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    Middle East
     Mar 17, 2006
An Iran option the US prefers to ignore
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

After a week of internal wrangling culminating in a mini-split, with China and Russia unwilling to forge a united front with the other three permanent members of the UN Security Council on a strongly worded statement on Iran, the latter are proceeding anyway.

The US, France and the United Kingdom have submitted a draft text that, while it calls on Iran to comply with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolutions, reeks of legal nihilism.

The draft statement, now being debated among the 15 members of the Security Council, calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities and to maintain a "full and sustained

suspension", giving IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei two weeks to report on Iran's response.

It also calls on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA to resolve "outstanding issues" and to take the steps needed to "begin building confidence".

The last statement is rather strange, since the IAEA has always insisted that "verification is confidence-building". And in light of three years of robust inspection it is rather disingenuous of the sponsors of this text to imply that there has been no confidence-building on Iran's part. These involved about 1,700 inspection-hours and 20 other visits to military and civilian facilities at short notice beyond the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Equally questionable is the selectiveness with which the draft statement refers to IAEA resolutions and reports without once mentioning their acknowledgements of Iran's "steady progress", "access" and greater and greater transparency.

This was reflected in ElBaradei's candid statement in December at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that "over the past three years we have compiled a detailed picture of most aspects of Iran's past and current nuclear program ... we have asked that Iran provide additional transparency measures".

Hence, given that the IAEA has given a clean bill of health to very few countries and that requesting greater transparency is not exactly calling a member state in "breach of its obligations", one wonders how far the US and its European allies can run with this ball. Can the Security Council operate in a legal vacuum indefinitely?

To elaborate, the February 4 decision by the IAEA to complain about Iran to the UN did not cite two important articles, XII.C and III.B.4, in the IAEA statute that would trigger a "report [on] the non-compliance to all [IAEA] members, the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations".

Instead, in a compromise reached in London to get Russia and China on board, it was decided that the IAEA director general should "report to the Security Council" only on the need for Iran to build confidence in the peaceful nature of its program by (i) re-establishing "full and sustained suspension" of all its enrichment and reprocessing activities; (ii) reconsidering the construction of the Arak heavy-water research reactor; (iii) ratifying and implementing the Additional Protocol, and pending ratification to act in accordance with its provisions; and (iv) implementing transparency measures "requested by the director general which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol".

As Jean Dupreez at Monterey, California's Center on Non-Proliferation Studies has aptly noted, in the absence of any smoking-gun confirming an Iranian weapons program, the legal foundation for any punitive measures against Iran are lacking.

Mindful of these delicacies, the Non-Aligned Movement requested, at the conclusion of the most recent IAEA meeting this month, that Iran's case remain within the IAEA, a sentiment shared by both Russia and China.

To return to the legal nihilism of the Security Council, the draft statement cleverly seeks to sidestep the legal framework by pushing for a measure - full suspension of the fuel cycle - which the IAEA itself has demanded not as a right but as a "legally non-binding confidence-building measure". In other words, Iran has been asked to either "volunteer" to suspend its enrichment activities or be found in violation of the will of the Security Council.
Also, the draft text expresses the "conviction that continued Iranian enrichment-related activity would intensify international concern". There is, first of all, international concern about not just Iranian but any nuclear fuel cycle, which is why the IAEA has called for a universal moratorium on new enrichment facilities and the establishment of an international fuel bank.

But until that idea pans out, countries such as Iran, which has a track record with the IAEA since 1973, can meet this "expressed concern" only within the legal framework of the IAEA, that is, by implementing the terms of its bilateral safeguard agreements with the agency to put those concerns and anxieties to rest.

Yet, echoing the IAEA's latest resolution on Iran, the draft text currently circulating within the Security Council asks Iran to "implement transparency measures ... which would extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol".

At the same time, the drafters of this "presidential statement" have called on Iran to "promptly ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol". Yet, as per the above, the drafters are seeking measures beyond the Additional Protocol, thereby undermining its value.

This attitude, if it persists, given that the majority of IAEA member states have not adopted the Additional Protocol, will only undermine the IAEA's singular emphasis on the Additional Protocol and its hoped-for universal adoption.

All this belies the rosy prediction of former IAEA deputy chief Pierre Goldschmidt that "the Iran case provides an opportunity to improve the overall non-proliferation regime".

Goldschmidt overlooks the nightmarish scenario that the non-proliferation regime could suffer a lethal blow as a result of the Iran crisis, given UN head Kofi Annan's admission at the 2005 NPT review conference that the NPT regime faced a double crisis of "verification and confidence".

Clearly, the US double standard of differentiating "good proliferators", such as Israel and India, from "bad proliferators", such as Iran, must count as serious causes of this crisis.

Indeed, the entire non-proliferation regime may suffer as a result of this rule-avoiding approach crystallized in the draft text on Iran. If it is adopted and eventually proven as the first link in a chain of a "graduated response" by the Security Council, culminating in sanctions which prompt Iran to exit the NPT and the IAEA framework, it may have a domino effect. That is, it could lead other states, including several in the Middle East, to follow suit or, at a minimum, question the wisdom of their transparency with the IAEA.

Ironically, the so-called "outstanding questions" mentioned in the draft text have, in fact, been deemed as not outstanding and "normalized" by the admissions of ElBaradei. These include the foreign source of equipment contamination (via Pakistan) and the results of environmental samplings at some military sites.

Anomalies in the case against Iran
The US and Europe would be well advised to consider the anomalies in their article of faith, their self-constructed paradigm sheepishly followed by their "free and pluralistic press" regarding Iran's purported march toward nuclear weapons. Briefly:
  • In 1995, Iran voted in favor of the indefinite extension of the NPT.
  • Iran has been an enthusiastic supporter of the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and, in light of the required nuclear testing for any would-be proliferators, this raises the question of why would Iran take such steps if it is not in its nuclear interests.
  • Iran just reversed a two-year "voluntary and legally non-binding" suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities.
  • In Brussels in January, Iran put forward a six-point proposal that includes another two-year moratorium on uranium enrichment - a novel proposal dismissed out of hand as old news by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. The other points included Iran re-embracing the Additional Protocol by formally legislating for its adoption, and pursuit of an international fuel bank.
  • Another proposal, still on the table and submitted last March to the IAEA and the EU-3 - Germany, France and Britain - was for a contained, monitored enrichment.
  • Iran's leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a religious decree, fatwa , against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons, a position he and other leaders of the Islamic Republic have regularly reiterated.

    These points count as "anomalies" in the sense that they do not support the behavior of a would-be proliferator. Indeed, if that were the case, why would the Iranian leaders insist so much, and so frequently, on the un-Islamic and amoral nature of nuclear weapons?

    On the other hand, it is impossible to isolate the Iranian nuclear issue from other developments, above all the United States' desire to defang the Islamic Republic via the nuclear standoff by isolating it and, at a minimum, weakening it considerably. This would remove a major barrier to its planned visions for the "greater Middle East". These extra-nuclear considerations are often neglected in the West.

    Good news on the horizon?
    What is remarkable about the Iranian nuclear crisis is how close it could be to being resolved. Iran is willing to forgo large-scale enrichment and limit itself to a small cascade of centrifuges for research and development, in conjunction with assurances of a fuel supply, mainly from the Russians.

    The Russians dropped the ball on the way to Washington, yet there are strong indications that this proposal could resurface soon - if only the US would stop ignoring this option, which is viable for two main reasons.

    First, the military risk posed by such a small cascade is minimal as the fissile-uranium output of 168 centrifuges would be nowhere near enough to facilitate a weapons program.

    Second, the reason the IAEA favors this option is that agency safeguards would be in place and it would notice any change in Iran's agreed program.

    With the potential risks of militarization thus minimized, this option is distinctly preferable to others, including the military one, which without doubt would spur a clandestine weapons program on Iran's part. And this is not to mention the collateral damage on the world economy and other grim consequences.

    The cause of regional and world peace, therefore, dictates urgent attention to this viable option benefiting the cause of the overall non-proliferation regime.

    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. He is also author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction .

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

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