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    Middle East
     Sep 7, 2007
COMMENT
US trashes Iran agreement at own peril
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

This week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was thoroughly trashed by the Western media over its recent agreement with Iran, an agreement that, ironically, was warmly embraced by the majority of nations that are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). The North-South gap has turned ballistic, and there is no bridge over this troubled water.

"NAM respects the recent report by the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Iran," the Cuban foreign minister and 



current head of NAM, Felipe Perez Roque, told the press after the conclusion of a two-day NAM summit in Tehran.

The ministerial meeting was a timely shot in the arm for Tehran, which hopes to avoid a new round of United Nations sanctions come this autumn, even though British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has warned that new sanctions are inevitable if Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program.

Not surprisingly, little if any of the praise for the IAEA heard at the NAM summit has been echoed in the United States, which is keen on maintaining the delicate coalition at the UN that brought the first two anti-Tehran resolutions and yet is concerned that the IAEA's agreement with Iran could, in the words of a Washington Post editorial, give China and Russia "a pretext to resist another UN sanctions resolution".

Iran and the IAEA agreed last month on a plan of action that is supposed to remove all technical ambiguities surrounding Iran's nuclear projects and serve as the basis for a political settlement between Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana.

The Post editorial places the blame squarely on the IAEA's "rogue regulator", ElBaradei, currently vilified as "self-serving" and feeling free to "use his agency to thwart their [ie, Security Council and IAEA] leading members, above all the United States."

Another editorial, in the Chicago Tribune, has parroted the criticisms of a nuclear expert, David Albright, calling the Iran-IAEA agreement a "bad deal". According to Albright, the "most glaring flaws" of the agreement are as follows: there doesn't seem to be any way to verify Iran's claims because under the agreement, the IAEA isn't given access to "key people, facilities and documents", unless Iran volunteers them. And the agency potentially loses its right to reopen issues or ask follow-up questions, even if significant new information emerges.

We can safely assume that the IAEA officials, particularly those who brokered the agreement, such as deputy director Olli Heinonen, would take strong exception to Albright's criticisms. There is absolutely nothing in the agreement that would make the IAEA lose its right to ask "follow-up questions".

Nor is it true that the IAEA has not had access to the key Iranian nuclear facilities and the people running them. Albright has gone to the extreme of claiming that the IAEA has no method of verifying Iran's claims, again an unsubstantiated claim that is bound to be objected to by the IAEA inspectors who have chalked up more than 2,200 days inspecting Iran's facilities.

But as the Washington Post editorial makes abundantly clear, Washington has developed a serious grudge against the IAEA's chief and is by now fully determined to undermine his authority and, perhaps, to defang him, since it cannot simply remove him from office. Similar attacks on ElBaradei and the IAEA have transpired in other major US newspapers, raising the question of what exactly is behind them.

The answer is, in fact, straightforward: the IAEA-Iran agreement, providing a timetable for Iran to answer all of the IAEA's lingering questions, leaves Iran's uranium-enrichment program intact, and that is one concession too many from the perspective of Washington hawks and warmongers, who would much prefer to ignore any signs of an Iran-IAEA thaw that might culminate in Iran's file slipping back into the IAEA and away from the Security Council.

Concerning the latter, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesperson has stated that Iran may be inclined to readopt the intrusive Additional Protocol if the US consents to returning the Iran file to the IAEA.

Despite serious objections by the US, the IAEA has mapped out a plan of action that appears to be working in Iran's favor (for now) but which can be terminated at the United States' whim. The US is, after all, the lone superpower that can dictate and persuade (by using coercion). Or, it can think beyond hegemony and stay on the right path, by knocking on Iran's door for further dialogue.

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", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

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