Anyone care to take a stab at the reasons why the “international community” would expect Iran to permanently forgo all uranium-enrichment activities, and why this morning’s New York Times expressed shock over the fact that “Iran says it won’t”?
Sure. A bunch of possibilities come to mind.
And at least one of them is true:
1. Because as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—the “most universally supported international treaty,” the UN Secretary-General called it the other day—Iran has agreed to permanently forgo all uranium-enrichment activities.
2. Because there now exists a single internationally governed source for enriched uranium to which nuclear Have-Nots such as Iran can turn without having to enrich their own uranium.
3. Because all of the states which comprise the so-called Middle East have agreed that, in conformity with Article VII of the NPT and other high-level statements and resolutions adopted over the years, the Middle East really ought to become a “nuclear-weapon-free zone.”
4. Because the Americans say so.
We can dispense with Reason No. One without a second thought. What Article IV of the NPT actually states is the exact opposite. Namely: That all parties to the treaty possess the “inalienable right…to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination….” So as long as Iran—or any other nuclear Have-Not party to the treaty—remains faithful to the peaceful purposes condition, it remains within its inalienable right to enrich uranium.
(Quick aside. The constant rhetoric within the English-language media over the course of the past 24 months to the effect that Iran needs to forgo uranium enrichment as a “confidence-building” gesture means one thing, and one thing only: Appeasement of the Americans. Likewise with International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s comments this past week in Vienna, to the effect that the three most important steps for Iran to take right now are “transparency, transparency, and more transparency.” Ditto for when ElBaradei stated that Iran needs “to go out of its way, not just to play it by the book, but to be more transparent, to allow us to do everything we want to do, frankly, in terms of interviewing people, in terms with having access to documents, in terms of making transparency visits to facilities….” Here, “transparency” does not mean what any reasonable person would expect of Iran. Instead “transparency” means a state of apotheosis that the Christian God upon close inspection might find in Iran’s heart-of-hearts. Or Yahweh. Something unassailable. But also something unachievable.)
Similarly with Reason No. Two: Although the world’s states—the nuclear Haves as much as the nuclear Have-Nots—desperately need to develop a single, internationally controlled source for the entire nuclear fuel cycle (while also going well-beyond this in banning all military applications, along with instituting the inspections regimes required to enforce such a ban), currently there exists no independent source such as this for Iran to use. The Russian Government did sign a nuclear fuel-cycle contract with Tehran in late February to provide the uranium needed to run the Bushehr nuclear power plant now scheduled to come online some time in 2006. But thanks to the woefully non-existent steps towards internationalizing the control of nuclear fuel since the arms race began at the end of World War II, Reason No. Two is a non-starter. The New York Times must have been shocked for some other reason.
Well then: How about Reason No. Three: The commitment on the part of all Middle Eastern states to forge a “nuclear-weapon-free zone”? As a matter of fact, Reason No. Three is a serious possibility, as it applies not just to the governments of the Middle East but universally as well. Furthermore, the notion of a “nuclear-weapon-free zone” illuminates the central articles of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty—a treaty the overriding purpose of which was nuclear disarmament, let us not forget, not merely non-proliferation:
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective
measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear
disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective
Nothing in this Treaty affects the right of any group of States to conclude regional treaties in
order to assure the total absence of nuclear weapons in their respective territories.
Now. It has always been understood that there existed a nuclear arms race initially because the one state that was the first to possess and use nuclear weapons refused to surrender its monopoly to an international body whose task it would have been to monopolize the control of nuclear weapons over the heads of all states, rather than encouraging individual states to compete for their acquisition. Looking backwards from the far more complicated and dangerous world of today, the same kind of logic still holds: There can be no movement towards the curtailment of the nuclear arms race, let alone a general and complete nuclear disarmament, as long as the nuclear Haves seek to preserve the oligopoly they enjoy over the damned weapons, while impelling the nuclear Have-Nots to observe the skewed version of the NPT that Washington favors. The government of Iran fits into this overall equation somewhere—but only as a minor variable, as its true weight within the ongoing complex of the arms race is very small, compared to the weight of the nuclear Haves, the United States especially. It is only the ominous rhetoric about the nature of the Iranian threat that streams forth from Washington and then circulates within the English-language media that suggests otherwise. This—and the real-world dangers that the Washington regime poses to international peace and security, should it ever decide to act in conformity with its rhetoric.
This leaves us to consider Reason No. Four: Because the Americans say so.
Now, at last, we are getting someplace. Once again, the New York Times is shocked over the conduct of a foreign state because, well, because official Washington has expressed shock over its conduct—and the Times‘s shock happens to be in complete alignment with the shock expressed by official Washington.
In the American President’s words (March 3):
The guilty party is Iran. They’re the ones who are not living up to international accords. They’re the people that the whole world is saying, don’t develop a weapon. And so we are working with our friends to make sure not only the world hears that, but that the negotiating strategy achieves the objective of pointing out where guilt needs to be, as well as achieving the objective of no nuclear weapon.
First Committee: Disarmament and International Security, UN General Assembly (Woefully underserviced and out-of-date)
United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research
Disarmament Resolutions and Decisions of the UN General Assembly (UNIDIR)
In Focus: IAEA and the NPT (Good resource)
“Expert Group Releases Findings on Multilateral Nuclear Approaches,” IAEA, February 22, 2005
Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, George Perkovich et al., Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March, 2005 (For the PDF version of the same. And the accompanying Media Release)
2005 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, UN Headquarters, New York City, May 2-27, 2005
In Focus: IAEA and Iran
Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East (GC(48)/RES/16), September 24, 2004
Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran (GOV/2004/83), November 15, 2004
“Statement to the Board of Governors,” Pierre Goldschmidt, International Atomic Energy Agency, March 1, 2005
“Safeguards in Iran: IAEA Chief Stresses Need for More Transparency,” Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA, March 2, 2005
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty “True Cornerstone” of Global Security (SG/SM/9748), UN Secretary-General, March 4, 2005
“President Thanks CIA Employees,” White House Office of the Press Secretary, March 3, 2005.
“Realism on Iran,” Editorial, Boston Globe, March 3, 2005
“National pride is the spur for Iran’s nuclear ambitions,” Angus McDowall, Irish Times, March 3, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
“US says Iran is deceiving UN watchdog,” Irish Times, March 3, 2005 [$$$$$$—see below]
“U.S. Appears Poised to Support European Incentives for Iran,” Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2005
“U.N. Atomic Agency Pushes For Cooperation From Iran,” Richard Bernstein et al., New York Times, March 3, 2005
“Showdown looms over Teheran’s nuclear plans,” Jonathan Eyal , Straits Times, March 3, 2005 [see below]
“Iran accuses IAEA of leaking nuclear secrets,” Stephen Fidler and Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, March 4, 2005
“U.S. May Aid Iran Activists,” Sonni Efron and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2005
“On Iran, Bush Weighs a Joint Strategy With the Europeans,” Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 4, 2005
“Iran shows nuclear bunker mentality,” Michael Evans, The Times, March 4, 2005
“U.S. Wants Guarantees on Iran Effort,” Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 4, 2005
“A Better Iran Strategy,” Editorial, Washington Post, March 4, 2005
“U.S. Readies Aggressive Counterintelligence Plan,” David Morgan, Reuters, March 5, 2005
“US ‘missing its chance on Iran’,” Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 5, 2005
“Iran Says It Will Resume Enrichment if EU Talks Fail,” Nahid Siamdoust, Los Angeles Times, March 6, 2005
“Iran Says It Won’t Give Up Program to Enrich Uranium,” Nazalia Fathi and David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 6, 2005
“Push for Nuclear-Free Middle East Resurfaces,” Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 6, 2005
“Iran’s Dire Threat (It might be able to defend itself),” Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, October, 2004
“The Coming Wars,” Seymour M. Hersh, New Yorker, January 24/31, 2005
FYA (“For your archives”):
The Irish Times
March 3, 2005
SECTION: World; Pg. 12
HEADLINE: US says Iran is deceiving UN watchdog
The United States accused Iran yesterday of deceiving UN inspectors over its nuclear arms ambitions, in an attack diplomats said increased pressure on Tehran to accept European demands in talks this month.
France, Britain and Germany, which criticised Tehran for not fully adhering to its pledge to freeze all activities that could be used to make atomic weapons, are offering Iran economic and political incentives to terminate the most sensitive parts of its programme. Iran has so far refused.
President Bush has taken a harder line, calling for Iran to face UN sanctions, but hinted last week he may support the EU trio’s approach, for now, at least. Western diplomats said he had not yet made a final decision.
The US was likely to stop blocking Iran’s attempt to join the World Trade Organisation in a move to boost European negotiations to curtail Iran’s nuclear programme, according to European diplomats.
Washington is also considering letting European allies sell Tehran civil aircraft parts as an incentive, they said.
President Bush’s envoy, Jackie Sanders, told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors that Iran was “willing and apparently able to cynically manipulate the nuclear non-proliferation regime in the pursuit of nuclear weapons”.
The UN nuclear watchdog’s governing board had a “statutory obligation” to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, she said, according to a text of her speech.
“The Security Council has the international legal and political authority that will bring this issue to a successful and peaceful resolution.” She told the governors’ meeting that the council had the authority to “enforce a suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment-related and plutonium reprocessing activities”.
Tehran has temporarily frozen the programme as requested by the EU, though the IAEA said Iran has continued some work related to enrichment centrifuges during the freeze.
European diplomats told reporters such tough rhetoric from Washington would strengthen their position later this month in a new round of talks with Iran, which has so far rejected the EU’s demand that it abandon its uranium enrichment programme.
One diplomat said it was like a “good-cop bad-cop” approach.
US diplomatic documents show that if the US agrees to go along with its EU allies over Iran, it will do so only until June before seeking UN Security Council sanctions if Tehran has not acceded to the European demand that it terminate its uranium enrichment programme.
The head of Iran’s delegation, Sirus Naseri, said abandoning uranium enrichment was not a topic that would be up for discussion with the Europeans when they meet later this month.
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, speaking to state television on Tuesday, said Iran was not afraid of going before the Security Council.
“We are not interested in being referred to the Security Council … but we are not scared of the council either because we have been acting within the framework of international rules,” Mr Rohani said.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, investigating Iran’s nuclear programme for over two years, told reporters that Iran had to be more open if he was to conclude whether its programme was peaceful.
Ms Sanders referred to Tuesday’s speech by IAEA deputy director general Pierre Goldschmidt, who said Iran had rejected an IAEA request to inspect its Parchin military complex and was forging ahead with plans to build a heavy-water reactor that can produce bomb-grade plutonium.
The Irish Times
March 3, 2005
SECTION: World; Other World Stories; Pg. 12
HEADLINE: National pride is the spur for Iran’s nuclear ambitions
IRAN: Iranians have strategic motives for building the bomb, Angus McDowall reports from Tehran
International pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme stretches back to December 2002, when US satellite photographs prompted Tehran to reveal an advanced uranium enrichment programme that had previously been undeclared. The discovery crystallised US suspicions that Iran’s atomic energy programme was hiding an attempt to build the bomb.
Iran has been trying to develop nuclear power plants like the one planned at Bushehr since before the 1979 revolution, when Stanford University scientists advised Reza Shah to switch to the technology and free up crude oil for export.
Iran has electricity consumption growth of nearly 10 per cent a year while oil sales underwrite massive state subsidies and public employment.
But as Washington has more recently pointed out, the economic arguments for nuclear power are weak.
With the world’s second-largest reserves of both oil and natural gas, the US says Iran can more cheaply produce electricity with hydrocarbons. It charges that the 20,000 megawatts Iran wants to generate in nuclear plants could be powered by gas that is now burnt off. For Iranian nationalists, the issue is more straightforward: membership of the nuclear club is an old ambition whose realisation they believe will put Iran at the forefront of modernity.
Iran insists its programme is purely civilian and it opposes weapons of mass destruction. Both Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the Islamic republic, and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have spoken against developing a nuclear bomb.
During the 1980-88 war with Iraq, Iran forswore the use of chemical weapons despite suffering years of Iraqi poison gas attacks.
“We give our guarantee that we will not produce nuclear weapons because we are against them and do not believe they are a source of power,” Iranian president Mohammed Khatami told European diplomats in February. “But we will not give up peaceful nuclear technology.”
Its protestations of peaceful intent have fallen on deaf ears. While the US and Israel have publicly accused Iran of seeking the bomb, European countries have expressed the same fears in private.
Iran has strong strategic motives for atomic armament, which would act as a deterrent against attack from nuclear neighbours Israel and Pakistan and would enhance its reputation as a regional superpower.
The facilities it is developing also go beyond the strict needs of its declared programme.
Once complete, the enrichment and equipment facilities at Natanz and Isfahan will be able to produce uranium enriched further than required for a power plant but very suitable for a bomb. The Arak heavy-water facility is also of questionable use for generating electricity and the technology was that used by North Korea in its military programme.
Western suspicions have been further aroused by Iranian obfuscation when dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The fact that its enrichment facilities were concealed – albeit legally – for so many years was compounded by Iran’s admission it had illegally imported traces of enriched uranium from China in 1991 for experimentation. More recent minor infractions have contributed to mistrust, although the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed secretiveness is no sure sign of bad faith.
For the Europeans, enrichment is the key. They say Iran can only prove its nuclear probity by giving up its legal rights to an enrichment programme. Iran wants to use its extensive uranium yellow-cake reserves to become self-sufficient in nuclear fuel. But the process of enriching this fuel involves technology that can be used for military purposes.
Iran insists it will never give up its legal right to a fuel cycle, but the Europeans have threatened to push the IAEA to refer it to the UN Security Council if it continues the enrichment process. In December, Iran agreed to freeze all enrichment and related activities while it continued negotiations with the UK, France and Germany. Although neither side has said it will surrender its core demands, both have indicated a willingness to find a solution.
“Enrichment suspension is the only way we can think of to ensure Iran is not making a bomb,” says a European diplomat in Tehran. “If they can find some other way to guarantee their honesty then enrichment will not be such a problem.”
More recently, attention has turned to the Parchin and Lavisan sites, where the armed militant group Mojahedin-e Khalq has accused Iran of carrying out enrichment activities. Satellite photographs subsequently showed large movements of soil at Lavisan, suggesting a clean-up operation. The refusal to open Parchin up to IAEA inspectors has caused the latest expressions of US outrage.
The Straits Times (Singapore)
March 3, 2005 Thursday
HEADLINE: Showdown looms over Teheran’s nuclear plans
BYLINE: Jonathan Eyal , Straits Times Europe Bureau
LONDON – IRAN faces a ‘confidence deficit’ with the world community’s worries about its alleged nuclear programme, declared the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after its Monday meeting in Vienna.
The organisation admitted that Iran is allowing its inspectors access to nuclear sites. But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei also noted the country’s significant past undeclared nuclear activities.
For the United States, which leads the opposition to Iran’s programme, the latest IAEA session produced nothing noteworthy; as Washington knows, the real showdown will be conducted elsewhere, and is probably still one year away.
Suspicions about the true nature of Iran’s nuclear programme abound. Why would a country with huge oil and natural gas reserves need nuclear reactors?
Iran’s explanation – that it intends to export electricity to its neighbours (which are not short of energy resources either) – is unpersuasive.
Also, for the generation of electricity alone, a safer, so-called ‘light-water’ reactor should be sufficient. Yet the Iranians insist on building a heavy-water reactor as well.
The distinction is crucial for, while both systems can be used to enrich uranium – a critical part in a military nuclear programme – a heavy-water reactor is a more efficient way to produce a bomb’s ingredients.
The questions continue: If all is above board, why did Iran fail to report its initial activities as required to do?
Finally, why does Iran need to have a laser enrichment facility, and why is it building a network of tunnels around its nuclear sites?
Again, quite apart from the fact that the tunnels were not declared to the IAEA, the current Iranian explanation – that they are intended for storage purposes – is laughable. Averaging a height of 5m each, they were clearly built to accommodate a processing facility, shielded from future international inspections or American air attacks.
Yet the US knows that, despite all these suspicions, it will encounter huge difficulties in persuading other governments, and world public opinion, that Iran represents a clear and present danger.
First, there is the question of credibility. Having gone to war in Iraq with the claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, Washington can hardly be surprised if similar claims about Iran are received with scepticism.
Yet, more importantly, there is the traditional problem of providing conclusive evidence about any covert nuclear programme. If intelligence services have precise knowledge, this usually comes from a single source, so closely related to the activities and therefore so valuable to spying agencies, that nobody would contemplate releasing it to the public.
The result is that the only information which becomes available is either incomprehensibly technical or just circumstantial, precisely the kind of material which cannot persuade public opinion.
And, by the time evidence hardens, it is often too late. The same international NGOs which accepted North Korea’s nuclear denials a decade ago are now refuting the evidence offered about Iran. They may be right this time, but they were clearly wrong before.
Either way, the US has no choice but to wait a bit longer, while appearing to explore all other options. Washington does not believe that the Europeans’ current diplomatic effort to stop the Iranian nuclear programme will succeed.
But, still preoccupied with Iraq and aware that he needs time to build the case against Iran, President George W. Bush signalled last week his acceptance of the Europeans’ initiative.
Although Iran is unlikely to become a nuclear power for years, US intelligence sources believe that a critical stage will be reached next year. It is then that the Russian-supplied nuclear reactor will become fully operational, and the Iranians will have to reveal some of their delivery capabilities by testing missile systems and key nuclear technologies.
Coincidentally, 2006 is also the year when the American military involvement in Iraq is due to be scaled down, allowing Washington to plan for other operations.
So, until then, diplomats will be allowed to continue talking, inspection reports will be written and, no doubt, United Nations resolutions will be drafted.
However, behind this diplomatic smokescreen, Pentagon planners are actively discussing their military options.
The effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons used to be confined to diplomatic and legal measures; it is now moving inexorably into the hands of the military. The current lull is therefore likely to prove fairly short.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it neatly, when she addressed the Europeans recently. An American attack on Iran, she said, ‘is not on the agenda’.
Then, after a brief pause, she added: ‘at this point’.
If Iran continues with its current programme, the question is therefore not whether, but when, a military operation will be launched.
The writer is Director of Studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a think tank in London.
The military options
US intelligence gathering
Already going on since last August, with drones overflying Iran and parachuted special forces agents inside the country.
Pros: Identification of ‘hardened’ nuclear sites, and of the dispersed facilities in eastern Iran. Also eminently deniable.
Cons: The capture of some US soldiers will be a huge embarrassment, and create legal rows with Congress.
Pinpoint strikes against up to 20 facilities, with sea-based missiles and fighter jets from airfields in the Middle East.
Pros: Although it is unlikely to completely eliminate Iran’s nuclear programme, it could slow it down by perhaps five years, enough – some argue – to wait for the collapse of the mullahs’ regime.
Cons: Iran will lash out by activating Shi’ite organisations, creating turmoil in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could also mine Gulf shipping lines, precipitating an oil crisis.
New Israeli submarine-based cruise missiles can use American satellite coordination to hit the same Iranian targets.
Pros: US can claim no involvement; indeed, Israel itself could deny any knowledge of the ‘mysterious’ strikes.
Cons: Iran will activate the Hizbollah militias in Lebanon against Israel, as well as Palestinian terrorist organisations.