by Zafar Bangash (World, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 2, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1427)
America’s anti-Iran rhetoric, already intense, has gone into overdrive since the release on March 16 of US President George Bush’s second report on national security strategy. It reads more like an anti-Iran diatribe than a serious analysis of the US’s situation under Bush.
This became clear during the brief question period after Bush spoke at Cleveland on March 20. Asked about the position of the US in Iraq, Bush lashed out instead at Iran but could not offer a convincing reason why. "The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel," he said. So there was no direct threat to the US, as he and his officials have been screaming from every podium for several years; it is Iran’s alleged threat to Israel. "That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace," he said after attempting to defend the disastrous invasion of Iraq to a skeptical audience. A clear majority —56 percent— in the US today believes that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake. Even the former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brezinski, called on March 22 for the immediate withdrawal of all US forces, saying that the US would need 500,000 troops to stabilize the situation, a number it cannot muster. He also called the war "too costly".
Despite these warnings from prominent Americans, Bush is acting like an enraged elephant, charging into another adventure, this time against Iran, that will invite even greater disaster. "I made it clear, and I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally Israel," Bush said. With its military overstretched and mired in Iraq, such threats ring hollow. About Iran’s alleged nuclear programme, Bush said he hoped "to solve this issue diplomatically" with a "united message" to Tehran from Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, as well as Russia and China "hopefully". Clearly, Russia and China are not taken in by America’s sabre-rattling. The day after Bush’s speech in Cleveland, the UN Security Council postponed discussion of Iran’s nuclear programme because neither Russia nor China would cooperate with sanctions on Iran for its taking what they know are Tehran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which include the right to enrich uranium and to run a civilian nuclear-power programme.
Numerous US officials—vice president Dick Cheney, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, US ambassador to the UN John Bolton et. al.—have threatened Iran with "painful consequences" if it does not desist from its alleged path of nuclear weaponization. They have made ridiculous claims, projecting the Islamic Republic as the "greatest threat" facing the US, and insist that diplomacy must prevail to avoid military confrontation. Yet American officials continue by making hysterical threats to obstruct the very diplomatic options through the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that could make military confrontation unnecessary.
Imitating the propaganda campaign conducted before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Bush said: "If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self-defence, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack." Raising the bogey of weapons of mass destruction all over again, he said: "When the consequences of an attack with weapons of mass destruction are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize...The place of pre-emption in our national security strategy remains the same." This does not sound like diplomatic talk; this is belligerence for blackmailing and bullying purposes. Moreover, there is no threat, direct or indirect, to the US from Iran; there are no Iranian troops or ships on the borders of the US to threaten it. Instead, hundreds of thousands of American troops are stationed in bases around Islamic Iran.
At the heart of the US campaign is the allegation that Iran is making nuclear weapons, a charge that is denied vigorously by Tehran. Even the IAEA, the nuclear watchdog that doesWashington’s bidding, has rubbished the US government’s allegations, but is careful not to antagonize the cowboys in Washington. In his report to the Board of Governors on March 6, the IAEA director general Dr Mohamed ElBaradei admitted that during its three-year investigations in Iran "the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices." However, in order not to fall foul of the Americans, who want compliance with their demands, not rebuttal of them, ElBaradei said: "Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme." The IAEA director general clearly speaks from both sides of his mouth; Iran is either guilty of diverting nuclear material for weapons purposes or it is not. ElBaradei found no evidence in three years of intrusive inspections that went well beyond Iran’s obligations under the NPT, yet he still insists that there "remain uncertainties". This is not ElBaradei speaking but the Americans speaking through him.
The stand-off with Iran started in 2003, when Washington accused Tehran of making nuclear weapons; the propaganda campaign was actually launched by Israel to vilify Iran soon after the US invaded and occupied Iraq. The conventional wisdom at the time was that once Iraq was pacified, which the Americans assumed would be in a matter of months, Iran would be their next target; hence the shrill propaganda campaign. Iraq has not turned out to be quite the "cakewalk" that optimistic American officials had assumed it would be, but they have not abandoned their mischief-making and continue with their anti-Iran propaganda.
To demonstrate its goodwill, the Islamic Republic entered into serious negotiations with the IAEA, as well as Britain, France and Germany, to try to resolve the issue. As part of confidence-building measures, in December 2003 the Islamic Republic announced the unilateral suspension of uranium enrichment, but made it clear that this was a temporary measure. It demanded that the Europeans come up with specific proposals to meet Iran’s legitimate needs. Also, Iran agreed on a temporary basis to adhere to additional protocols, thereby allowing intrusive inspections by the IAEA as well as allowing the installation of surveillance cameras. Its nuclear material was put under IAEA seals.
Under the NPT, Iran has an unfettered right to uranium enrichment on its own territory. After two years of fruitless negotiations, and having received nothing for its goodwill gestures, Iranannounced last January that it was resuming enrichment at its facility in Natanz, but did not proceed without first notifying the IAEA so that its inspectors and cameras could be in place. The Western media, acting as cheerleaders for American propaganda, have deliberately withheld this information from their readers. Iran is accused of reneging on its "promises" by walking out of the additional protocols regime. According to the IAEA’s own report of March 6, at least 34 states that are party to the NPT have not yet fulfilled their Article III obligation to bring into force comprehensive safeguard agreements with the Agency, and 118 states do not have additional protocols in force. So the question is why Iran is being singled out when the vast majority of NPT signatories, according to the IAEA itself, are at least as guilty as Iran. This has much more to do with politics and US gangsterism than legality.
While the US targeted Iran for its alleged nuclear-weapons programme (which, according to the US National Intelligence Estimate of summer 2005, may take ten years to achieve weapons even if it were to begin work immediately), Washington went ahead and on March 3 signed an agreement with India, a non-NPT signatory, to provide it with nuclear fuel. India possesses nuclear weapons and has not agreed to make no more, yet this has not deterred Uncle Sam from signing an agreement, in clear violation of its own NPT obligations. National and financial interests rather than principles are involved here. America’s allies—India, Israel and others—can do no wrong; its enemies can do nothing right.
The US is trying to change the NPT’s rules unilaterally by exerting pressure on Iran to abandon uranium enrichment. Tehran has very good reasons to be wary of this and of attempts by countries like Russia to offer to enrich uranium for Iran on their own soil. If, after Iran has invested billions of dollars in nuclear power plants, the Russians were to renege on their agreement to supply fuel, that would leave Iran in severe difficulties. This is not a frivolous question; Iran cannot obtain spare parts for its US-manufactured civilian aircraft although it is entitled to do so under its commercial agreement with Washington. This has led to several plane crashes, with tragic loss of life, because the US has imposed an embargo on spare parts. Why Iran should trust its energy future to outside powers, when according to NPT it has a complete and unlimited right to enrich uranium on its own soil, no one bothers to try to explain.
To prove his country’s good intentions, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad announced on February 26 that "not only Middle East but the whole world should be nuclear free", yet such assurances have fallen on deaf ears. Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei, the Rahbar, has even issued a fatwa against making nuclear weapons. American propaganda, dutifully parroted by a subservient media, continues to make scurrilous allegations against Iran. US ambassador John Bolton, the most undiplomatic diplomat at the UN, continues to threaten Iran with dire consequences, using expletives that make the vulgarity of Dick Cheney seem polite.
When Bolton threatened Iran with "harm and pain", President Ahmedinejad shot back: "They know that they are not capable of causing the least harm to Iranian people. They will suffer more." The Americans cannot find a way out of Iraq, where more than 72 percent of its troops, according to a poll by Zogby International, want to get out by the end of this year; so theUS government’s threats against Iran ring distinctly hollow. The announcement in mid-March by Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador in Iraq, of talks with Iranian officials about Iraq is a clear indication that the US needs Iran’s help. Islamic Iran should not make it easy for Uncle Sam to extricate himself from the mess in Iraq unless he is prepared to improve his atrocious behaviour. Teaching him a lesson or two about good manners would be no bad thing, either, for Uncle Sam or for the rest of the world.