Last month the International Atomic Energy Agency adopted a resolution targeting Iran’s nuclear energy program. Specifically, 22 of the 35 delegates voted to resolve that Iran’s “many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement [voluntarily signed by Iran in 2003]…constitute non-compliance” with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and to claim that the “history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities” and “resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council.” They urged Iran to take five measures to avoid referral to the UN Security Council, most important of which is the “full and sustained suspension of [uranium] enrichment activity.” But the NPT itself guarantees to all signatory nations the right to enrich uranium, and some countries without nuclear weapons (Japan, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands) enjoy that capacity without international censure. To renounce that right would require Iran to voluntarily accept an inferior status, validating the vilification heaped upon it by Washington while also limiting its options for dealing with energy and security crises in the future.
The U.S. and presumably the yes-vote countries understand that Iran is unlikely to back down on its principled stand, insisting on its NPT rights. They thus set Iran up for dramatic confrontation with the U.S. and its allies on the Security Council, perhaps as early as next month. Meanwhile the Israelis insist that the U.S. do something about the “existential threat” Iran’s facilities supposedly pose to Israel, or threaten to attack them themselves, causing chaos throughout the Middle East. The Bush administration desires to create a situation in which it can say to the American people (1) not just we, and our Israeli friends, condemn terrorist Iran for its nuclear weapons program, but the world in general does as well, and (2) if we don’t act to destroy the threat, Israel will, so maybe we’ll have to. What the administration intends to do having contrived that situation is anybody’s guess. One might suppose that the bourgeoning antiwar movement, Bush’s deepening unpopularity, British rejection of an attack on Iran, and calculations concerning the impact of such an attack on the world and the Iraqi conflict might restrain the warmongers’ hands. But regime change in Iran is an integral part of their New American Century agenda, and the scandal-dogged neocons may feel the need to strike while the iron is hot.
Many people were puzzled at the IAEA vote. First of all, as physicist and regular antiwar.com columnist James Gordon Prather has repeatedly pointed out, there has been no evidence for Iranian noncompliance with the NPT since 2003, when Tehran admitted to developing a uranium enrichment program it had concealed from the IAEA. Iran had with U.S. encouragement begun a nuclear energy program during the reign of the Shah in the 1970s; it was suspended after the revolution in 1980, then revived with Soviet assistance in 1984. In 2002 a secret uranium enrichment program was discovered, but on a par with other clandestine programs technically in violation of the NPT (including that of South Korea), and yielding no evidence for a specifically weapons application, the discovery did not result in an IAEA referral to the Security Council. Rather, it led to an intrusive inspections program, to which the Iranians agreed, and to Iran’s signing of an additional protocol designed to alleviate fears about Iran’s program.
From the Iranian point of view, which Prather depicts sympathetically, the Islamic republic faced with unremitting U.S. hostility and efforts to sabotage existing contracts between Iran and Russia to develop its nuclear program, resorted to secret activities in violation of the NPT. The U.S., after all, having once egged on the Shah’s nuke program which yielded fat contracts to General Electric among others, has in recent years been fuming that Iran, with all its oil, has no need at all for nuclear power, period, and that any steps towards that technological goal are necessarily nefarious. Confronted with this enmity and with the historical example of Osiraq in mind, it is hardly surprising that the Iranians revived what was once a U.S.-backed nuclear program surreptitiously
But Iran came clean two years ago, revealing details about its program, and the IAEA has since refused to bring the case to the Security Council. The reason for last month’s IAEA resolution has nothing to do with developments in Iran’s program in the interim but rather with developments in the neocon scheme to reconfigure the Middle East. Since 2003, Germany and France joined by the United Kingdom, troubled by the prospect of an expansion of the neocon war for American empire to include Iran, have been negotiating with Iran to abandon whatever Washington wants to call a “nuclear weapons” program in return for normalized trade relations. (Note by the way how the complaint U.S. media refers routinely to “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” -- as though we absolutely know that what Iran repeatedly denies it has in fact exists? That’s objective journalism for you.)
Tehran suspended its perfectly legal uranium enrichment activities to pursue a dialogue with Europe, while the Bush administration conspicuously distanced itself from that effort and even disparaged it. But in March of this year Europe and the U.S. made a deal, in the context of a Franco-American rapprochement that has involved cooperation on Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire, Syria and Lebanon. The U.S. would back the European negotiations with Iran (knowing that the Iranians would probably not renounce what international law lets them do and thus meet the Europeans’ conditions) and agree not to thwart Iran’s bid to join the IMF or its efforts to obtain spare civilian aircraft parts. In return, the Europeans would agree to vote with the U.S. to refer Iran to the Security Council if Iran refused to give up its right to enrich uranium, and it would also add the popular mass-based Syrian political party, Hizbollah, to its list of “terrorist organizations.”
In other words, Europe despite the outrage of its people at the vicious assault on Iraq, capitulated to the U.S. on the matter of laying the basis for the expansion of America’s war to Syria and Iran. That doesn’t mean the Europeans will be on board a U.S. incursion into Syria or a missile attack on Iran; they may dissociate themselves entirely, or utter words of condemnation as the situation heats up. But “Old Europe” made the pragmatic decision to abet U.S. policy. Then John Bolton arrived at the United Nations, playing hardball with the world, using carrots and sticks to produce last month’s IAEA vote. Satisfied with the result, he’s now lobbying Congress to meet the U.S.’s financial obligations to the UN.
Here’s that IAEA vote. Voting for the selective censure of Iran were, aside from the U.S., all ten European NATO countries then represented on the 35-member IAEA (Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland); U.S. allies Australia and Canada; “neutral” Sweden; and Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Ghana, Japan, Republic of Korea, Singapore, and India. That’s 22 votes, four more than needed for a majority. No wonder Bolton’s bullish on the UN these days, seeing progress towards “reform.” Abstaining (which in this case means disagreeing but unwilling to incur too much U.S. wrath) were Algeria, Brazil, China, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Russian Federation, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen. Heroically voting against was only Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela.
Most notably in India, those voting yes have faced widespread criticism. The Indian government has had to take pains to explain that its vote was not anti-Iran -- Iran being a friend and partner -- but merely a vote to facilitate peaceful resolution of the controversy. But all shades of the Indian left see New Delhi’s vote as an effort to solidify the emerging U.S.-India alliance, and to acquire U.S. support for India’s own nuclear program and claim to regional superpower status. Just as it bowed to U.S. demands in December 1991 when its UN ambassador voted for Resolution 4686 (reversing Resolution 3379, identifying Zionism as a form of racism), so it has bowed again to U.S. pressure -- conveyed again by none other than the notorious bullying neocon John Bolton. The cooperation of this “non-aligned” behemoth must give Bolton particular satisfaction.
Next month Bolton reportedly plans to urge the IAEA to move forward towards a Security Council referral. The composition of the agency will have changed. Five nations voting against Iran (Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Peru and Poland), as well as five abstaining nations (Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, Vietnam) will be gone. Replacing them will be Belarus, Colombia, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Indonesia, Libya, Norway, Slovenia, and Syria. My guess is that of the latter, Colombia (as an abjectly submissive U.S. client state), and Greece, Norway and Slovenia (as NATO allies) are likely to vote for a second anti-Iran resolution, while the other six will abstain or vote against. That would give Bolton & Co. 21, rather than 22 votes. Maybe India will change its mind. Still it looks likely that the U.S. will have its majority, and global diplomats well aware of the duplicity behind the U.S. attack on Iraq will comply in abetting an attack on Iran. That will be the case even if a U.S.-sponsored resolution meets with a Chinese veto, which is not assured at this point.
Bush administration strategy is to woo Russia to abstain from voting on a Security Council resolution against Iran; obtaining this, they assume China will follow suite. If that happens, Washington will proceed down the path of war boasting that the whole world (even France this time), terrified by the prospect of Iranian nukes, stands behind it in this new stage of the godly U.S. war against Evil and Terrorism. Even if it doesn’t happen, but just gets to the stage of a UNSC vote, the Bush administration fundamentally contemptuous of the UN and international law will be able to say, “The IAEA did the right thing but unfortunately the UN as a whole didn’t live up to its international responsibilities. So we have to proceed without its support, to keep our people safe.”
I’ll bet that were you to poll the people in all those IAEA-represented countries, whose representatives voted to help the U.S. build the case for aggression against Iran, the great majority would say, “Hands off! And don’t do anything to encourage more American aggression!” It’s depressing to observe that the U.S., so well exposed as an imperialist power hell-bent on dominating Southwest Asia, can still acquire through threats and inducements the support of so many governments in that project. It’s also a reminder that only we the people, globally and in the belly of the beat, can end the madness.
Gary Leupp is a Professor of History, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion, at Tufts University and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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