23 September 2005

The Persian Puzzle III: The world must stand firm on diplomacy

The 'nuclear crisis' is the product of 15 years of American hostility towards Iran. Any solution that does not deal with this reality is bound to fail.

23 September 2005
The Hindu

The world must stand firm on diplomacy

Siddharth Varadarajan

WHEN BRITAIN, France, and Germany volunteered last year to try and find a diplomatic alternative to the punitive measures the United States was demanding against Iran, the expectation was that the European-3 would have the skill — and the gumption — to craft a solution that would address the legitimate concerns of both Teheran and the `international community.'

What were these concerns? The world needed assurance that Iran's pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment, would not lead to nuclear weapons, and Iran needed assurances that it would not be denied access to civilian technologies or subjected to sanctions or the threat of aggression by the U.S. and Israel, both of which possess nuclear weapons. Accordingly, the Paris Agreement signed by Iran and the E3 on November 15, 2004, spoke of a solution that would "provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes." In exchange, Iran was to be provided "firm guarantees on nuclear, technological and economic cooperation and firm commitments on security issues." Given this framework, Iran said its voluntary suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities "will be sustained while negotiations proceed on a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements."

Last month, the E3 slammed the door on the possibility of a "mutually acceptable agreement" by presenting proposals that turned the spirit of the Paris accord upside down. Iran was told permanently to abandon its enrichment and reprocessing facilities and heavy water reactor and provide "a binding commitment not to pursue fuel cycle activities other than the construction and operation of light water power and research reactors." In other words, the only possible "objective guarantee" the E3 was prepared to accept against misuse of enrichment facilities was for Iran not to have them at all.

As if this was not provocative enough, the E3's proposals on the guaranteed supply of enriched uranium and security assurances were so vague as to make a mockery of the concepts of "firm guarantees" and "firm commitments." For example, far from committing itself to assist whatever remains of the Iranian nuclear programme once fuel cycle-related activity is excluded, all the E3 was willing to promise was "not to impede participation in open competitive bidding." Not surprisingly, the Iranians said this manifest demonstration of bad faith on the E3's part meant negotiations had come to an end. Accordingly, Teheran ended its voluntary suspension and notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of its intention to resume conversion activities at its Esfahan facility. This, in short, is the backstory to the current crisis

In an analysis of the E3 offer, Paul Ingram of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) — a leading Western arms control think-tank — called it "vague on incentives and heavy on demands" and concluded that the European proposals seemed "designed to fit closely with US requirements." "Even the establishment of a buffer store of nuclear fuel is proposed to be physically located in a third country, rather than in Iran under safeguards," he noted, adding that the E3/EU "do not seem to have had the courage to offer either the substantial, detailed incentives or a creative, compromise solution on enrichment which could reasonably have been expected to receive Iran's endorsement."

Pellaud proposals

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took one step towards a creative solution when he proposed running Iranian enrichment facilities as joint ventures with private and public sector companies from other countries. Though it has been dismissed out of hand, the latest Iranian offer is a variant of a formula that was proposed in February this year by an IAEA expert group on "multilateral approaches" to the nuclear fuel cycle headed by Bruno Pellaud.

The Pellaud committee had been tasked by the IAEA to recommend measures that could bridge the gap between a country's right — under the NPT — to the nuclear fuel cycle, and the proliferation concerns that would arise from an increase in the worldwide number of facilities capable of uranium enrichment or plutonium separation. The relevance of this issue to the Iran question hardly needs elaboration.

Of the five proposals made by the committee, three concerned different types of international fuel supply guarantees as an incentive for countries to forswear their own enrichment facilities, and two were based on the notion of shared ownership or control. The latter involved "promoting voluntary conversion of existing facilities to multilateral nuclear approaches (MNAs), and pursuing them as confidence-building measures with the participation of non-nuclear-weapon states and nuclear-weapon states, and non-NPT states" — precisely the kind of offer Mr. Ahmadinejad made in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly last week — or "creating, through voluntary agreements and contracts, multinational, and in particular regional, MNAs for new facilities based on joint ownership, drawing rights or co-management."

Could an MNA provide the international community with the kind of assurances it needs that enriched uranium would not be diverted to a clandestine nuclear weapons programme? While releasing his report earlier this year, Dr. Pellaud said he believed it could. "A joint nuclear facility with multinational staff puts all participants under a greater scrutiny from peers and partners, a fact that strengthens non-proliferation and security ... It's difficult to play games if you have multinationals at a site."

Instead of threatening sanctions, the E3 should engage Iran in a dialogue which can develop the Pellaud-Ahmadinejad proposals to a level where Teheran can provide "objective guarantees" that its programme is entirely peaceful and Europe can give "firm guarantees" and "firm commitments" on the issues which concern the Iranians. The only problem, of course, would be what to do about the Americans.

The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to separate the present "nuclear crisis" from Washington's track record of unremitting hostility towards the Iranian Government. Indeed, any solution that does not bring about a change in U.S. behaviour is unlikely to be acceptable or durable as far as Teheran is concerned. As part of its long-term framework proposals, therefore, the E3 must undertake to get the U.S. to abandon its sanctions against the Iranian oil and gas industry and drop its aim of bringing about `regime change' in Iran.

Instead of falling in line with Washington's pressure on Iran, Europe and the rest of the world should also ask themselves whether the cause of international peace and security is served by selective concern about `proliferation.' The NPT allows enrichment but Iran is being told it cannot have a fuel cycle. The NPT mandates nuclear disarmament but the U.S. is conducting weapons research and formulating military doctrines that will weaponise space and increase the salience of nuclear weapons in its force posture. Britain and France have no conceivable nuclear adversaries yet continue to deploy nuclear weapons. Countries in West Asia are being told they can never walk out of the NPT but nothing is done to denuclearise Israel. These issues too are very much part of the "nuclear crisis" and it is time something were done to address them.



Anonymous said...

Siddith says America has been hostile towards Iran. Perhaps he hasn't witnessed the weekly "Death To America" rallies that take place in mosques all over Iran every Friday. Perhaps he's not familar with Khomeini's decree that the destruction of Israel was a key goal of the Islamic Revolution.

In the entire US, there hasn't been a single protest against the government of Iran (other than small Iranian-American ones). No flag-burning, no walking and spitting on Iranian flags. Yet, this goes on all day long in Iran.
And America has been hostile? Maybe if the Iranians want more respect, they should act more respectable.

The reality is this is a government that lies to it's own people on a daily basis. The entire state security apparatus is structured to suppress and repress the truth in that country. How can you trust them? Maybe their intentions are peaceful, but I don't want to bet the safety of my family on it. This is a government that performs the worst acts of torture and abuse on it's own citizens. If they have so little regard for the lives of their own people, I can only assume mine means even less.

Saddith needs a refresher course in fascist ideology. He's become a mouthpiece for them

Anonymous said...

A government that lies to its people on a daily basis? Are we speaking of the US government?

"Bomb bomb bomb ... Bomb bomb Iran" sang the Beach boys, remember?

Giving chemical weapons and tactical intel to Sadaam to kill and maim Iranians, remember?

Shooting down a civilian airliner and then decorating the responsible officer, remember?

Yet the poster is complaining about the 'words' that Iranians speak to reflect their understanding that, ok, so USA is FACTUALY, ACTUALLY, seeks our injurious diminishment, if not destruction.

The poster also needs to remember that Iranians have never stuck their noses, paws, spies, and guns into the American face. Nor have they stolen their wealth from Americans.

America does this per routine in a variety of lands, always under the pretense of 'promoting peace' or 'freedom' -- rather funny stuff from a nation that is actively dismantling its own citizens' rights and freedom.

I do agree that the Iranians are mistaken in painting slogans. These are provocative and clearly allow for comments such as above that would seek to equate ACTAUL, FACTUAL, HISTORIC aggression and violence perpetrated by Iran's enemies with mere 'words'.

Anonymous said...

Saddith strains to come up with instances of American aggression towards Iran. The airliner incident was an accident, compensation paid for and apologies made. Americans were horrified by that.

Second we didn't sell the chemicals to Saddam, we sold a few precursors for anthrax (which we shouldn't have done) Saddam got nearly all of his weapons that killed Iranians from Russia and France. Isn't it interesting that even though there's hardly a family in Iran who didn't have a relative killed by a Russian-made bomb, shell, or bullet, that Russia is now considered an ally.

Let's also not forget the Russian invasion of Afghanistan that left 1 million Muslims dead in that country and created a huge refugee crisis for Iran.

So, if you actually examine the facts on the ground, Russian foreign policy has been far more destructive to Iran than America in the past 20 years.

So, Saddith, why isn't Russia reviled on the streets of Iran? Isn't it interesting that Russia is now considered an ally of Iran, even though they've never apologized for their past transgressions?

By contrast America's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has helped Iran more than any other nation, by getting rid of two hostile governments on their borders and relieving them the burden of caring for thousands of refugees.

Any theories on that, Saddith, because I find the inequity in criticism to be deeply suspicious?

Anonymous said...

Woa, stop making up facts.

"I will never apologize for the United States of America — I don't care what the facts are." President George Bush Sr.

To the author,

Thanks for an extremely informative and indepth analysis of the Nuclear Issue.

Can you please try getting your article published in major newspapers in North America?

Also try the so called "alternative media" outlets like counterpunch.org Their line of arguement usually follows 'Iran is surrounded by Nuclear armed neightbours( India, Israel,
Pakistan)...' Without much research they tend to conlclude that Iran's atomic programme is not peaceful, However they take a different angle than the mainstream media.

Thank you,

Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention something,

Here are more good but dated articles on the topic.

Please note the authors.

Part 1 Is Iran building nukes

Part 2

Siddharth, Please reply so that I may know you've read my comments.

Anonymous said...

Yet another comment I should've made. The reason we've come to this situation is because Khatami's administration made a fault by embracing the europeans.

Anonymous said...

Khatami's BIGGEST fault was laying down like a Persian carpet and letting the Guardian Council step all over him. I wouldn't presume to label him a coward, but a bold, visionary leader he wasn't. Now they've got Ahmenajad and you see how many Iranians have been thrown in prison since his inauguaration. Thank Khatami -- for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thanks for your comments and feedback. Siddharth (sv1965-at-gmail)

Anonymous said...

The only reason oil and gas rich Iran want nuclear technology is to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran then want to give nuclear know how to other muslim nation, their president more or less admitted this to the UN. Quite frankly you must be dense not to realise this.

Manmohan Singh said it is not in Indias interest for another nuclear power in the region. I read the Indian media and the reaction of most Indian politicians and find the reaction to be childish is some cases.

One can demonise US foreign policy for eternity. It make other countries beleive that they are victims and have done nothing wrong. Iranian society is not just the product of US foreign policy to suggest this is very patronising. The author Mr Varadarajan is indulging in good old fasioned Islamic fundamnetalist appeasment.

Indias strategic interests is with rich democratic nations, not poor communist or islamic fundamentalist dictatorships. Nehruvian mentally made India choose alliance with dictatorships such as the USSR and other morally ill societies.

Anonymous said...

I think many of the people posting replies here are missing the point somewhat. All this article says is that we in the West need to address such issues even-handedly. We cannot swoop into countries we don't like demanding they adhere to a set of rules (which we manifestly flout, or allow/help our allies to flout at will), and then when they do something as impudent as obey the rules, leaving nothing to attack them for, then misrepresent, ignore or downright lie about their activities.
The author is not, I am sure, suggesting that Iran's government is any less hypocritical, duplicitous or underhand in nature than any other (including, of course, our own), however all the impartial international evidence suggests they ARE sticking to OUR rules, and wanting to commit crimes is not grounds for prosecution - it's actually committing or attempting crimes we prosecute for.
So whether Iran wants to follow the rules or not is immaterial, as long as does follow them. That is exactly why we have bodies like the IAEA, and it would appear they are working, so we should leave them to it. To do otherwise is a much greater threat to world peace than any weapon the evidence suggests Iran could hope to wield.
That is what, I believe, the article says, so would people on both sides of this argument please stop getting so worked up about their respective agendas and read it in the spirit in which it was intended?

Anonymous said...

Since the Iranian leadership states that Iran doens't want nuclear weapons, and stipulated arguable reasons for pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, shouldn't we have proof that they are pursuing nuclear energy before we make threats? There is a much hysteria and situational rhetoric around this, and very little fact. Could the same government that was wrong about Iraq's NBC weapons programs be wrong about Iran. Yes. Can anyone point to actual proof that Iran has a nuclear weapon program? No.

Nuclear proliferation is already occuring, but it is not Iran, it is Pakistan that is the proliferator. A.Q. Khan, with the assistance of the Pakistani Intelligence community has widely disseminated nuclear know how. Why does Pakistan get a by on that? Pakistan has been and still is harboring anti western terrorists and Taliban. Why is this all ignored? Whose purpose is being served? Certainly not the American people.

I don't like the Iranian government. The leadership are gangsters, they're looting the country, they're oppressing their own people, yet that isn't a threat to the U.S.. The Iranian regime has chnaged its tactics since its inauspicious beginnings. No terrorism has been directed by Iran toward the U.S. in around 17 years. The Iranian people held a candle light vigil for the 911 terrorist attack. The Iranian government tried to open dialogue with the U.S. in 2003 A.D.. Our American government has failed to respond. We remember their wrongs and brush aside our own. Diplomatic exhange doesn't require either side to like the other, it is simply a real world recognition of who runs what.

So Iranians still march in the streets eh. And American TV loudmouths still incite fury eh. How about everybody grow up. We should actknowledge our history as they should acknowledge their own. I'd like the Iranian government to say the hostage taking in '79 was wrong. By the same standard we could acknowledge that overthrowing the democratically elected government of Iran in '52 was tragic. Americans should at least do some opposition research, what makes these guys tick. I'll get it started: they want money and power. Iran has a crappy economy, the main export is oil. No westerner is clamoring for Iranian cars, radio, clothes or anything. What else have they got to sell but oil? Also the oil will run out one day. So, it makes sense to buy nuclear energy production plant while you can and maximize cash sales of oil. On the power side, the Iranian leadership is caught between their greed and their brittle hold on power. Alarge part of the population want this government gone. Foreign aggression would completely upset their apple cart, they would poosiblely lose control of the country in an aggressive war. Patriotic war is a another story. We Americans should know that when trouble comes calling everyone rallys to the colors of their people. My family remembers. And as we all should know by now, the short victorious war is a fatal siren song.

We Americans could help ourselves by doing a few simple things. Educate ourselves in our history and the history and culture of those we wish to engage. Talk, but listen as well. Have goals of national interest and avoid double talk. Remenber that we are top of the heap right now, the only way to upset that, quickly, is through the exigencies of war. We have all the good cards, that is we have military force that can smash Iran, but not occupy it. We are also right on their border. Fro my part if Iran had troops in Mexico and carriers of the coast I'd be mad. Do you think they could be too?

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