By taking a firm and principled stand over its right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has forced the US to blink.
The meeting on November 24 of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna was a far more civilized affair than the bellicose threats issued by the same body two months earlier. The US and its European allies—Britain, France and Germany—took refuge behind the excuse that they wanted to give more time to Moscow's proposal, whereby Tehran would convert uranium ore into gas within the country but the next step—enrichment into fuel—would be done in Russia. Javad Vaeedi, deputy secretary-general of Iran's National Security Council, said in Vienna after the meeting that he had not heard officially from the IAEA but any proposal that respected Iran's right to enrich uranium would be welcome.
Yukia Amano, Japanese ambassador and chairman of the 35-member board of governors of the IAEA, said that Russia would meet with Iranian representatives on December 6 to work out a "compromise". He also said that there was no move at present to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. The West's climbdown was announced by Peter Jenkins, Britain's ambassador, who tried to cover the retreat by saying that Iran must grasp this opportunity because it might not be available in all circumstances.What had happened during the last two months to make the Western powers see reason? It was Iran's firm stand that it was not going to abandon its right to enrich uranium on its own territory, coupled with a call from Iran's Majlis (parliament) that the government should suspend all voluntary steps taken during the last three years for confidence-building if the IAEA referred Iran to the Security Council, that forced the US and Europe to climb down.
It would, however, be unwise for Iran to lower its guard. The US's policies are not guided by principles, only by what it demands others do in order to uphold its own interests. Those who challenge US hegemony are targeted and threatened with war, including the use of nuclear weapons. Had the US not been stuck so badly in Iraq, it would probably have attacked Iran by now. There are strong hints that Syria, an ally of Iran, may be hit first because it is considered a softer target. For more than six months, US Army Rangers and Special Operation Delta Forces have been launching attacks inside Syria, killing a number of Syrian soldiers. For domestic reasons, Damascus has downplayed these attacks on its territory.
With British, French and German backing, the US has used the IAEA as a battering-ram to force Iran to do a nuclear strip-tease. Washington has been barking about Iranian non-compliance of its NPT obligations even while a number of experts have challenged such assertions. Jorge Hirsch, Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego, for instance, writing for the website Antiwar.com (November 2), refers to the detailed analysis of Gordon Prather on the same website, which debunks US allegations and shows "Iran's ‘violations' did not then  nor do now amount to "non-compliance"." The IAEA, referred to as the nuclear watchdog, is in reality an American pitbull that is unleashed against any country that dares stand up to the US. Hirsch argues that US posturing and propaganda are designed to project Iran as a "rogue state" in the manner of Iraq in order to have a pretext, however flimsy, to attack Iran militarily, including with nuclear weapons.
Iran's firm stand, however, has forced the US to resort to other means. On November 18, US president George Bush in a meeting in South Korea with Vladimir Putin, his Russian counterpart, accepted the proposal that Iran's nuclear enrichment, to which it is entitled as a signatory to the NPT, be done in Russia. Both US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and Bush's National Security Advisor, Stephen Hadley, immediately described this as a "reasonable compromise". A similar proposal by Tehran last August, that it was prepared to allow its uranium-enrichment to take place in South Africa, had been dismissed out of hand. What is America's agenda and why is it so determined to deny Iran even its legitimate rights, when Washington itself is in violation of its treaty obligations by its providing nuclear fuel to India (which is not a signatory to the NPT), which has surreptitiously made nuclear weapons? The USis also silent about Israel's nuclear arsenal, which is a major obstacle to peace in the Middle East.
It would be tempting but simplistic to blame only the right-wing Bush administration for such blatant hypocrisy; however, successive US governments have been as brazen. Some were a little more subtle than others, but the overall thrust of US policy has been consistent: to project raw power and to prevent others from challenging its hegemony. Iran is viewed as particularly problematic because it has successfully resisted US attempts to undermine its Islamic system of governance and force it to follow the US-zionist agenda in the Middle East.
Equally brazen have been some segments of the US media, especially the New York Times, that act as mouthpieces for American propaganda without regard to journalistic ethics or standards. Judith Miller's articles in the Times in September 2002 about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were based on White House propaganda handouts, to prepare public opinion to support the attack on Iraq. The allegations were false. Miller spent 85 days in jail earlier this year for refusing to divulge her source regarding the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent, but the true significance of her involvement with government officials was skirted. Plame is the wife of US ambassador John Wilson, who had debunked claims that Iraq had obtained yellow cake (uranium) from Niger to make nuclear weapons. It was J Scooter Libby, the now-disgraced chief of staff of US vice president Dick Cheney, who exposed Plame's identity to Miller in order to target Wilson. Nobody has talked about the impropriety of such a close relationship between Miller and White House officials or the falsehoods that were perpetrated through her columns.
Two other Times correspondents have now become willing tools, like Miller, in projecting US propaganda against Iran. David E. Sanger and William J. Broad in their articles (November 13 and 18 respectively) have used such expressions as anonymous "American intelligence officials", "officials" in the Bush administration and so on, to present the "strongest evidence yet that, despite Iran's insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful, the country is trying to develop a compact warhead." Sanger and Broad's November 13 article was headlined: "Relying on Computer, U.S. Seeks to Prove Iran's Nuclear Aims".
The report contained allegations of secret Iranian plans to obtain a nuclear warhead based on information gleaned from a "stolen laptop computer". Where the laptop came from these anonymous "American officials" would not say, but the story has been around since mid-2004. Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Raza Asefi dismissed it as nonsense, saying, "We do not use laptops to keep our classified documents," according to Reuters. No US official is prepared to say on record that the laptop story is authentic, but the media's barking dogs have run away with it. Even the IAEA, which acts as a front for the US, has refrained from referring to it. On November 18, when the IAEA director, Dr Mohamed El-Baradei, submitted a report to the board, he did not mention the laptop story. When his attention was drawn to the Sanger-Broad report in the New York Times, his reply was quite revealing: his agency, he said, was bound to "follow due process, which means I need to establish the veracity, consistency and authenticity of any intelligence, and share it with the country of concern." In this case, he added, "That has not happened." Last August, the Washington Post had already dismissed the laptop story when it wrote: "Administration officials have asserted, but have not offered proof, that Tehran is moving determinedly toward a nuclear arsenal."
More damning have been comments by David Albright, a nuclear arms expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, who said that Sanger and Broad had got the basic facts seriously wrong. In fact, he went so far as to accuse Broad of journalistic malpractice. Albright said: "William J. Broad and David E. Sanger repeatedly characterize the contents of computer files as containing information about a nuclear warhead design when the information actually describes a reentry vehicle for a missile. This distinction is not minor, and Broad should understand the difference between the two objects, particularly when the information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead."
Neither US officials nor journalists, however, are constrained by factual errors. They follow a common script whose objective is to create an environment in which the US government will be able to convince the American public that it is acting in the best interests of the US. Given the US experience in Iraq and the pack of lies on which the war was launched, it has made the American public wary of such claims. Anti-war sentiment is running high—53 percent of Americans oppose the war now—and Bush's approval rating has plummeted to 36 percent, but it is precisely at such times that the warmongers in the government are likely to strike in order to divert attention from their lies and failures. The US, through the IAEA, has now demanded that Iran provide access to Lavizan, a military base, as well. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said that the IAEA should justify its request for access to Lavizan. "We cannot accept this demand just because they wish it, especially since Lavizan-Shian is a military complex," the Islamic Students News Agency quoted him as saying.
Even while US officials and media outlets continue to talk about Iran's non-compliance with NPT, the US game-plan is clear: to deprive non-nuclear states, especially Muslim ones, of access to nuclear energy, and deny them "negative security assurances"; i.e. commitments from nuclear states not to use nuclear weapons against them if they sign up to NPT. Nuclear states have been notoriously reluctant to make such pledges, despite being under political and legal obligations under UN security council resolution 984, which was passed in 1995. This resolution formed the basis for non-nuclear states to extend their adherence to NPT requirements for another 10 years. Last May, when the NPT came up for review, the US deliberately sabotaged the UN conference by refusing to make any pledges to reduce its own arsenal, while demanding that non-nuclear states extend their commitment for another decade. The US(with 10,000 nuclear warheads) has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world and is a major threat to global peace.
Given the US's horrible record in using nuclear weapons—in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, when Japan was already discussing surrender and more recently in Iraq, where it used depleted-uranium shells, causing tens of thousands of deaths— it is not surprising that non-nuclear states do not want to leave themselves exposed to US blackmail.
Iran would be well advised to remain vigilant and not accept assurances from outside powers. There is no substitute for one's own strength. Smaller states must learn from the example ofNorth Korea and Iraq: the former was spared attack because it was feared it might be have nuclear weapons, and the latter was destroyed because it did not.