpower must now contemplate its next move in the light of its inability to cause a change of behavior on the part of the defiant Iranians.

Another sigh of relief for the US, in terms of confrontation being delayed, is the decision of IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to postpone his much-anticipated report on Iran until early March, making it highly unlikely that the IAEA governing board convening next Thursday in Vienna will dispatch the Iran case to the Security Council.

Of course, there is still a summit of the foreign ministers of the Security Council permanent five (Britain, China, France, Russia and the US) plus Germany ahead of the IAEA meeting to consider, which may turn out little more than a face-saving maneuver by the US and its key European partners.

Nervously watching all these fast developments are the UN leaders headed by Kofi Annan, who warned last year of a UN paralysis over the Iran nuclear crisis. This brings us to the issue of UN sanctions and/or other punitive measures against Iran, vocally endorsed by a growing number of US lawmakers.

Can the Security Council meet Iran's nuclear challenge? The answer seems a definite yes if one turns to the congressional hawks or to the small army of experts and analysts crowding the beltway.

Chief among the latter is Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director general of the IAEA and now resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Widely quoted by the US media, Goldschmidt draws attention both because of his expertise and because of his novel proposal for Security Council action vis-a-vis Iran.

Goldschmidt's toolkit of alternatives to "sanctions or violent mechanisms" consists of "three steps". First, he calls for a "generic" and "binding" resolution that would call on any state found in non-compliance with the IAEA to grant "immediate and unfettered access at all times to all places and data and to any person".

Second, Goldschmidt seeks to prevent the non-compliant state from leaving the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by forcing it to continue to abide with NPT-type safeguards "for all nuclear facilities".

And third, Goldschmidt calls on the Security Council to suspend the right of the NPT violator to undertake the nuclear fuel cycle "for a period of 10 years".

Sensing a unique historical opportunity, Goldschmidt's contention is that "the Iran case both necessitates and provides an opportunity to improve the overall non-proliferation regime".

Bearing in mind the rather dismal failure of the 2005 NPT review conference in New York, where the opposing "disarmament" and "non-proliferation" camps neutralized each other, Goldschmidt's proposal is, in fact, a rather ambitious one, that is, he hopes to shortcut a long and arduous process of rewriting the rules and standards of an international regime, via the Security Council. He optimistically predicts that among his proposals "none would trigger sanctions or violence".

Of course, Goldschmidt is not alone and can count on, among other notables, his colleague at Carnegie, George Perkovich, who has similarly penned in the International Herald Tribune: "There is no way around the fact that in cases of non-compliance such as Iran the IAEA must be given authority to conduct wider and deeper inspections. Only the UN Security Council can grant this authority."

A critique
The Goldschmidt-Perkovich duet may sound music to the bipartisan anti-Iran coalition in the US Congress, yet is hardly a successful note for the UN "symphony", or rather cacophony, of voices. The following objections can be raised.

First, historically, as in the case of disarmament, the Security Council is very hesitant to adopt broad and "generic" resolutions, opting instead for case-specific actions or guidelines, for the simple reason that the UN Charter stipulates Security Council measures in response to threats to peace or acts of aggression "without prejudice to the rights ... of the parties concerned".

Second, the moment the Security Council begins its deliberation on the type of resolution Goldschmidt and company have put forth, then the usual objections raised at the divisive NPT conference will manifest themselves, ie, why not a similar resolution with respect to non-compliance with Article VI (disarmament) and or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

The permanent five at the Security Council will inevitably feel the flip side of their initiative, exerted by the Non-Aligned Movement and all non-nuclear states, and would be forced to adjust themselves.

Third, assuming a "virtual" Security Council debate, one wonders how Goldschmidt and others would respond to the charge that instead of strengthening the NPT, their initiative may actually undermine it by augmenting the image of a feudalistic nuclear hierarchy manipulated by the nuclear haves to the detriment of nuclear have-nots.

The fourth objection is that this is a recipe for disaster as far as the importance of the Additional Protocol is concerned, by undermining its hitherto universal relevance and importance, and which Iran has adopted since December 2003.

After all, ElBaradei, Bush and various European leaders have consistently gone on record emphasizing the importance of the Additional Protocol, which substantially expands the IAEA's ability to check for clandestine nuclear facilities.

Nor can we take comfort from Goldschmidt's assurance that a UN adoption of his three steps would not trigger sanctions or worse, war, given the recent history of the United States' manipulation of the Security Council over Iraq.

A valuable protocol
Lauded as a key measure of the non-proliferation regime, the Additional Protocol imposes additional declaration requirements on a party and permits the IAEA expanded inspection rights, including inspection of undeclared activities.

Among the several categories of locations covered by the Additional Protocol are the facilities that manufacture components for uranium-enrichment plants or for plutonium-separation facilities, such as the facilities at Natanz or, before that, at the Kalaye Electrical Company Workshop, which in February 2003 Iran acknowledged was being used for the production of centrifuge components.

Both these facilities, as well as several other nuclear-related facilities in Iran, are under the watchful eyes of the IAEA and its digital, state-of-the-art surveillance cameras, not to mention the 1,400 inspection hours since Iran's voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. This raises the question of what "corrective steps" will the UN Security Council ask of Iran when, in fact, most if not all of those steps have already been followed.

The irony is, indeed, that the recent IAEA resolution finding Iran in breach of its obligations should have been adopted in 2003, since in the intervening time Iran has managed to satisfy the "outstanding questions" raised by the IAEA. These include the foreign sources of highly enriched uranium, which turns out to come from equipment sold by the Pakistani network headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Similarly, the questions regarding a raised site at Lavizan, or suspicious activities at another base in Parchin, have been largely settled as a result of environmental sampling and inspection of relevant documents. The bottom line is that despite the United States' skeptical reaction and insinuation of a covert military program using the dual-purpose technology, so far no smoking gun has been found.

This, together with Iran's NPT right to the nuclear fuel cycle, poses a serious legal problem for a Security Council entertaining the kind of proposal suggested by Goldschmidt and championed by US policymakers. That is, with the pre-2003 Iranian non-compliances having been for the most part, if not entirely, rectified since then, the Security Council cannot anchor its decision on international law to support its new intrusive guidelines - which surpass the Additional Protocol by in fact nullifying the significance attached to it so far.

Hence, with so many states yet to sign or legislate the Additional Protocol, the question bearing heavy on Goldschmidt and other like-minded experts is to solve the conundrum of how to advance the non-proliferation cause without introducing significant new cracks in that regime.

As Florence Nightingale once said, "Whatever else hospitals do they should not spread disease." And yet Goldschmidt's proposal leads but to a rule nihilism, supplanting the IAEA with the Security Council, and the NPT standards with exigent ad hoc standards melting the very core of the NPT.

To elaborate further on a point mentioned above, a Security Council debate on Iran may yield a positive result in another direction, ie, by generating a new momentum for a universal declaration against the use of nuclear weapons.

Time to alter nuclear doctrines
Following the footsteps of the US government, French President Jacques Chirac has unleased a new global debate on the role of nuclear weapons in the national-security doctrine of nuclear haves. Chirac's warning of nuclear retaliation against terrorists and their state sponsors has once again reminded us of the perils of a nuclear "barbarianism" multiplying under the skin of Western civilization. The Russian military provides for the use of nuclear weapons, and China is the sole exception - it has publicly declared that its nuclear weapons are only for self-defense against a nuclear attack.

Hence, in the light of the bellicose nuclear postures of France and the US, an equally urgent priority of the Security Council is to put to rest global anxieties, particularly by the "latent" nuclear powers, both now and in the foreseeable future. They now feel the pinch of credible nuclear deterrence as long as there is no pledge of no nuclear use by the nuclear haves.

In other words, as long as nuclear war, above all the use of tactical nuclear weapons in a conventional theater, has not become unacceptable, the nuclear haves will be hesitant to disarm, as will at least some of the nuclear have-nots intent on joining their exclusive club.

In conclusion, the only bright side of last year's NPT review conference was to highlight the discrepancy of interests and positions between the nuclear elites and the rest of the world and the dire necessity of closing this gap - by tackling the issues of disarmament and non-proliferation simultaneously, as envisaged by the UN secretary general's proposals for comprehensive UN reform.

Yet as last September's General Assembly summit dealt a severe blow to Annan's reform agenda, completely bypassing the twin nuclear issues, subsequently deemed a "disgrace" by Annan, the real question is whether the current debate on Iran can reignite a renewed interest in reversing a historic failure at the NPT conference last year. The answer, given the plethora of disparate interests playing themselves out on the UN playing field, is most likely negative.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu.

(Copyright 2006 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


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