Here we go again.
It’s easy to get confused about developments in Iran because the media does everything in its power to obfuscate the facts and then spin the details in way that advances American policy objectives. But, let’s be clear, the Security Council did NOT order Iran to stop enriching uranium. It may not even be in their power to do so since enrichment is guaranteed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). For the Security Council to forbid Iran to continue with enrichment activities would be tantamount to repealing the treaty itself. They didn’t do that.
What they did was “request” that Iran suspend enrichment activities so that the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) could further prove that Iran’s nuclear programs were entirely for peaceful purposes.
Iran, of course, did the only thing they could do: they graciously declined. After all, Iran followed every minute step that the Bush administration took in the long march to war with Iraq, so it is only natural that they would choose to take a different path. Why would they invite more intrusive inspections allowing the UN to ferret through every inch of Iranian territory in an attempt to uncover every armory, radar station, and missile site before the inevitable US bombing? Why would they endure the humiliation of being singled out and scorned for complying with the NPT when nuclear cheaters like India are rewarded with praise and offered banned nuclear technology by Washington?
The Security Council is looking for a peaceful way out of the standoff, so they are bending as much as possible, but, make no mistake, there will be no sanctions, no Chapter 7 resolutions, and no outright ban on Iran enriching uranium.
It won’t happen.
In fact, as nuclear scientist Gordon Prather reports, the Security Council actually confirmed Iran’s right to enrich uranium in a terse Presidential Statement which they issued after two weeks of deliberation:
The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of States Party, in conformity with articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.
Should we be surprised that not one newspaper in the western press printed this astonishing vindication of Iran’s conduct under the terms of the NPT?
The media routinely characterizes Iran’s behavior as “defiance”, as if anyone who stands in the way of American foreign policy is inherently evil. In fact, there is an important principle involved in Iran’s response that is never adequately explored. The right to enrich uranium is the central tenet of the NPT. That is why in the language of the treaty, it is referred to as an “inalienable right.” This point is oftentimes overlooked but it is crucial to understanding the true spirit of the treaty. Every nation is entitled to the full benefits of nuclear technology as long as they comply with inspections that ensure their programs are strictly being used for peaceful purposes.
There’s no way to strip “enrichment” out of the NPT and still have a treaty that means anything. Without the prospect of enrichment, there is no incentive for countries to join the NPT. The signatory would simply be accepting an apartheid system which rewards nuclear states without any practical benefits for the non-nuclear members. It is the right to utilize nuclear technology without developing nuclear weapons that makes the treaty attractive.
For the United States to say that they want Iran to forgo enrichment is the same as saying they want to unilaterally repeal the treaty.
For Iran, this is totally unacceptable. It is the equivalent of buying a car from a dealership only to discover that the steering wheel, engine, and transmission have been removed.
Iran has fully complied with the most rigorously monitored inspections in the history of the IAEA. They have willingly submitted to “additional protocols” negotiated with the EU-3 (Germany, France and England) as a way of allaying concerns about noncompliance and to build confidence among the members of the international community. Their eagerness to negotiate in good faith was intentionally subverted by the Bush administration which has stubbornly refused to provide any of the security guarantees that Iran sought in exchange for sacrificing its rights. Iran wants a non-aggression pact from the Bush administration, something that Washington is unprepared to offer.
At no point, have the inspections produced “any evidence” that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons or diverting nuclear material from its use in peaceful technology. This hasn’t stopped the administration from pursuing an aggressive media strategy to feed public hysteria.
Will it work?
Iran’s struggle represents a fundamental clash between the rights of individual sovereign states and an increasingly mettlesome superpower. No one disputes that the NPT allows its members to enrich uranium. The dispute is whether or not the United States can arbitrarily overturn international law and rescind a treaty for a nation it simply dislikes.
Treaties are the foundation blocks upon which the international order rests; without them we are doomed to an endless cycle of bloody conflicts. Iran’s demand that its rights be respected is in fact a defense of the basic principle which underscores civilization itself; that even the weakest among us can take refuge in the law. The Mullahs are right to think that that is a principle worth fighting for.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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