01 February 2006

A messy compromise on Iran

Reporting Teheran to the Security Council but deferring action till March -- as the P-5 have decided -- will neither still Washington's appetite for confrontation nor make a diplomatic solution more likely. Each time it appeases Washington's relentless pressure on Iran, the international community is being made to climb higher and higher up a ladder whose final rungs can only be sanctions and war.

1 February 2006
The Hindu

A messy compromise on Iran

Siddharth Varadarajan

IN REACHING agreement among themselves to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council for failing to comply with previous resolutions of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the P-5 countries and Germany have let the Manmohan Singh Government off the hook. If there is consensus in the February 2-3 IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) meeting on a draft resolution reporting Iran, India -- which has come under intense American pressure to condemn Iran, can simply go along. And even if Cuba, Venezuela, and one or more non-aligned countries refuse to support the resolution, the probable affirmative votes of Russia and China will likely provide the United Progressive Alliance Government with enough of a cushion to weather any domestic political criticism.

After Monday's meeting of Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany, and the United States, the numbers in favour of an affirmative vote in the 35-member BoG will be higher than what prevailed last September. Having facilitated that original vote — which found Iran in non-compliance with its safeguards obligations — India has reverted to being a minor player whose views matter little to the Iranians and even less to the P-5. In any event, now that the Big Five have decided on a certain course of action, there is precious little any country or group of countries can really do to stand in the way at this stage of the game at least.

Russia and China, which had hitherto been opposed to reporting Iran to the UNSC, have taken a pragmatic decision to step back. Their intention, presumably, is to fight another day, in a battleground where they can exercise their veto power.

In India, the debate over the Manmohan Singh Government's vote against Iran last September was so polarised that it was often forgotten that the stakes were much higher than merely the security of gas supplies or the fate of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. Today, what has to be grasped by everyone is that the U.S. is hell-bent on setting the stage for a military conflict with Iran. And that the course and outcome of such a conflict will have consequences even more disastrous for our region than the Iraq war so far.

The compromise struck in London on Monday only pushes back by a month the timetable by which this tragedy will be enacted. It has been decided that the Board of Governors will report Iran to the Security Council this week but the latter will not take up the matter for active consideration until after IAEA Director General Mohammed el-Baradei presents his latest report on Iran to the BoG in the first week of March. There is one last safety valve put in by Russia and China: They insisted, and the U.S. and its allies agreed, that the Security Council should also "await... any Resolution from the March meeting [of the IAEA Board], before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process."

On paper at least, this means the Security Council will not act even in March without explicit authorisation from another IAEA resolution. It remains to be seen how this clause is incorporated into the draft resolution to be circulated to the IAEA Board on February 2.

Last September, the compromise reached with India and other countries was that while Iran would be held non-compliant, the timing of the Security Council report would be decided later. The compromise today is that while Iran will be reported, the timing of any Security Council action would be decided later.

U.S.' gameplan

Each time it appeases Washington's relentless pressure on Iran, the international community is being made to climb higher and higher up a ladder whose final rungs can only be sanctions and war. This is precisely the route the U.S. followed against Iraq in its quest to effect regime change there. Its war of attrition using sanctions, inspections, no-fly-zones, air strikes, and impossible ultimatums lasted 12 years before ending finally in an invasion that surprised no one.

In a candid speech to the Arms Control Association in Washington last week, Hans Blix, former head of the U.N. Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC), repeated a charge he has made before that the U.S. was never really interested in weapons inspections in Iraq. "My belief is that if we had been allowed to continue to carry out inspections for a couple of months more, we would then have been able to go to all the sites which were given by intelligence, and since there weren't any weapons of mass destruction, we would have reported that there weren't any." However, even with such a report, David Ruppe of the Global Security Newswire quoted him as saying, war probably would not have been averted as "there was a certain momentum behind it."

Is there a lesson in all this for the world to learn as the Iran crisis slowly unfolds? Mr. Blix certainly thinks there is. "Today, I think I worry about the spin and momentum on Iran," he said. And well he might. The U.S. is not unaware that there exists a law passed by the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, demanding that Iran withdraw its temporary acceptance of the Additional Protocol as soon as the IAEA refers its case to the Security Council. Iran is a highly politicised and polarised society and there is every likelihood that MPs will demand implementation of this resolution once the IAEA Board votes the way the U.S. wants it to. What would happen once Iran withdraws from the Additional Protocol, joining, in the process, the 106 countries who have yet to sign that document? IAEA inspectors would no longer be able to visit sites outside of those facilities that are already safeguarded.

If indeed Iran has built clandestine nuclear facilities — as Britain and the U.S. believe — there cannot be a worse outcome from the non-proliferation perspective than IAEA inspectors losing their `go as you please' pass. However, in a perverse way, this is precisely what the Bush administration is hoping Iran will do. For once IAEA inspectors lose the special access they currently enjoy, this would allow the U.S. to seek yet another escalation — citing the urgency of regaining access.

Is there a way out of this impasse? There is, and that way consists of combining the continuation of inspections with the development of two compromise packages, one technical, the other economic. The first would seek to induce Iran to accept a version of Russia's offshore enrichment proposal that also fulfils Iran's rights as an NPT signatory. The second package would seek to provide Teheran guarantees against economic sanctions and military threats. Regardless of what the IAEA Board decides this week, India must join hands with other countries to insist that the U.S. and its allies not go down the path of coercion and confrontation.

On its part, Iran to act tactfully and in a way that reassures its well-wishers in the international community about its intentions.

First, it should announce that the current round of uranium enrichment experiments it began on January 10 is coming to an end and will not be resumed for the moment. Second, it needs to do everything in its power in the coming month to help the IAEA inspectors close the file on the P-2 centrifuge and other minor outstanding matters. The Majlis resolution need not to be invoked this week, when the IAEA reports Iran to the UN SC, but in March, when the Security Council actually begins active consideration of its case. Finally, it should continue talking to Russia, China and other countries about the development of multinational fuel cycle facilities. Washington's principal aim is regime change, not non-proliferation. Let its bluff be called.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis.

Anonymous said...

Although I am not an expert on Uranium enrichment, based on information available from the Internet (for example, see International Network of Engineers and Scientists Against Proliferation, Bulletin 23 – Protecting the Law: Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, "The Gas Centrifuge, Nuclear Weapon Proliferation, and the NPT Regime" by Alexander Glaser) in the public domain, I feel that there may be a technical solution by which a scheme can be devised whereby Iran can satisfy its (to me legitimate) claim that it should be permitted to carry out all the processes required for its nuclear power plants on its own soil, while at the same time meeting the non-proliferation concerns of the NPT.

A nuclear power plant (NPP) that uses enriched Uranium requires U-235 enrichment only to less than 5% while nuclear weapons are said to need 90% or more enrichment. Iran is pursuing enrichment through gas-centrifuge technology. The number of stages of gas centrifuges required for weapons grade enrichment is much greater than that required for a NPP fuel. Thus, a limit of the size, and number of enrichment stages, combined with close monitoring of the input feed, output, as well as tailings would give the oversight required to satisfy that weapons grade enrichment is not being carried out. Furthermore, control can also be maintained on the energy input (special, high frequency electric supply) into the enrichment plant.

If it is so simple as explained in the previous paragraph, how is it then, it has so far not been thought of or attempted? After all the "biggies" are all past masters in this field! May be there are flaws in my scheme. On the other hand, may be there is no will and hence it has been deemed that a way is not possible. Uranium enrichment is a closely guarded technology; business criteria (desire to maintain the monopoly over the process) are probably more compelling than anything else in trying to prevent others from embarking on the enrichment route.

It seems that in 1970s IAEA carried out studies and concluded that "no simple safeguards concept existed that would be adequate for centrifuge enrichment facilities". IAEA's inability to find a "simple" way cannot be the binding cause to prevent others from developing technology! All of us know who controls IAEA and can influence its conclusions! Anyway we are now in 2006, much technological improvements have taken place since the 70's.

For example, US says it recently, found traces of highly enriched U in swipe sample taken from Iran's centrifuge tubes and hence insists, over Iran's protestations and explanations to the contrary, that Iran was/is pursuing a clandestine enrichment program. Such microanalysis has perhaps been evolved and perfected since the 1970s. As an aside, I have so far not come across anyone questioning the efficacy of the method or the conclusions drawn from the swipe test. Perhaps, apart from the Pakistan-origin theory, there may exist other plausible technical reasons for "finding" traces of highly enriched U found in the swipe sample.

Whether or not the suggestion I have given above is feasible, practicable and adequate, the point is this: there are "proliferation-resistant" NPP designs, why can't there be proliferation resistant (civil) enrichment plant designs? Perhaps some workable engineering solution, acceptable to all parties, can and should be evolved.

To come to a slightly different point, linked to the Iran vote by the US Ambassador:
Today it is Iran. From the way our government is going in agreeing to place indigenously developed NPPs and facilities under intrusive, perpetual foreign inspection, tomorrow, it is going to be our country that will have to look down the gun barrel. If the demands made by US are agreed to, India will never henceforth be able to construct its own "civilian" NPP, without placing it under safeguards inspection. Thus our policy makers of today are foolishly binding down not only the present but also all future generations of Indians.

Anonymous said...

Ashwin Kumaraswamy View point....

Nice article and good gomments by mayurdas.

To start of with where Mayurdas left, the issue is not technological control, rather a political embedded with religion.

NPT or CTBT cannot spot or have a control on nations trying to develop nuclear energy either for safe reasons or for making nuclear warheads, as India, Pakistan and Israle have shown the world if a country wants to go ahead and develop nuclear programme, any amount of sanctions cant stop them, lets not get into that. Comming back to the issue of Iran and its nuclear programme, no country has issues with Iran enriching uranium, if it is to satisify their energy problem, but on the contray Iran an oil rich country is enriching uranium to have a symbolic status as a Nuclear power(even more to so a Islamic nuclear power, discounting that pakisatn nuclear programme is very much under the control of US organisations now, but the threat still exists).

The reason EU and P3 discouting Russia and China opposing Iran enriching uranium is because it being a signatory of NPT, its violating the restrictions, now a question may arise why shoud not Iran enrich uranium as other countires liek P5 and other have done the same, its another debate all together. But Iran has to specify the intention of enriching uranium, and if it has a legitimate answer,i mean here if it is a necessity then, morally it would wrong for other countries to ask Iran to stop, but as they say dont judge a person by what he talks rather than his/her deeds. Iran seriously lacks on the trust quotient, if u take a survey of the 151 odd UN member countries.
And more so with Iran linking politics and religion it makes it that much more dangerous.
I have drifted away here a lot, commign back to the theme of Indian position and so called US influence on India to vote against Iran, it is indeed a very piquiant position.
T.Srinivasan had once mentioned in his column that, India has to act in its interests, and again it is debatable what is in India's interests.
1. Vote against Iran: Impact on energy condition in the future, oil pipe line will fall down, US clears nuclear programe for India, win some friends in the EU block an dtry to bargain on this to get a permananet position in the security council.
2. Vote against EU and P3: US will stall the nuclear pact, EU countries will blame India of not having a wise decision in supporting them(Western philosophy, if u r not with us u r against us), No gaurantee Iran will go ahead with the pipe line deal, and even if it clears we have to negotiate pakistan and Baluch region. I just like to remid here Iran a good friend of India, was the crucial vote which took the side of Pakistan when Kashmir issue was in UN and 4 wars took place between India and Pak. And more so Iran has a country been looking at self interests,and there are instances Iran has gone against the interests of its friends to pursue its own interests.

Som in this piquiant situation, we have another boiling situation in the domestically in India, with communists being anti US, the so called friends of US(BJP) when out of power is anti US, and if somethging goes worng they have vocal chords shouting on their voice top, how they could have handled it better, it is sad to know that in India, we have sych damaging forces, when India is represented in the world forum by the ruling party it is a moral obligation in the opposition to guide, suggest and support the ruling party to take a decision rather than to put the government in a qunadry just for cheap vote bank politics.
In my view, now Iran has to declare its intentions of why a nuclear enrichment is needed adn not just the Securicty Council, but UN general Assembly should decide and no veto powers should be allowed to be used, people who publicise democracy to follow the same.
On Irans part it should talk to countries and make the trust quotient swell.

Anonymous said...

I regularly visit your site and enjoy reading your blog. You writing has a very anti-American flavor to it. Normally, pointing out American Imperialism is perfectly fine.In this instance however, your anti-American sentiment equates to pro-Iranian.

Could you please legitamize a case for Iran owning nukes, besides stating that it is their sovereign right?

Also, look at this situation a few years down the line.

First you can have a an Iraq like situation in Iran. Is this good for India's security, probably not. However, does Iraq's current situation pose a major threat to India, definitely not. An unstable Iran will be bad for the Middle East, but it will have no more effect on India than Iraq currently does.

Now lets look at the second outcome. Iran continues researching nuclear technology and ultimately makes nukes (to say the their program is for anything other than military uses is ridiculous). Does this pose a security threat to India? DEFINITELY. Will Iran try to spread the technology to other states some of whom are not friendly with India? DEFINITELY. Will this compound our security threats in the region. DEFINITELY.

The only valid argument I can see against siding with the US is issues of energy security. However, if the US does attack Iran and it will look for international support. A simple pat on the shoulder will secure all our Iranian energy deals.

We need to lift 800 million people out of poverty before we can tell the only superpower in the world that it should play fair.


Anonymous said...

To Jay above:

First it is Iran's right under the NPT to develop nuclear technology for peaceful means. They do not have to explain the reasons one way or the other. Have other countries (i.e. Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India, China, the Europeans) etc. had to explain their reasons. No.

Second: the issue with Iran is not nuclear power. The U.S. knows this it is oil/gas and energy. U.S. also does not want India or China to become super-powers in the region. Enabling India and China to obtain oil and gas that they need for their economic development and enrichment will allow them to become competitive powers that the U.S. does not want.
Furthermore, the story is as usual, from the momment that the Bush Administration took over and proclaimed the concept of "Axis of Evil", it was obvious who was going to be the next target after Iraq. These are the same steps and same ramblings that the U.S. took to invade Iraq. This time however, it had to get the Europeans, the Chinese and the Indians to agree so that it looks like it has some legitimate right to invade.

Fourth: Iran is no idiot and has no interest to use nuclear energy to endanger the world, including India or its neighbors. However, unfortunately the super-powers are the ones who are instigating to the less developed countries (especially those that are oil rich) either have military power to protect yourself, or if you take a step we don't like, we will threaten your sovereignity. Unfortunately the UN is under the control of the U.S. and will do as it is told. It does not matter how much proof Iran shows to demonstrate that it wants nuclear energy for peaceful means, the issue is that Iran's current government is not a U.S. puppet and therefore has to go, according to the U.S.. This is the state of world politics. And the U.S. has bought all of the other countries who voted against Iran. This is obvious as well. India a good example.