by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 34, No. 12, Muharram, 1427)
The West, led by the US and Britain, has worked itself into a lather over Iran's removal of seals from centrifuges at the Natanz nuclear facility to enrich uranium by turning it into a gas (uranium hexafluoride) as part of its civilian nuclear-research programme. The impression created by the West’s hysteria notwithstanding, Islamic Iran is not in violation of its treaty obligations, nor did it remove the seals surreptitiously; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was duly notified, and its inspectors were present when the seals were broken early last month. To demonstrate its peaceful intentions, a foreign ministry spokesman said on January 14 that Tehran was maintaining its suspension of “fuel production”, although it is within its legal right to produce fuel should it wish to do so.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice bared her fangs when she criticised Iran: “There is simply no peaceful rationale for the Iranian regime to resume uranium enrichment.” Her British counterpart, Jack Straw, also spoke in ballistic tones. The European trio—Britain, France and Germany—circulated a draft resolution on January 18 that calls on the board of governors of the IAEA to convene an emergency meeting on February 2 and 3 to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. Whether the 35-member Board will approve such a resolution, and if so (a big if) whether the Security Council will impose sanctions on Iran, are debatable. These dubious moves aside, US president George Bush and his neo-con advisors are not only pushing for sanctions but also hinting darkly that strikes might be launched against Iran. This sabre-rattling is taking place at a time when US forces are unable even to find a way out of the mess they have got into in Iraq.
One must wonder what Iran has done to send rational-seeming Western rulers into such hysteria. Has it violated its obligations under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by breaking the seals or by proceeding with research into other aspects of the civilian-purposes nuclear-fuel cycle? “There are no restrictions for nuclear research activities under the NPT,” as President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of Iran has pointed out more than once.
The issue of Iran's breaking the seals needs to be considered a little more closely. Why were Iranian centrifuges sealed when the NPT does not require such measures? After months of malicious allegations by the US and its allies, misrepresenting Iran's obviously peaceful nuclear intentions and activities, the latter agreed voluntarily to Additional Protocols in 2003 as a sign of goodwill and to show that it was being completely open and aboveboard about its nuclear activities. The NPT did not require Tehran to sign the Additional Protocols, but Tehran felt that such confidence-building measures would give the European trio an incentive to come up with specific proposals to meet Iran's legitimate need to continue its civilian nuclear-research programme. At the time of signing the Protocols, Iran made it absolutely clear that they were temporary measures, and that their continuation was contingent upon a satisfactory response from the Europeans. None was forthcoming; in fact, the Europeans misread Iran's gesture of goodwill as a sign of weakness and started to demand that Iran abandon permanently even its programme of research to achieve nuclear power for ordinary, everyday purposes (the generation of electricity for its national grid, for instance). Liars that the Western rulers are, they are now presenting Iran's breaking of the seals as a violation of its treaty obligations.
The experiments at Iran's nuclear facilities are fully safeguarded by the IAEA with cameras and inspectors present. Bush has claimed that these pose a “grave threat”, yet Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA chief, told Newsweek magazine after Bush's statement, “We don't see a clear and present danger.” Perhaps Bush knows something that ElBaradei does not; if so, he should present his evidence to the IAEA. Iran's activities are prohibited by neither the NPT nor its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, which is published by the Agency as Infcirc 214. Article 4 of the Agreement states: “The safeguards provided for in this Agreement shall be implemented in a manner designed: (a) To avoid hampering the economic and technological development of Iran or international co-operation in the field of peaceful nuclear activities, including international exchange of nuclear material; (b) To avoid undue interference in Iran's peaceful nuclear activities, and in particular in the operation of facilities…”
The article could not be clearer; it stipulates Iran's right to access to nuclear material from the international market as well as unimpeded access to economic and technological progress. Similarly, Iran is supposed to be free from “undue interference” in operating its nuclear facilities, a provision that the West is now itself violating.
It is true that Iran, like a host of other countries—South Korea, Taiwan, Egypt and so on—has failed to report to the IAEA a number of nuclear-related transactions and activities, but these have been thoroughly investigated by the Agency's inspectors, who were completely satisfied and therefore concluded that the relevant files could be closed. In his report to the IAEA board of governors on September 2, 2005, ElBaradei also noted: “all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities.” He noted, however, that the IAEA was not yet in a position to conclude that there are no “undeclared” nuclear activities taking place in Iran. This is both a contradiction in terms and entirely speculative (how could ElBaradei know if there were any “undeclared” nuclear activities? And how could there be any of those when there is no nuclear material unaccounted for?) and an attempt to protect his own position, in case major players on the board of governors—the US, Britain, Germany and so on—challenged his findings. What is worthy of note, however, is that this requirement did not stem from the safeguards agreement, but instead only from the Additional Protocols by which Iran had agreed voluntarily to abide in 2003.
Even the 35-member board of governors was manipulated by the US and the European trio last September into declaring Iran in “non-compliance” of its safeguards agreement under article XIIC of the IAEA Statute. That the IAEA and its board are no more than US guard-dogs unleashed against any country the US is displeased with is evident from the fact that the Agency was forced to disregard its own articles. For instance, article XIIC, as well as articles 18 and 19 of Infcirc 214, define non-compliance as diversion of safeguarded material for prohibited purposes. Iran has done no such thing, something Dr ElBaradei himself had confirmed in his report of September 2. ElBaradei's declaration that the IAEA is not yet in a position to declare that Iran has “no undeclared nuclear activities or facilities” is disingenuous. If such inability were to become grounds for reporting a country to the Security Council and threatening it with sanctions, then at least 106 other countries must also be referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions. They have either not signed or not yet ratified or implemented the Additional Protocols. Others—India and Israel, for instance— possess nuclear weapons and refuse to sign the NPT or any other safeguard agreements, yet the US is quite happy to trade with them and even supply them with nuclear material. Such mind-boggling duplicity is what the present Western-crafted world order is all about.
The US tops the list of Western hypocrites. It is the only country in the world to have used nuclear weapons, not once but twice: on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. And in the attack on Iraq in 1991 it used depleted uranium shells, resulting in an alarming increase in cancers and grotesque deformities among newborns in Iraqis. The US continues to possess the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear weapons: 10,000 warheads. This includes 5,735 active or operational warheads: 5,235 strategic and 500 non-strategic warheads. Approximately 4,225 additional warheads are held in the reserve or inactive stockpiles (Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January-February 2006; vol.62, no.1). Yet the US wants to deny others even peaceful nuclear research. Rice declared on January 17: “Iran must not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. It must not be allowed to pursue activities that might lead to a nuclear weapon and on that we are fully united” with the Europeans. This sort of thing certainly takes audacity, of which Westerners are clearly not short.
Both China and Russia have expressed reservations about sanctions against Iran; one reason is that they have deep oil and commercial interests there. “China doesn't like seeing sanctions and armed force being whipped out to resolve international disputes,” an analysis in the China Youth Daily said on January 18. Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was unwilling even to discuss sanctions on Iran. “Sanctions are not the best way to solve international problems,” he said, dismissing the suggestion as “putting the cart before the horse.”
Iran should not rely purely on the goodwill of these two, however; Tehran should become proactive and convince the IAEA board-members that their relations with it will depend on how they vote on the referral question. Iran has significant weight and influence; it should use them and not allow other countries to make excuses that they were pressured into toeing the USline. Endowed with enormous resources, it can stand on its own. The people of Iran, used to sacrifices, are willing to make even greater sacrifices on an issue that they regard as a matter of pride and self-respect. Similarly, Iran should not provide too much leeway to the US in Iraq; Tehran should make clear that any aggressive action by the US or Israel will meet with a fitting response, in Iraq and elsewhere.
Uncle Sam might well need a sharp slap in the face to bring him back to his senses.