In the complicated world of international diplomacy surrounding the issue of Iran's nuclear program, there is but one thing that the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the so-called EU-3 (Germany, France and Great Britain) and Iran can all agree upon.
And that is: Iran has resumed operations of facilities designed to convert uranium into a product usable in enrichment processes. From that point forward consensus on just about anything begins to fall apart.
Iran's resumption of its uranium conversion program seems to have brought to an end a negotiating process begun in November 2004 between the EU-3 and Iran, at which time Iran agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment-related activities in exchange for the EU-3's agreement to broker a deal that would provide inducements for Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program.
With the EU-3 initiative now dead in the water, it appears that the next logical step in the diplomatic process is for the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council, where the US, backed by the EU-3, have threatened to push for economic sanctions. The IAEA board meets in Vienna, Austria on 19 September to discuss this matter.
The EU-3 countries are uniform in their criticism of Iran's diplomatic slap in the face, but in fact neither the EU-3 nor the IAEA have a legal leg to stand on.
Iran, as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), asserts its "inalienable right" under Article IV of the NPT to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes."
Such rights are conditional, however, but Iran strongly believes that it has complied with Articles I and II of the NPT, where it agrees not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and Article III, where it accepts full safeguards, including on-site inspections.
Iran has yet to be declared to be in formal breach of any of these obligations, which raises the basic question: What is it the EU-3 wish to accomplish vis-à-vis their diplomatic intervention?
The real purpose of the EU-3 intervention -- to prevent the United States from using Iran's nuclear ambition as an excuse for military intervention -- is never discussed in public.
The EU-3 would rather continue to participate in fraudulent diplomacy rather than confront the hard truth -- that it is the US, and not Iran, that is operating outside international law when it comes to the issue of Iran's nuclear program.
In doing so, the EU-3, and to a lesser extent the IAEA, have fallen into a trap deliberately set by the Bush administration designed to use the EU-3 diplomatic initiative as a springboard for war with Iran.
The heart of the EU-3's position regarding Iran's nuclear program is the matter of nuclear enrichment, which the EU-3 outright oppose. This, of course, is an extension of the American position (as well as that of America's shadow ally, Israel).
Legally, this is an unsupportable position under the NPT, but one which has been pursued based upon two fundamental points.
The first is Iran's history of deception regarding its nuclear program, in which Iran hid critical aspects of this effort from the international community.
Iran now claims to have come into compliance with its NPT obligations, by having declared the totality of its efforts, something neither the EU-3 and the IAEA, nor the US and Israel can refute factually.
Indeed, the recent disclosure by the IAEA that the hard "evidence" it possessed to sustain the charge that Iran was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program (the existence of traces of highly enriched uranium on Iranian centrifuges) was flawed.
The fact that the uranium came from Pakistan, not Iran, has undercut any case the EU-3 might have had in pursuing its confrontational stance with Iran.
In the face of this development, the EU-3 -- Britain, Germany and France -- need to ask themselves a very fundamental question: What is their true policy objective being pursued vis-à-vis Iran?
The answer appears to be little more than serving as a front for American complaints against the Iranian nuclear program.
Given this, the EU-3 must next confront the real policy of the US when it comes to Iran -- regime change. As was the case with Iraq, Europe has failed to confront the Bush administration's policy of regime change.
Instead, the EU-3 has allowed their seemingly unified European foreign-policy position regarding Iran to be hijacked by a neoconservative cabal in Washington, DC, as a stepping stone to war.
Europe would like to believe that the diplomatic initiative undertaken by the EU-3 last November represents a nominal Plan A, which avoids direct confrontation between the US and Iran through use of the European intermediary.
The EU-3 comfort themselves with the knowledge that any failure of their initiative pushes the world not to the brink of war, but rather toward a Plan B, intervention by the Security Council of the United Nations, which would seek to compel Iran back into line with the threat of economic sanctions.
A failure by the Security Council to achieve change on the part of Iran would then, and only then, pave the way for Plan C, American military intervention.
European diplomats concede that there is little likelihood that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Iran, given the intransigence on the part of Russia and China.
However, they have lulled themselves into a false sense of complacency by noting that given the situation in Iraq, and now in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the US military is so overstretched that any talk of the Bush administration implementing a Plan C is out of the question.
What the Europeans -- and the member nations of the EU-3 in particular -- fail to recognize is that the Bush administration's plan for Iran does not consist of three separate plans, but rather one plan composed of three phases leading to the inevitability of armed conflict with Iran and the termination of the theocratic regime of the mullahs currently residing in Tehran.
These three phases -- the collapse of the EU-3 intervention leading to a referral of the Iran matter to the Security Council, the inability of the Security Council to agree upon the imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, and the US confronting the Security Council over its alleged inability to protect American national security interests -- lead inevitably toward military confrontation.
As with Iraq earlier, the US has embraced a position which requires Iran to prove the negative (i.e., demonstrate that it does not have a nuclear weapons program) as opposed to the US and the IAEA proving that one does in fact exist.
The criteria put forward by the Bush administration for Iran to comply -- no-notice inspections of any site at any time -- are an affront to a sovereign nation that has yet to be shown to be in violation of any of its legal obligations.
The fact that the US used a similar program of no-notice weapons inspections as a front for espionage against Iraq in support of its regime-change policy against Saddam Hussein has not escaped the attention of the Iranians, who have flat-out rejected any such extra-legal requirements on its part.
The US, and to a lesser extent the IAEA and the EU-3, have taken Iran's intransigence as a clear sign that Iran has something to hide.
Once again, as was the case with Iraq, the US has put process over substance, and unless the EU-3 bloc, the American effort to have the Iranian case transferred to the Security Council, the end result will be war.
The Iran trap has been well baited by the Bush administration, so much so that a Europe already burned once by American duplicity regarding Iraq, and a war-weary American public, fail to recognize what is actually transpiring.
The bait for this trap is, of course, diplomacy, first in the form of the EU-3 intervention, and that having failed, in the form of Security Council actions.
Polls taken in April 2005 showed that most Americans (63% to 37%) believed the Bush administration should take military action to stop Iran from developing or trying to develop a nuclear weapons program.
It is completely irrelevant that Iran has yet to be shown to have a nuclear weapons program (in fact the overwhelming amount of data available points to the exact opposite conclusion).
Today, in September 2005, many Americans might be loath to immediately embrace a direct path towards war with Iran. However, according to recent polls, most Americans support referring the matter of Iran to the Security Council for the purpose of imposing sanctions.
If the Security Council, because of Russian and Chinese opposition, refuses to support sanctions, the American people will be confronted by the Bush administration with the choice to either appear weak before the UN, or to take matters into our own hands (i.e., unilateral military action) in the name of national defense.
The outcome in this case is certain -- war.
Since the result of any referral of the Iran issue to the Security Council is all but guaranteed, the push by the EU-3 to have the IAEA refer Iran to the Security Council, while rooted in the language of diplomacy, is really nothing less than an act of war.
The only chance the world has of avoiding a second disastrous US military adventure in the Middle East is for the EU-3 to step back from its policy of doing the bidding of the US, and to confront not only Iran on the matter of its nuclear program, but also the larger issue of American policies of regional transformation that represent the greatest threat to Middle East security and stability today.
Scott Ritter is former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998. His newest book is, Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy, published by IB Tauris (London) and Nation Books (USA) in October 2005. Thanks to Carl Bromley at Nation Books.
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