Iran sanctions as good as 'used tissue'
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
NEW YORK - The nuclear standoff on Iran is bound to deepen, aggravated by new
United Nations sanctions on the Islamic republic and the United States digging
in its heels against an alternative diplomatic plan that was designed to defuse
The United Nations resolution for a fourth round of sanctions, voted in by the
Security Council on Wednesday, calls for the inspection of vessels suspected of
carrying materials, setting the stage for military incidents at sea between
Iran and the US Navy. With Brazil and Turkey, the architects of a nuclear-swap
deal with Iran, voting against it, the resolution also removes any pretence of
unified global support for coercive diplomacy on Iran.
"The sanctions you pass should be thrown into the trash bin like a used
tissue," Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said
immediately after the vote, according to the state-run Iranian Students News
Agency. "The realm of politics has become one of deception."
The Security Council, in a resolution supported by all five of the
veto-wielding permanent members (the US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and
China) was passed 12-2, with Lebanon abstaining, despite strong US lobbying.
Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria and Uganda all
backed sanctions. But the members failed to give the US what it needed most in
diplomatic terms: a unanimous vote.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva accused the Security Council of
acting out of "obstinacy" in accepting the US-drafted sanctions, "instead of
bringing Iran to the table", the official Agencia Brasil news agency quoted
Lula as saying. The Security Council had "thrown away a historic opportunity to
negotiate calmly over the Iranian nuclear program".
Warning of an unwanted spiral reminiscent of the fiasco that led to the
invasion of Iraq in 2003 over its alleged weapons of mass destruction, Brazil's
representative in the council was pointedly critical of the West's disregard
for the opportunity for a breakthrough provided last month by the Tehran
declaration between Iran, Turkey and Brazil regarding a swap of fuel for Iran's
medical reactor in the Iranian capital. The agreement to transfer some of
Iran's nuclear fuel to Ankara was not acceptable to the US, despite its
similarity to a plan to transfer fuel to Russia and France, which Washington
had earlier endorsed and Iran rejected.
Turkey was also adamant about the wisdom of giving diplomacy a chance through
the fuel-swap deal. The US and its allies say Iran is trying to produce nuclear
weapons, while Tehran says its nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes.
Articulating the US's position, Susan Rice, the US permanent representative to
the UN, dismissed the relevance of the swap deal to the "fundamental issues" of
the Iran nuclear program, this while letters by the US, France and Russia in
response to Iran's acceptance of the nuclear fuel swap deal reflected a serious
change of approach compared to last October, when an International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) draft proposal was accepted by these powers without
preconditions. Their new position now focuses on Iran stopping all enrichment
activities before any swap of nuclear fuel can take place.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denounced the UN decision as a
"leap backward" and elaborated that "on the diplomatic chess set, we had
coordinated our move based on confidence-building, reflected in the Tehran
China said on Thursday the punishment did not mean the door to a diplomatic
solution was closed and called for renewed efforts at negotiations.
"China always holds that the correct way to address the Iranian nuclear issue
is through dialogue, negotiation and other diplomatic means to seek a solution
that satisfies the concerns of all parties," Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin
Gang said in a statement. "The fact that the UN Security Council passed the
resolution does not mean the door to diplomatic efforts is closed."
Ahmadinejad was due to arrive in China on Thursday to tour the World Expo in
Shanghai. He was not expected to hold talks with Chinese leaders.
In a rare rebuke for China, one of the Islamic republic's major trading
partners, Tehran hit out at Beijing for finally backing the sanctions.
"China is gradually losing its respectable position in the Islamic world and by
the time it wakes up, it will be too late," Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar
Salehi told ISNA news agency. "There was a time when China branded the US as a
paper tiger. I wonder what we can call China for agreeing to this resolution."
Beijing and Moscow - which both wield Security Council vetoes - only came into
line after months of bargaining in which they watered down the resolution to
protect their energy and economic interests in Iran.
In remarks from the White House, President Barack Obama described the Security
Council resolution as "the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian
"It sends an unmistakable message about the international community's
commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons," Obama said. "So, there's
no double standards at play here," he added, trying to implicitly respond to
longstanding charges that Israel is not held to the same standards as Iran.
"We've made it clear, time and again," said Obama, "that we respect Iran's
right, like all countries, to access peaceful nuclear energy."
That's a right embedded in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he
declared. The Iranians, however, have pointed out that Israel is not a
signatory to the NPT, but Iran is. And Iran has also consistently taken the
position it is developing nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons.
Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public
Accuracy, was critical of the continued double standards on nuclear
"It's not too convincing to claim to support the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free
Middle East while winking and nodding at Israel's sizeable nuclear arsenal," he
told Inter Press Service. "The region should be de-nuclearized. That is our
best hope for halting proliferation and stabilizing the spiral of existential
threats, real or imagined."
The selective invocations of the NPT, he pointed out, go only so far before
many people notice the hypocrisies involved. "Do as we say, not as we do has
never been a very convincing stance".
Alaedin Boroujerdi, head of parliament's commission on foreign policy and
national security, described the US-led march to new sanctions and disregard
for Tehran's acceptance of the fuel swap agreement as "illogical and
unacceptable", and warned of stern reactions from Iran.
"Iran is of course very concerned about these new sanctions and if this is
followed by a rejection of the Tehran declaration, the government may stop all
cooperation with the IAEA altogether," said a Tehran political analyst at a
think-tank, adding that the failure of the UN nuclear watchdog to heed its
technical responsibility to assist Iran with the Tehran medical reactor was
likely to be perceived as "the straw that breaks the camel's back'' in Tehran.
''People will ask why bother with the IAEA when the IAEA is hostage to the
political whims of western capitals?"
The IAEA continues to insist on being given access to verify "the absence of
any undeclared nuclear material or activities", to paraphrase the agency's
chief Yukiya Amano. This is tantamount to unique, heightened standards of
inspection, rationalized by Amano explicitly labeling Iran as a "special case".
The IAEA's verification is an "onerous demand", according to Iran's envoy to
the agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who at the recent NPT review conference in
New York, pointed out that some 4,000 inspector days of inspection at Iran's
facilities did not produce any evidence of the diversion of nuclear material
for military purposes.
The new round of sanctions puts emphasis on banning the transfer of
conventional armaments to Iran, although full implementation by the
international community is doubtful - given the wealth of loopholes and
availability of arms through the lucrative black market. It would also
exacerbate Iran's national security, especially in the Persian Gulf region
where Iran's Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are
advantaged by the West's sale of cutting-edge military technology including
sophisticated fighter jets.
In the long run, an Iranian perceived imbalance in a regional arms race may
actually spur rather than retard any nuclear proliferation tendency, thus
serving as yet another example of self-fulfilling prophecy whereby in the name
of countering Iran's proliferation, Western nations indirectly nurture it
through coercive and punitive policies.
In the short run, however, given the absence of "crippling sanctions", the
incremental heat of the Security Council's resolution will be bearable by Iran,
thanks to its ability to withstand sanctions for more than 30 years and a savvy
regional diplomacy that has produced close friends and allies in the region and
In fact, given that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Tehran
declaration as a "step forward", the negative response by the US on the fuel
swap is likely to exacerbate North-South tensions within the UN community.
Many Third World diplomats are convinced Iran is being punished for daring to
stand up to Uncle Sam, with an African diplomat telling the author at the
recent NPT conference that in his opinion and the opinion of many of his
African colleagues, Iran was "setting a unique example" of how to act
independently in the international arena. The question the diplomat posed was
whether or not Iran has been paying "too big a price" for this?
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.