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    Middle East
     Sep 12, 2008
The next peace and false bells on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

As the November United States presidential elections draw near, the issue of the stalemate in United States-Iran relations looms large, given the continuing Iran nuclear standoff, the stated commitment of both presidential hopefuls, Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama, to disallow Iran from "going nuclear", and the spin by some pundits in the US and Europe that American voters should cast their votes for the candidate who can best handle the "unavoidable war with Iran".

Adding a brush of nuclear expertise to the Iran war mania of mostly right-wing Western (and Israeli) media, a number of US nuclear experts have put their own reputation on the line by

 

publicly claiming that Iran is engaged in "weapons-grade" uranium-enrichment and, in the words of former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay, has already completed "80%" of the nuclear weaponization process and is two to four years away from acquiring the bomb.

But where is the evidence that Iran "has also attempted to produce weapons-grade material" as Kay so boldly puts it in the opinion page of the Washington Post? For Kay, some aspects of Iran's nuclear program are "murky", but not this particular issue, which he refers to as an indisputable fact, citing such "alarming signs" as the detection by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors of "samples of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium".

Wait a minute though, what about the recent conclusion by the same IAEA inspectors, reflected in the latest IAEA reports on Iran, that have for all practical purposes turned off the alarm bells on all the "outstanding questions", including the origins of contamination of certain Iranian nuclear equipment with traces of highly-enriched uranium?

Are we really to believe that Kay has not bothered to read those reports, which state clearly that the agency has closed the book on this issue after conducting thorough investigation and concluding that Iran has been telling the truth about the foreign sources of such contamination (given Iran's purchase of used equipment from Pakistan). Moreover, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran's uranium enrichment, fully monitored by the IAEA, is up to 4%, that is, completely at a low grade.

The outright distortion of facts about Iran's nuclear program is alarming, seeing how respected nuclear experts such as Kay are willing to jeopardize their reputations and rehash a gourmet leftover by misrepresenting a still outstanding key question about Iran's nuclear program that IAEA inspectors have categorically declared no longer outstanding.

Unfortunately, Kay is not alone and a number of other nuclear experts in the US and Europe, such as Harvard University's Graham Allison, have made the same error (see the author's Myth of weapons-grade enrichment in Iran Asia Times Online, June 24, 2008).

Their argument that Iran is two or more years away from getting its first bomb is deeply flawed. It is like saying that Japan or Brazil are six months or so away from building a nuclear bomb, simply because they have the fissile material and technological capability. With Iran's nuclear fuel cycle under full IAEA scrutiny, confirming the ceiling on low-grade enrichment, the hypothetical clock for weaponization would begin the moment Iran scrapped its self-imposed ceiling and commenced the arduous process of high-enriched, weapons-grade, enrichment.

In such a case, this would be instantly discovered by the IAEA (which has made several unannounced visits at the Natanz facility recently). In other words, the world should start worrying when and if the IAEA is kicked out of Iran and Iran's nuclear activities continue without transparency. That simply is not the case today and Iran has pledged to abide by the terms of its inspection and verification agreement with the IAEA. Some Iranian officials have hinted that Tehran is even willing to re-adopt the intrusive Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)if Iran's file is returned from the United Nations Security Council to the IAEA.

Given the above, the drumbeats of the "next war" so perpetuated by, among other things, the stubborn myth of weapons-grade enrichment in Iran, will likely be inherited by the next US president, Republican or Democrat (given Obama's insertion of deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions in his "Obama doctrine").

However, the next chapter in US-Iran relations need not be written in blood and much good can come about by focusing on "the next peace" instead of the next war, even though peace is not half as appealing as war to some in the US corporate media.

The idea of "next peace" should begin with the assumption that the US and Iran have been in a perpetual war-like situation for the past 30 years and that it is important to properly contextualize this unhappy state of affairs from the prism of war, in order to arrive at apt formulas for peace.

Second, both sides should shelve the idea of any "grand bargain" that often naively assumes the possibility of resolving all outstanding issues between the two countries. As in the US's diplomatic relations with a number of Middle Eastern states and beyond, the restoration of direct diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, an important prerequisite for the next peace, can come about short of reaching an agreement on such difficult issues as the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Just as Washington has not severed ties with Moscow over its perceived Russian aggression in Georgia, the next US president can move the tectonics of "next peace" with Iran even in the absence of any agreement on a range of issues, such as Iran's support for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The "next peace" also hinges first and foremost on the nuclear issue and here the next US president would need to weigh the viable alternative of respecting Iran's NPT right to produce nuclear fuel as long as there are sufficient guarantees of the peaceful and non-military nature of this activity.

And in light of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's proposal for a regional or international consortium to produce nuclear fuel for Iran on Iran's territory, which would in turn provide further guarantees of Iran's peaceful "intentions", the next US president should focus on this option.

The "next peace" can come about by serious US and European attention to Iran's own package of proposals, recently submitted to the "Iran Six" nations (the UN's permanent five - the US, France, Russia, China and Britain - plus Germany), that pledges Iran's constructive cooperation in tackling regional and global issues and problems, such as terrorism, drug trafficking and regional security.

The US, currently spending upwards of US$50 billion a year on Persian Gulf security, would be wise to consider the windfall of the "next peace" in terms of lessening the pressure on the US for Persian Gulf security.

As part and parcel of the "next peace", the next US president ought to give a new boost to the presently dormant US-Iran dialogue on Iraq, by giving the go-ahead to the fourth round of this dialogue, irrespective of al-Qaeda's recent blast at Iran for collaborating with the US on Iraq and Afghanistan.

In conclusion, while there are no straight answers to the host of tough issues that bedevil US-Iran relations, but the necessity of avoiding another ruinous war in the troubled Middle East warrants a dramatic shifting of attention to "the next peace".

This can be done by exploring areas of (potential) agreement and shared interests and telescoping those to the fundamental question of how to recast US policy toward Iran in such a way that will replace the existing hostilities with sustainable peace. That is one issue the warmongering aspects of the US media are unwilling to seriously entertain.

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. For his Wikipedia entry, click here.

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