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    Middle East
     Sep 17, 2010
Non-Aligned Movement backs Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

In a strongly-worded statement, representatives of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have supported Iran's position on the contentious issue of IAEA inspectors and have also expressed concern that the most recent IAEA report on Iran has "departed from standard verification language".

"NAM notes with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the director general [Yukio Amano]," the statement said. The statement was read during the IAEA board of governors meeting on behalf of over 100 NAM member states.

NAM's statement coincides with another statement, by the United

 

States envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, who raised the issue of two IAEA inspectors objected to by Tehran, at Wednesday's meeting of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on Iran.

Citing the IAEA's complaint that Iran's veto of the inspectors "hampers" the atomic agency's work on Iran, Rice, much like the Western envoys at the IAEA's meeting of board of governors, called on Iran to live up to its "international obligations".

Nevertheless, it may well be that the tables are beginning to turn and Iran is gaining the upper hand on this matter. This is in light of NAM's statement that calls into question both the IAEA report as well as the follow-up statement by Amano. He has asked Iran to explain its decision to bar two inspectors who were accused by Iran of providing false information and also leaking their findings to the Associated Press (AP), according to Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh. He told the author that the issue of leaking to the media had to be thoroughly investigated by the IAEA, adding that AP had confirmed that it received the information from the IAEA.

"The director general has written a blank check for the inspectors by stating he supports them one hundred percent, when in fact what he should say that he supports them as long as they perform their duties correctly," Soltanieh said.

A timely boost for Iran, the NAM statement challenges Amano by reminding him that Iran is within its legal right to object to certain inspectors and, what is more, does not have to "justify" its opposition.

This is perhaps the strongest expression of support for Iran by NAM , representing some 118 nations, and it could put Amano and the Western envoys at the IAEA on the defensive.

In addition to raising the issue of Israel's nukes and the IAEA's investigation of Syria's alleged nuclear site that was bombed by Israel in 2007, the 22-page NAM statement is sharply critical of Amano for accepting at face value Western intelligence information on Iran's nuclear activities.

It recalls that, in the past, the IAEA has confirmed that it has little or no "ability to authenticate" such information. It also questions the Amano report's inclusion of "sensitive information" on Iran and asks him to refrain from this practice, this while supporting Iran's position that the information it has provided on the uranium-enrichment facility known as Fordow corresponds with the IAEA's on-site inspections.

Another issue raised in the NAM report is that the IAEA has so far failed to provide "clarification" on its report's statement that while it has continued to confirm the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran, the agency is still unable to confirm that all nuclear material "is in peaceful activity".

In light of the absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material to clandestine military activity, this statement by the IAEA is tantamount to a departure from standard IAEA verification activity. That is, per article II of the Iran-IAEA safeguard agreement the sole purpose of the agreement is to "verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material".

As repeatedly pointed out by Iranian nuclear officials, the IAEA's demand that Iran should "prove a negative", that is, the non-existence of a hidden proliferation activity, amounts to an "onerous demand", one that is both difficult to fulfill and, more important, well beyond the scope of the said agreement.

According to Soltanieh, it is perplexing why the IAEA director general has exaggerated the issue of the two inspectors when there is already an agreement in place over two alternative inspectors. The answer may well be found in the absence of any veritable evidence, let alone a "smoking gun", to corroborate Western and Israeli allegations against Iran, thus forcing them to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

As for the IAEA's complaint that Iran cannot unilaterally withdraw from its (subsidiary) agreement with the IAEA, both Soltanieh and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, have explained that since the Iranian parliament never ratified the subsidiary agreement, this means it was never adopted by Iran, thus allowing Tehran to adhere to the earlier, 1974, safeguard agreement.

Echoing the NAM's statement that draws attention to the distinction between "legal obligation" and "voluntary measures", such as the Additional Protocol, Soltanieh has flatly rejected the allegation that Iran has breached any of its obligations. He cites the IAEA report's own admission that the agency has made more than 35 unannounced inspections of the Natanz enrichment facility since early 2007.

With a new pro-Iran momentum at the IAEA as a result of the NAM's stance and the glaring holes in the IAEA's attack on Iran over the issue of rejected inspectors, Tehran is now poised to further put the IAEA on the defensive over the so-called nuclear fuel swap. This was proposed by the IAEA itself last October and, yet, was ignored in Amano's latest report on Iran.

Both the IAEA and other participants in the Vienna Group (Russia, the US and France) are unusually quiet on this matter, despite news that most of the technical issues have been tackled in the ongoing Iran dialogue with the agency.

Moscow is reportedly pressing for another round of multilateral talks with Iran, urging the White House to resurrect its "Iran engagement" approach, which the White House may do now that one of the three American hikers held in Iran, Sara Shourd, has been released.

President Barack Obama has welcomed this news and, consequently, some tangible ice in the frozen Iran-US front may be melting, thus setting the stage for fruitful nuclear diplomacy this autumn.

Whether this will transpire depends on multiple factors, one of which will definitely pertain to the IAEA and its relatively new director general and his ability to steer the agency in a balanced direction. Otherwise, the international voices of criticism of his handling of the Iran issue will likely grow louder, putting the agency's credibility into question.

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. He is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and his latest book, Looking for rights at Harvard, is now available.

(Copyright 2010 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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