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    Middle East
     Feb 3, 2006
The IAEA and the new world order
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

French philosopher Michel Foucault once wrote about the Iranian revolution of 1979, "It is not a revolution in the literal sense of the term, which is, people getting on their feet and redirecting themselves. It is the insurrection of people ... who want to lift the formidable weight we all bear, but more particularly weigh on them, 'the weight of the entire world order'."

Foucault's premonitions about the "world-disclosing" impulse of the Iranian revolution appear to have been verified, at least insofar

as Iran's nuclear policy aimed at challenging the global status quo and, indeed, the entire edifice of Iran's foreign policy, is concerned.

With the Islamic constitution mandating Iran's solidarity with the liberation movements and struggles against the world's hegemons, the pitfall of media pundits who naively suggest that Iran could actually become a participant in a US-designed regional security apparatus is unmistakable.

On Thursday, as Iran feverishly tried to mobilize the 17 votes in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that belong to the Third World countries in the current roster of the IAEA's governing body, the nuclear lineups increasingly reflect the larger power struggle on the world scene, between the dominant West, ie, the US and Europe, versus the developing nations of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). (The IAEA was due to vote on whether or not to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the United Nations Security Council, where it could face possible sanctions.)

This is not an imaginary bifurcation, in light of last year's nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference where the NAM countries, including Iran and Egypt, successfully defeated a one-dimensional US-led campaign to rewrite the NPT's non-proliferation rules selectively while leaving the relevant articles on disarmament untouched. The result was a stalemate, contributing to the conference's overall stalemate.

Iran's outspoken President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has bluntly questioned the post-Cold War status quo dominated by the US superpower, calling it a "fake superpower" and urging other NAM countries to support Iran's bid to challenge "global feudalism".

But Iran has managed several self-inflicted wounds during the past few months, as a result of which its bid against the "unipolar" world order has been overshadowed by its seemingly ideological zeal against Zionism, even casting a large shadow on Iran's national interests, according to some of president's home-grown critics.

Not all hope is lost, though, and even in Russia, which has chosen to align itself with the US in backing moves to send Tehran to the UN, there are powerful voices echoing Iran's sentiment. A case in point is former president Boris Yeltsin, who has lashed out at the United States' "monopolistic policy" using a "big stick" and threatening nations such as Iran. Without doubt, Yeltsin is not alone and expresses the sentiment of a powerful section of Russia's political elite.

Hence it remains to be seen how far President Vladimir Putin will go in joining the White House's bandwagon on the way to the Security Council. Is Putin willing to set aside all his misgivings about the United States' power projection in Russia's vicinity and go along with sanctions on Iran, thus potentially denying Russia an important buffer between itself and the US? Asked another way, what are the limits, if any, of Russia's current honeymooning with the US vis-a-vis Iran, given the distinct possibility of a US-planned diplomatic maneuver simply as a prelude to war against the second element of its perceived "axis of evil"? (North Korea is temporarily out of the crosshairs.)

The same questions apply with respect to China, which must now weigh the potential hazards to its long-term quest for energy security by pursuing a common path with the US that may, in fact, culminate in severe setbacks to its carefully constructed energy trade with Iran. Put simply, both Russia and China have much to lose, and little to gain, by going along with the United States' script for action against Iran. Even a halfway accommodation of the US may turn out sufficient in light of the Iraq experience and how the US obviated its earlier professed need for explicit authorization for war from the Security Council.

Unfortunately, as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote in his Rechtsphilosophie, knowledge comes too late, and we are still too close to the events of Iraq's invasion in 2003 to be able to draw the right historical lessons about the operation of US power and its vast conglomerate of knowledge-makers in the media, academia and beyond.

Recently, President George W Bush declared Iran a major threat to global security, and yet one is reminded of former South African leader Nelson Mandela, who called the US the gravest threat to world peace.

The European Union, keenly intent on trans-Atlantic patch-ups after feebly standing up to Washington's warmongering, is now playing a subservient role, without adequately factoring in the United States' military objectives. Yet, since world domination hinges on who controls the oil, as admitted by Henry Kissinger in one of his recent, and uncharacteristically candid, writings, a substantially weakened or US-dependent Iran after the present crisis simply translates into a more subordinate role for Europe in global affairs, as it would be much more beholden to US power and geoeconomic control.

Speaking of control, a pertinent question at this point is whether the IAEA is turning into a puppet of the US.

The IAEA's quandary
Given a European resolution calling on the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions, it merits our attention to examine the latest reports in the US media about the IAEA's new revelations suggesting an Iranian nuclear-weapons program.

According to a news article in the New York Times on Wednesday, the IAEA has "for the first time provided evidence directly suggesting that at least some of Iran's activities point to a military project". The timing of this finding couldn't have been more ideal as far as the anti-Iran forces within the IAEA are concerned. The article goes on to say that the IAEA, with "partial help" by US intelligence, has uncovered a "secretive Iranian entity called the Green Salt Project which worked on uranium processing, high explosives and a missile warhead design".

According to the IAEA report, the project "could have a military nuclear dimension and appears to have administrative interconnections". Furthermore, it cites a 15-page report given to Iran in the mid-1980s related to "fabrication of nuclear weapon components". That report has been put under the agency's seal.

What is curious about the newspaper report is that it is deliberately sketchy about the sources and nature of US intelligence given to the IAEA, confining itself to a passing statement that it stems from a "laptop seized in Iran".

Well, the laptop story again. Not long ago, it was the subject of a lengthy Sunday New York Times investigative piece written principally by David Sanger, who is also named as one of the several authors of Wednesday's article on the IAEA's discovery of a smoking gun of sorts. In that story, a perfect fit for a James Bond movie, the laptop is said to have belonged to "someone in Iran who is now dead and had given it to someone else" who had somehow smuggled it out of the country.

Several months ago, IAEA officials in Vienna were given a state-of-the-art presentation by US intelligence officers on the vast information on Iran's nuclear program contained in the laptop, including the purported design for nuclear warheads.

Not long after, the New York Times website featured a serious rebuttal by the respected David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, citing "serious and deep flaws" in the New York Times piece on the laptop. According to Albright, "William J Broad and David E Sanger repeatedly characterize the contents of computer files as containing information about a nuclear warhead design when the information actually describes a reentry vehicle for a missile. This distinction is not minor, and Broad should understand the difference."

Yet Sanger, a colleague of Judith Miller, who propagated false and misleading information about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, failed to open even a small parenthesis in his piece about the healthy skepticism of Albright and others about the laptop.

Nor did Sanger or his respected co-authors mention that the four-page IAEA report, released on Tuesday, gives a rather glowing impression of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA. For example, on page 1 we read: "Iran has continued to facilitate access under its safeguard agreement as requested by the agency, and to act as if the Additional Protocol is in force, including by providing in a timely manner the requisite declarations and access to locations." It cites environmental sampling at Parchin and elsewhere, with the results "still pending".

Interestingly, the report, written by Olli Heinonen, the deputy chief of the IAEA who has just returned from Iran, begins by setting the benchmark that it contains "factual information" only and that it "does not include any assessments thereof". Unless we are all assumed non-English-speaking or with English as our second language at best, this raises serious question about the report's inconclusive assessments of the Green Salt Project, ie, it "could have a military nuclear dimension", or "it appears to have administrative interconnections". This is not factual information, but rather assessments or conclusions arrived at through deductive reasoning.

The trouble with such inferences is that, whether they are legitimate or deliberately overdrawn, they can be misconstrued, coming as they do at a critical time coinciding with Bush's State of the Union address and the big US-EU push at the IAEA. This is because of the murky nature of nearly all dual purpose technology - after all, the so-called "green salt" is the name for a catalytic ingredient in the conversion of uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, which in turn is enriched into nuclear fuel - or a bomb.

What is called for at this stage is a candid statement by IAEA experts on the reliability and relevance of the intelligence fed by the US, instead of pursuing a blind-faith approach to such politically motivated information. That means the need for a second report by IAEA secretary general Mohammad ElBaradei by March 6, the due date for his report to the IAEA on Iran's dossier. This second report should address the quality of the extra-IAEA data on which Heinonen has seemingly relied uncritically.

On Iran's part, on the other hand, the problem, in addition to the need to provide greater transparency and thus to put to rest the lingering marginal questions about its program, is one of regaining the sympathy of the world community after making incendiary anti-Israel statements. Unfortunately, the Iranian problem is more severe than that and, by all indications, a fresh rethinking of Iran's nuclear moves and counter-moves is seriously under way in Iran right now.

Iran's nuclear policy revisited
Not everyone is happy with the course of action pursued on the nuclear front since Mohammad Khatami ended his term as president some five months ago. In fact, visible signs of a foreign-policy house cleaning can be seen aplenty in Tehran, in the light of the highly visible trip of Iran's strongman, former president Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to the holy city of Qom, where he expressed public anxiety about the state of the republic and admitted that "we ourselves have not been without influence" in creating the present "crisis".

In fact, Rafsanjani's careful use of the word "crisis" stands in sharp contrast to the statements of Ahmadinejad, who a few weeks ago denied there was a "crisis" over the nuclear issue. Yet today not even his most ardent supporters can escape the fact that a serious international crisis has dawned on Iran and that their prescribed hardline foreign policy reorientations led by Ahmadinejad have backfired.

Consequently, it is hardly surprising that Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who criticized the Paris Agreement between Iran and the EU as an unequal exchange of "lollipops for pearls", is now making a drastic adjustment, if one is to believe certain newspaper reports in Tehran, and slowly but surely re-adopting the nuclear positions and postures of his predecessor, Hassan Rowhani, who works closely with Rafsanjani.

Throughout the eight years of the Khatami era, Iran's nuclear diplomacy was linked with rapprochement with the West, Europe in particular, reflected in Khatami's warm welcome in Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Brussels and Rome. As a political observer accompanying Khatami on his European tours, this author can confirm first-hand the conscious decision of Khatami and his inner circle to solicit Western respect for Iran's nuclear rights via their deft diplomacy of dialogue among civilizations, and East-West detente. The premise was that only by reassuring the outside world of Iran's benign intentions and constructive role in world affairs could the desired objective with respect to Iran's "inalienable right" to nuclear technology be fulfilled.

That prudent wisdom, cast aside by political rhetoric supplanting foreign policy during the past few months, is now making a comeback, perhaps requiring a reshuffling of personnel as well as policies. Even the hardline-controlled parliament (majlis) is beginning to respond, stepping back from the raw politics of one legislation after another, the net effects of which have been to further alienate Europeans and others. One legislator has gone on record warning that sanctions have in fact begun in discrete fashion, manifested in diplomatic isolation, financial squeeze, and other punitive measures against Iran.

Indeed, the "loss" of European support for Iran has been a heavy blow, given the initial goal of Tehran to engage in separate nuclear talks with the EU-3 (Germany, France and Britain), seen as a "counterweight" to the US. Yet that assumption has proved baseless now, given the EU's solid alliance with the US against the perceived "nuclear threat" of Iran, cemented by the anti-Israel statements of Ahmadinejad.

Ordinarily, given the EU's position as Iran's No 1 trade partner and its present and future energy dependency on Iran, one would expect a little more success from Iran's EU policy. The fact that the exact opposite has now happened alone should send shivers through Iran's political strategists and decision-makers. How did things get so bad?

Untimely transition: The brewing nuclear crisis coinciding with Iran's presidential elections and the rise of a new group in charge of Iran's national security and nuclear affairs. This ranks high in the list of causes disadvantaging Iran.

Missteps: One of Ahmadinejad's first measures was a wholesale change of personnel in the Foreign Ministry, including the ambassadors to Paris, Berlin and London, who happened to be (a) quite competent and well-liked by their host governments, and (b) were not replaced immediately, thus leaving an important vacuum at a crucial time.

But of course, even without their replacement, those top envoys of Iran would have had a hard time at damage-control. For example, Ahmadinejad's statement that Israeli Jews should be relocated to Germany and Austria caused a backlash in both these countries. This was especially so in Germany, whose new chancellor, Angela Merkel, had until then refrained from diverging too much from her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, on Iran.

Coming as "manna from heaven" for the anti-Iran lobbyists in Europe, such statements from Tehran alienated the new German government, which has set aside its previous moderate stance relative to France and Britain - yet another self-inflicted wound according to some Tehran editorials.

A big part of the problem with the presidency of Ahmadinejad is that his inner circle is crowded by people with little or no experience in international affairs, and yet carrying a heavy load of ideological baggage smacking of revolutionary "anti-diplomacy". These individuals, who openly bragged to Tehran's media about Ahmadinejad's "highly successful" trip to New York last September, are now hard-pressed to show any, absolutely any, diplomatic gain after nearly half a year.

Iran has now lost China and Russia to the US, and many NAM countries have serious misgivings about the direction of Iran's foreign policy under Ahmadinejad, as do the moderate governments in the Muslim world who are members of the Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC).

A growing consensus among Iranian foreign-policy experts both inside and outside Iran is that there has been avoidable damage to Iran's foreign policy aims and interests, caused by a lack of experience, dogmatism, overambitiousness, self-fed sloganism and miscalculation.

A critical anatomy of Iran's diplomatic hiatus must, of course, weed out the individual causes from structural or institutional ones, the deliberate ones from the ones imposed from without, ie, Iran's miscalculations about how Russia and China would react might have been committed by the previous nuclear negotiation team as well, if they, too, had opted for resuming nuclear research.

But that is a hypothetical question and, in reality, Iran's leaders must now reckon with the fact that their novel experimentation with a "unified" government devoid of multi-layered currents representative of the Khatami era has not been particularly successful. The latter might explain why Rafsanjani's complaint in Qom about the "attrition of Iran's republicanism" has resonated with leading figures in Iran's post-revolutionary polity.

After all, this is a country well seasoned in weathering crisis after crisis. It has survived a quarter century of US sanctions, attempted coups and assassinations of its leaders (a president, a prime minister and more than 75 legislators), not to mention the bloody eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Yet the present nuclear crisis is increasingly perceived as one of the most serious and life-threatening crises ever faced by the Islamic Republic. To open a caveat here, this author recalls that this was precisely the adjective used by the former foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, at a private dinner reception at the Foreign Ministry's think-tank, the Institute for Political and International Studies, in December 2004.

But to his credit, Kharrazi and his team were able to advance Iran's diplomatic aims admirably, as seen in Iran's performance at the 2005 NPT review conference in New York, where it almost singlehandedly led the NAM campaign to defeat the US-led attempt to distract from disarmament and to "close the loopholes of the NPT".

A close scrutiny of speeches delivered by Iran at that conference clearly shows that Iran behaved on principle as a weighty developing nation enjoying a great deal of deference by the international community.

But where is that respect and deference now? And what happened to the hard-earned fruits of Iran's European diplomacy, on which Iran expended so much focus and energy during the 1990s and the first half of the 2000s? And, more important, why did the foreign-policy elite of Iran suddenly prove so thin-boned and so incapable of stepping in for several months to put a stop to the ruinous policies and positions adopted by amateurs?

Maybe Foucault was right after all, that the essence of the problem with Iran today is the excess weight of historical responsibility that it has been carrying, under the increasingly unbearable heat of a Western superpower and its allies. It is thinking all the time that a prudent exit strategy from the "unipolar" world order is possible, that in China or Russia or India it can find a coalition of the willing to challenge Pax Americana. So how rude an awakening it was this week to the fact that the Cold War's winner is also aware of this historical contingency.

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 X11, 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 .)

The noose tightens around Iran (Feb 2, '06)

China's veto power weighs heavy (Feb 2, '06)

Playing to Iran's strengths (Feb 1, '06)

A high-risk game of nuclear chicken (Jan 31, '06)

Iran's challenge to the UN (Jan 28, '06)

Covert ops and disinformation aimed at Iran (Jan 27, '06)


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