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    Middle East
     Feb 7, 2006
Sideshows on Iran's frogmarch to the UN
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Early last week, Europe instantly rejected, without pause for breath, an Iranian offer of a two-year moratorium on uranium enrichment, thus setting its seal on a major international crisis.

Iran's "six-point" proposal was submitted by the Iranian delegation headed by Javad Veidi to the EU-3 (Germany, France and Britain) in Brussels on January 30. Instead of giving it careful consideration, the EU-3 diplomats rejected it as old news, devoid of anything new, and then, rather disingenuously, went on to blame Iran for "lack of progress".

Thus John Sawers, London's negotiator, was quoted by the BBC



as saying, "To be frank, we didn't detect anything new in their approach." Sadly, the Iraq lesson for the British government looks to be immunization to truth, and such a scandalous dossier hardly makes it fit to make a fuss about Iran. Joseph Nye of Harvard has written, "Iraq lessons can avoid disasters in Iran." Quite right, but only the right lessons.

The immediate upshot of the rejection of Iran's offer is that the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted on Friday to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, although the council will take no action until an IAEA report on Iran is delivered in March. The council could possibly impose sanctions.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran had ended its cooperation with the IAEA, including the regime of snap inspections of nuclear facilities that Tehran agreed to in a special protocol in 2003, but which it has never formally endorsed. Mottaki nevertheless said Iran was ready for talks on a Russian compromise proposal under which Iranian uranium would be enriched in Russia instead of in Iran. Moscow and Tehran have agreed to hold further talks on the proposal on February 16.

Given all the mountainous revelations about the cover-ups and disinformation on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, all indications are that we have not learned any meaningful lessons from the Iraq fiasco, such as the need for a more scrutinizing media.

Yet, incredibly, no one in the European or US media even examined the nature and content of the six-point Iranian proposal, confining themselves to the official pronouncements of the EU-3 diplomats who are more keen on satisfying the US's march toward the Security Council than in breaking the nuclear stalemate on their own.

These diplomats, so adept at "leaking" their own highly-publicized proposal to Iran last summer, kept a tight lid on Iran's proposal and, what is more, there is no evidence that any respected member of the Western media made any attempt to get their hands on Iran's proposal.

That aside, the following is the nub of Iran's six-point proposal:
  • Iran pledges that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, not nuclear bombs.
  • Iran pledges that it will get the legislative approval in its majlis (parliament) of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and will continue with IAEA inspections.
  • Iran pledges to stay within the NPT.
  • Iran pledges that it will not resume enrichment prior to the next IAEA meeting.
  • Iran pledges that its nuclear research will be under monitoring by the IAEA.
  • Iran will continue negotiating with the EU-3 regarding enrichment issues for two years, and after two years, if the negotiations fail, will resume enrichment activities.

    Certainly, the last item was a novelty and the EU-3 diplomats have some explaining to do as to why they were not interested. The chronology of Iran-EU3 negotiations clearly shows the lie on the part of Sawers and his German and French colleagues, for this was the first time that Iran had offered to extend the freeze on enrichment activities for another two years to give negotiations more time, and it was quite duplicitous on their part to suggest otherwise.

    The European path to the Security Council is strewn with lies and deceptions, with a systematic distortion aimed at denying Iran's right to nuclear technology at any price, even if that means reneging on their earlier pledges of respecting Iran's nuclear rights "without discrimination", as stipulated in the 2004 Paris Agreement.

    Clearly, listening to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's anti-Iran stance, Europe's main priority is US appeasement, and not Iran. Merkel's Iran-bashing could have dire consequences for Berlin's Iran and Middle East policy, in light of Germany's status as Iran's No 1 European trading partner.

    Merkel, a novice in foreign policy making, has set aside the nuanced approach of her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder by facilitating the United States' war-prone approach to Iran. Merkel's government appears to be doing for the US on Iran the kind of subservient role London played on Iraq. This is a sure recipe for disaster.

    Iran's proposal and the IAEA
    By all accounts, had the EU-3 given sufficient attention to Iran's proposal, they would have instantly recognized that it could have been bridged with the call by the secretary general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, for a "universal five-year moratorium" on all new uranium enrichment capabilities. ElBaradei's call has been well received throughout Europe and, conceptually, would put the difference between Iran and the IAEA at a mere matter of three years, that is, a quantitative difference within the horizon of diplomatic give and take.

    Instead, as if afraid of a diplomatic breakthrough, and keen on obviating it, at the IAEA meeting last week the European diplomats escalated their demands by asking Iran to impose a "10-year moratorium". No one with an inkling of knowledge about Iran could possibly expect such an unreasonable and unlawful demand to make headway in Tehran.

    For one thing because such a lengthy moratorium would for all practical purposes destroy Iran's nuclear capability, as the facilities would corrode and the scientists with know-how would be fewer.

    It would be one thing if Europe or the US would offer an incentive of financial compensation for Iran's enrichment facilities that would, in turn, make it easy for Iran's leaders to sell their compromises to their patriotic clientele. But no such incentives have ever been put on the table.

    As a result, the stage is now set for Iran's victimization by a concerted Western campaign instrumentalizing the Security Council in the name of world peace and non-proliferation, taking full advantage of certain statements by Iran's president and thus deliberately conflating Iran's legal rights with their self-justified political objectives.

    An irony is that today the US is pursuing its Iran counter-proliferation drive by actually (a) promoting proliferation through its nuclear deal with India, which clearly undermines the United States' and entire Nuclear Supply Group's stated commitments and is decried by nearly all nuclear experts in the US, and (b) increasingly hinting at using "bunker-busting" tactical nuclear weapons against Iran. Concerning the latter, a retired US general appearing on Fox TV recently conceded that it "may take nuclear weapons" to take out Iran's underground enrichment facilities. Call it double irony.

    On a related note, Europe's proliferation selectiveness and its relative obliviousness to the threats of proliferation elsewhere in the world is rather astounding. Graham Allison, a leading American expert on non-proliferation, recently stated, "My firm prediction is that on the current course, before the end of the decade, we will see a nuclear Japan and nuclear South Korea." Allison may have added Brazil to his list, yet he is on the mark that Japan's or Korea's nuclearization "will trigger a cascade of nuclear proliferation". Between the two, the threat from Japan, with its relatively recent history of imperial militarism, is more alarming, particularly when we consider the IAEA safeguard reports of high amounts of plutonium unaccounted for in Japan in 2003.

    As a concession to the Muslim world, an IAEA resolution passingly refers to the lofty objective of a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East, this after the US had successfully deleted any reference to Israel. But in light of the 1991 UN Security Council's resolution calling for a nuclear-weapons free zone in the Middle East, the issue is bound to come up in the Security Council's debates on Iran.

    The latter actually alerts us to the need for a rule-based approach toward the Iran issue inside and outside the Security Council. Iran "exceptionalism", that is, the spate of escalating demands on Iran, reminding us of the US-UN approach toward Iraq in 2002-03, lacks a sound legal basis and should be avoided in favor of an alternative approach firmly couched in the NPT and IAEA norms and agreements.

    On Russia's side, which has been back-peddling by trying (rather self-deceivingly) to minimize the importance of the IAEA resolution reporting Iran to the UN, it is worth remembering that their Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has repeatedly gone on record emphasizing the importance of extending Iran's moratorium. In his recent trip to Tehran, Lavrov stated, "The moratorium is a substantially needed measure to settle the questions which still remain within the framework of the Iranian nuclear program."

    Russia appears to have its Iran card poorly planned, and if not too careful it may soon find itself on the side of US-favored sanctions. Consequently, the whole spectrum of Russia's geostrategy will suffer indefinitely. The same pitch to China forms a carefully scripted sequence of "graduated response" by the US and, for now at least, that pitch seems to be working rather superbly.

    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 IAEA and the new world order
    (Feb 3, '06)

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

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

     
     



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