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    Middle East
     Dec 2, 2009
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 site.

"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 said.

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 Germany.

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 accords."

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 Havana Declaration.

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 imbalance.

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 latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available.

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