01 February 2006

Persian Puzzle: What happens next

An idiot's guide to a familiar plot.

1 February 2006
The Hindu

Persian puzzle: what happens next

Siddharth Varadarajan

What have the P-5 agreed to do?

The Foreign Ministers of Britain, China, France, Russia, and the U.S., as well as Germany, have agreed that this week's IAEA Board of Governors meeting "should report to the UN Security Council its decision on the steps required from Iran and ... all IAEA reports and resolutions, as adopted, relating to this issue." But they also agreed that the UNSC "should await the Director General's report to the March meeting of the IAEA Board, which would include a report on the implementation of the February Board's Resolution, and any Resolution from the March meeting, before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process."

So in plain English...

They want Iran to be reported this week but the UNSC will not take up the matter until sometime in March, which gives one month for Russia to discuss its enrichment compromise formula with Iran, and for Iran to try and clear up the one outstanding question still remaining with the IAEA, i.e. the extent of its work on the P-2 centrifuge.

What will happen now at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on February 2?

There will be a resolution reporting Iran whose wording is likely to reflect the P-5 statement. But it is not clear how the Non-aligned group will react. Venezuela and Cuba, who are members of the Board, issued a statement last week along with NAM chair Malaysia rejecting any referral to the UNSC. So there could still be a vote. In such an event, Britain and the U.S. are assuming China and Russia will not abstain but will vote for referral.

Will India still have to decide what to do?

If there is a consensus resolution, no. But if some Board members object and there is a vote, India would have to choose between abstaining or voting for a referral. India has always said it favours the issue being resolved within the IAEA. As an independent country it is not bound by what the P-5 have decided.

What will Iran do?

There is a Majlis, or parliament, resolution mandating the Iranian government to withdraw its voluntary acceptance of the Additional Protocol if the country's file is referred to the UNSC. If that is invoked, the IAEA would lose its right to conduct anything other than routine inspections of known nuclear facilities. If there are hidden nuclear facilities, as the U.S. alleges, it will no longer be able to search for them.

What will the Security Council do?

In dropping their opposition to the Iran file being sent to the UNSC, Russia and China probably decided to shift the diplomatic tug-of-war into an arena where they have the power of veto. The two are unlikely to accept economic or energy sanctions on Iran but minor restrictions like a travel ban could be imposed.

And then what can Iran do?

Like North Korea, it has the right to walk out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and end all IAEA supervision. It would then be free to develop nuclear weapons if it felt threatened enough.

And the `military option'?

The Bush administration has always said the option of attacking Iran remains very much on the table.

This sounds like Iraq...

Sooner or later, that's where things are heading. Like Iraq, the WMD issue is probably a cover to push for regime change.

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