Involving the U.N. Security Council will escalate the nuclear crisis and reduce the scope for dialogue and negotiation. India must disassociate itself from any such move.
7 March 2006
Let the IAEA do its work on Iran
THE BOARD of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meeting in Vienna this week to consider once again the Iran nuclear question. In an extraordinary session last month, the board had voted to report Iran to the U.N. Security Council for earlier breaches of its safeguards obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This reporting is to take the form of a communication by the IAEA Director-General informing the UNSC of the steps Iran is "required" to take to build the international community's confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme. The Director-General has also been asked to "report" to the Security Council all IAEA statements and resolutions on Iran related to this issue.
The way things stand, IAEA Director-General Mohammed el-Baradei is already bound over to "report" Iran to the UNSC and it is not clear that the United States and its allies actually need to pilot another resolution requesting him to do so. Indeed, unless a majority of the board requests deferral of last month's standing instruction, reporting Iran seems very much the default setting.
The irony is that Iran is to be reported for breaches that have already been rectified as far as safeguards are concerned. "Since October 2003, Iran has taken corrective actions with respect to those breaches," states the latest report by Dr. el-Baradei dated February 27, 2006. Like earlier reports, this time too the IAEA Director-General is unable to certify that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran though he provides details of Iranian cooperation on a number of fronts. For example, in February, the IAEA's interim report had mentioned Iran's refusal to allow access to a university professor as an example of Teheran's unhelpful attitude. The Agency's inspectors have since been allowed to meet and interview him. As for the American allegations about a secret enrichment programme linked to the military — the so-called `Green Salt' project — the Iranians have said the documents on which this allegation is based are a forgery. Prima facie, there is no reason to distrust the Iranian claim. Since these documents are said to have come from a laptop computer, which has been in the possession of the U.S. for nearly a year, it is surprising that the Green Salt allegations conveniently surfaced only in January.
In any case, the requirement that there be no undeclared nuclear activities stems not from Iran's safeguards agreement but from the Additional Protocol, which no longer legally applies since Teheran ended its voluntary acceptance of it following last February's IAEA vote. As for the suspension of uranium enrichment — which is what the U.S. and European pressure on Iran is all about — Iran's refusal to comply with that request can hardly constitute grounds for referral to the Security Council, let alone punitive action by the latter, since it is legally entitled to conduct work on the civilian nuclear fuel cycle.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament on Monday that in voting against Iran in February, India was motivated by the "unresolved question regarding centrifuge imports and designs to make uranium metallic hemispheres" the "origin" of which "is an issue of direct concern for us." What he did not explain was how reporting Iran to the Security Council has helped answer those unresolved questions. The uranium hemisphere issue is a red herring since the supposedly incriminating document was voluntarily shown to the IAEA by the Iranians and is hardly likely to have been germane to any secret nuclear programme. As for the centrifuges, the IAEA wants Iran to prove a negative — that they had not worked on the P-2 design from 1995 to 2002 — something which is not possible. A better way to resolve that issue, then, would be for the IAEA to use the powers granted by the additional protocol to visit sites where a secret cascade hall of P-2 centrifuges might be hidden. Thanks to India's vote last February, however, the IAEA no longer has that option.
Dr. Manmohan Singh told Parliament that India does "not favour confrontation, rhetoric or coercive measures as these only exacerbate tensions in the region and beyond." But since the Security Council is essentially a coercive body, he should have explained precisely what role he would like it to play on the Iran issue. The Prime Minister also declared that confrontation should be avoided at all costs. "For this to be possible, time must be given for diplomacy to work." But in voting to send Iran's case to the Security Council, was India not aware that a confrontation was being engineered rather than being avoided, that diplomacy was being short-circuited? As permanent members, Russia and China may feel they have the capacity to push the UNSC away from a coercive approach but for India to have had such faith in the wisdom and judgment of the P-5 is inexplicable.
As the Board of Governors takes up the Iran issue again, the issue at stake for India is not the independence of its foreign policy or its adherence to non-alignment but the dangerous consequences of Washington's approach.
Once the Security Council takes up the Iran matter in any shape or form, the world will find itself on an escalator to confrontation and conflict from which it will be difficult to jump off. A negotiated solution to the problem of providing objective guarantees of the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme is possible provided the international community does not insist on stepping outside the bounds of law. It is unreasonable to expect Iran or any other country to renounce its right to the fuel cycle in perpetuity. A contingent renunciation is, however, possible, though this would require combining workable and transparent guarantees for the supply of nuclear fuel with multinational fuel cycle facilities either offshore or onshore. As well, there would need to be political guarantees against "regime change" and the "military option," which the United States insists will never be taken off the table.
Dr. Manmohan Singh is right in saying diplomacy needs time to work but for those words to ring true India must be prepared to puts its money where its mouth is. Iran and Russia have made headway in their discussions on the establishment of offshore enrichment activities and full encouragement must be given to both sides to persevere with their efforts. In particular, India should play a pro-active role in impressing upon the IAEA Board of Governors the need to suspend its earlier resolution requiring Iran to be reported to the Security Council.
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