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Balancing act over Iran

The world community should continue to explore ways of toughening control over Iran?s nuclear programme. It should be more responsible towards issues of war and peace than the hawks in Washington.

india Updated: May 19, 2006 02:48 IST

It is important to keep in mind several facts when analysing the debate on the Iranian nuclear file in the UN Security Council on May 9. To start with, on April 28, the IAEA presented a new report on the Iranian nuclear programme. The main news so far is that the Iranians are successfully carrying out a pilot uranium-enrichment project. By so doing, they are displaying total disregard for the wishes of the world community. Tehran has irritated even those who were eager to help it avoid the confrontation. But these were merely ‘wishes’. Under the NPT, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, while readiness to implement voluntary CBMs is not a legal commitment, and their duration cannot be indefinite.

As usual, the IAEA report displayed the unparalleled skills of UN bureaucrats to quote enough arguments to substantiate any position. But the conclusion is obvious: there is no definite evidence of Iran’s military nuclear programme and, hence, no reason to submit a resolution on sanctions to the UNSC. As before, its five permanent members are not unanimous on settling the situation. In his report, IAEA Director-General Mohammed El Baradei used a politically correct term, ‘suspension of all enrichment’. This is what the EU3 suggested in its initial compromise proposal, which left room for manoeuvre in the talks. But once Condoleezza Rice came into play, this potential carrot disappeared from the EU3 proposal, and was replaced with the term ‘cessation’. In effect, this has frustrated EU3 mediation.

Moreover, it seems that neither the US nor Iran were too unhappy about this failure. Many analysts believe that for all the statements of US high-rankers, Washington was not interested in the success of the Moscow proposal to set up for Iran a joint uranium-enrichment centre on Russian territory. Iran’s contradictory and dubious attitude to this proposal shows it has its own plans on settling the situation around its nuclear programme.

It is abundantly clear that many of the decision-makers in Iran are convinced that US help is indispensable for a comprehensive solution, also involving bilateral relations. Apparently, the US-Indian nuclear deal has convinced them that it is possible to strike a deal with Bush without go-betweens. This is exactly what Washington wants to achieve tacitly. It doesn’t want to allow other countries, even Nato allies (not to mention the reviving Russia) to take part in solving any geopolitical problems, particularly when it comes to a former strategic ally and key player on the oil market. This explains the deadlock of the problem.

We see two real scenarios of settling the problem. In principle, they are both peaceful, although it is not possible to rule out the use of force. But this would be a third scenario — a disaster for the Iranians and Gulf and Mideastern Arabs, which would bring disgrace upon its initiators. Under the first scenario, the UNSC could issue a resolution, a warning to Iran. It should not contain any threat of force envisaged by Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. The US and other Western countries have set forth a Chapter 7 draft resolution on implementing large-scale economic sanctions, which the US has been carrying out without much success for several decades now. But the draft has been compiled in such a way that it is easy to amend it in general. The authors knew beforehand that after Iraq they were not going to receive international permission for the use of force or far-reaching sanctions.

But a modified Security Council resolution, if adopted, will be another step to the settlement of the Iranian nuclear problem. The IAEA should remain the main instrument for exploring the goals of the Iranian nuclear programme. Resumption by Tehran of a temporary moratorium on uranium enrichment and implementation of the additional protocol requirements would be a litmus test of Iran’s attitude to the opinion of the world community. But the protocol is not a cure-all and the world community should explore ways for toughening control over dubious nuclear programmes on an agreed-upon basis. Of course, the impatient Pentagon guys and the US ‘hawk’ in the UNSC, John Bolton, would be displeased, but the world community should have a more responsible attitude to war and peace than the extremists in Washington.

Paradoxical as it may seem, but now that the US has almost regained its chief designer position in construing a compromise, we can expect more action in the behind-the-scenes bilateral conspiracy. It won’t be difficult to give up the markedly belligerent rhetoric of today, especially considering that the US paved the way to the construction of joint enrichment plants in the Shah’s Iran. The now declassified directive of the US National Security Council No. 292 of April 22, 1975, signed by Henry Kissinger, starts with the decision to allow the use of American materials for production of fuel in Iranian reactors and its transfer to third countries with which the US was bound by agreements.

American political scientist Robert E. Hunter has succinctly defined the key problem by saying that going to war with Iran was the worst option. He said that the US should offer Iran security guarantees. A few days ago, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the patriarch of American ‘hawks’, also criticised the comfrontationist line. There are other signals pointing to a gradual change in the atmosphere of debates on the nuclear programme.

We should be ready for most unexpected turns in the US-Iranian standoff. It is important for us to find effective ways of upholding our political and economic interests in Iran and ensuring the security of our citizens. For now, the best option for us would be to find the golden mean, and disassociate ourselves in calculated proportions from both confronting parties.

The writer is Senior Advisor at the Centre for Policy Studies in Russia

RIA Novosti