ElBaradei's last hurrah on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
On Monday, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei stepped down after 12 years as director general
of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), passing the torch at the
United Nations' nuclear watchdog to his Japanese successor, Yukiya Amano. The
sixty-seven-year-old Egyptian leaves behind a rich legacy punctuated with
setbacks and frustrations, especially in the case of Iran.
This is especially so in light of ElBaradei's description of a "dead end" in
dealing with Iran's nuclear program and his blistering criticism of Tehran for
failing to embrace his agency's "fuel-for-fuel" swap. Under this, low-enriched
uranium (LEU) would be sent
from Iran to Russia and France for further processing before being returned to
Tehran for use in a medical reactor.
Because of this last-ditch attempt to find a breakthrough in the Iranian
nuclear crisis, history will probably not judge ElBaradei very favorably, as
Iran would have had to ship out most of its stockpile of 1,500 kilograms of
LEU. Further, ElBaradei has informed the world press that "Iran's demand to
dilute the fuel pact was unacceptable because it could mean Tehran retaining
enough enriched uranium for use in a nuclear weapon".
ElBaradei, with his intimate knowledge of Iran's domestic politics, ought to
have been aware that both the high ceiling (approximately 80% of Iran's LEU)
and the specific non-proliferation nuance behind it made his proposal
essentially a non-starter. This raised Tehran's suspicions of a "clever
cheating game" aimed at dispossessing Iran of its much-prized strategic asset,
to paraphrase Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament (Majlis). He,
along with other deputies, reacted sharply to last week's IAEA resolution
rebuking Iran for its "secret" enrichment site near the city of Qom, known as
Fardow. Iran only recently officially revealed the existence of this second
"This resolution showed that their intention was not negotiation for reaching a
resolution but rather political cheating, otherwise they would have welcomed
Iran's early declaration about the Fardow center instead of using that as an
excuse for the resolution and the repetition of past baseless allegations,"
Larijani told the Iranian media.
As a result, the stage is now set for a sharp reduction of Iran's cooperation
with the IAEA, given Tehran's angry reaction to its perceived "unfairness" and
"political tactics" behind the said resolution.
Various members of the Majlis commission on national security and foreign
policy have questioned why ElBaradei, who visited Iran last month and openly
confirmed that his inspectors had found nothing problematic with the Fardow
facility under construction, should now sound so "disappointed".
Determined to show the world that threats and pressure do not sit well with
Iran, Tehran's main reaction to the IAEA's censure came in the form of
announcing plans to construct 10 new enrichment sites, a decision that Iran's
envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, clearly termed as "retaliation".
"Iran's decision on the 10 sites is not a political bluff," Mohammad Reza
Rahim, the first vice president, has insisted. This is while other lawmakers,
such as Seyed Ali Aghazadeh, have clarified that Iran is willing to enter into
joint ventures with other nations regarding these sites, citing the growing
regional need for nuclear fuel and Iran's ability to act as a supplier in the
nuclear market in the future.
"Iran's viewpoint is to continue its cooperation with the IAEA," Aghazadeh
stated, although other members of parliament, such as Mohammad Karamirad, have
called for reducing the level of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA.
"We are disappointed by ElBaradei's last moves on Iran before he left office,"
a Tehran University political science professor told the author, adding that in
his opinion, Iran was justified to be concerned about the issue of "objective
guarantees" for fuel delivery to Iran.
"He [ElBaradei] had no clue that Iran would never agree to sending its LEU to
Turkey, no matter how good the relations between the two countries, insisting
that Turkey is 'trusted by all parties'. But he ignored that this is a matter
of regional prestige and national pride and that was why Turkey was not an
option. So that was his first mistake. His other mistake was to dismiss Iran's
reasonable modifications in the proposal, instead of trying to convince the
other side that an imperfect deal is better than none at all," the professor
As a ray of hope, there are still powerful voices in Tehran favoring the idea
of shipping out several hundred kilograms of LEU in exchange for fuel for the
Tehran reactor, in light of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's statement while in
Brazil last month that the whole idea of a fuel swap had been initiated by
Iran. The question now is: is the deal dead, or simply on hold? And if the
latter, can it be salvaged?
According to a number of Tehran analysts, including Rahman Ghahramanipour of
the Center For Strategic Research, a Tehran think-tank, the IAEA resolution was
a "tactical ploy" by the "Iran Six" to bypass the Iranian demand for guaranteed
delivery of nuclear fuel. The six are the five permanent members of the United
Nations Security Council, the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus
The White House has reacted negatively to Tehran's news regarding new
enrichment sites and has warned that the "window of opportunity" to resolve the
nuclear dispute amicably is closing, with many Western diplomats warning that
an informal deadline by the end of 2009 has already been set.
"Iran should accept the hand that has been extended toward it," British Foreign
Secretary David Miliband said. Yet few in Iran see anything other than a
clenched hand in a velvet glove that seeks to dispossess Iran of its nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) right to possess a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle.
After all, several other countries - Brazil, Argentina, South Korea, Japan,
Denmark, etc - enjoy this right and, the Iranian argument goes, why shouldn't
Iran, which has placed its entire enrichment cycle under the full-scope
surveillance and safeguard measures of the IAEA.
Although Western media are awash with reports of Iran's "new isolation", in
light of China and Russia casting their votes against Iran at the IAEA, Iran
continues to have the support of the bulk of the developing world. This follows
the September 2006 Havana Declaration of the Non-Aligned Movement that
"reaffirmed that states' choices and decisions in the field of the peaceful use
of nuclear technology and its fuel-cycle policies must be respected".
Consequently, should the present escalation of tensions culminate in a new
round of UN sanctions on Iran, it is a safe bet that many member states of the
UN General Assembly will rush to defend Iran. A case in point is Brazil's
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who embraced the visiting Ahmadinejad
despite external and internal opposition. He stated, "We recognize Iran's right
to develop a peaceful nuclear program in compliance with international
Even Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his US visit last week,
echoed Da Silva's sentiment, while expressing hope that Iran would not "walk
down the path of proliferation". India, after having voted against Iran three
times, faces internal dissent on its stance that belies its endorsement of the
But, with Manmohan planning a Tehran visit in February, and some major snags
developing in the implementation of the US-India civilian nuclear deal that
frustrated Manmohan's intention of finalizing a strategic agreement with the US
during his Washington trip, it is not far-fetched to expect some modification
of New Delhi's stance on the Iran standoff; one that would feature a minor tilt
in Tehran's favor.
In conclusion, to return to ElBaradei and his legacy, historians will probably
find fault with his uncritical endorsement of the US-India nuclear deal as
well, since by all accounts that deal has weakened non-proliferation standards,
indeed, the entire NPT regime.
This is mainly because the de facto nuclear weapon state of India, now
acquiring a second-strike capability via its newly lunched nuclear-armed
submarines, is poised to acquire nuclear pre-eminence in the sub-continent,
dwarfing Pakistan's nuclear might and thus introducing a dangerous nuclear
Even the Australian government has backed away from an agreement to sell
uranium to India since "the safeguards have fallen short", and, yet, one would
not know that by listening to ElBaradei.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New
Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry,
click here. His
Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing
, October 23, 2008) is now available.