Iran's recent deal with the IAEA provides the best
path out from diplomatic deadlock. Washington, however, seems set to miss
Following intense negotiations, the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) announced in late August a new work plan reached with
Iran, aimed at resolving all outstanding issues in Iran's nuclear file by the
end of the year.
The agreement was branded as "a significant step
forward" by the Agency's Director General, Dr Mohamed El-Baradei. It was also
hailed as a move in the right direction by most of the 118 nations of the
Non-Aligned Movement who
have consistently recognised Iran's right to a nuclear energy program.
Western countries - the United States and the
"EU3" of Germany, France
and the United Kingdom in particular - were less impressed. Done without their
consent or advice, the deal angered many western diplomats, who suggested that
El-Baradei's IAEA was "over-stepping" its role.
Most galling for the west was how the deal left Iran's enrichment program wholly
intact, dealing a blow to American and European efforts to force a suspension of
Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities were concealed
for nearly two decades partly out of fear of bombardment and sabotage during the
war with Iraq, in which the US maintained active intelligence cooperation with
Saddam Hussein. Nevertheless, Iran is not obliged to declare the existence of
these facilities to the IAEA until six months before any nuclear material is
introduced to the centrifuges. Iran did little wrong in hiding such facilities
in the past, but their legitimate concealment was still considered by the United
States as indicative of the alleged war-like aims of Iran's nuclear activities.
Sitting on a bayonet?
The recent agreement between Iran and the IAEA has
already gone a long way to confirming the peaceful nature of significant parts
of Iran's nuclear program. On plutonium experiments - one
of the key US concerns - the agreement stresses: "...earlier statements made by
Iran are consistent with the Agency's findings, and thus this matter is
And on enrichment activities :
"The Agency has been able to verify the non-diversion of the declared nuclear
materials at the enrichment facilities in Iran and has therefore concluded that
it remains in peaceful use".
Such revelations come after two sets of
American-initiated United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran which demand a complete halt to Iran's enrichment
activities. Iran has rejected the sanctions resolutions as illegitimate and
unjust, as they contradict Article IV of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which grants all member states the inalienable
right "to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful
purposes without discrimination". This includes enrichment at low grades used as
fuel in nuclear reactors which is what Iran currently produces at Natanz and
Isfahan under the supervision of the IAEA.
Back in 2003, Iran voluntarily suspended its
enrichment activities, while it was negotiating with the EU3 on a comprehensive
package of security guarantees and incentives. The talks, however, led nowhere.
The European diplomats later admitted that the package was "an empty box of chocolates" and that "there is nothing else we can offer ... the Americans simply
wouldn't let us."
In the same year, the Bush administration rejected
a secret proposal from Iran which outlined significant compromises and the resolution of all
outstanding issues between the two countries. Had the US taken up Iran's offer
at the time and more recently in the bilateral meetings in Iraq, we would have a
win-win situation where Iran could successfully use its influence in the
political spectrum of post-invasion Iraq to prevent bloodshed.
With the US failing to provide any tangible
incentives or even security guarantees for Iran to continue its temporary
suspension of uranium enrichment, the negotiations broke down in September 2005.
Ever since, Iran has routinely rejected any suggestion of stopping its
enrichment activities again.
Tehran, nevertheless, tried to reach a species of
compromise. After the resumption of enrichment in late 2005, Washington
dismissed an Iranian proposal for the US and other countries to join a consortium that would
develop Iran's enrichment industry. By actively participating in such a
consortium, US officials would have seen first-hand that the program is not
geared towards military purposes.
The recently concluded IAEA deal with Iran has also
failed to make an impression on American diplomatic intransigence. Not only has
Washington refused to support the agreement, which would render Iran's nuclear
activities more transparent, but in the first few days after the deal's
announcement, the Bush administration launched a smear campaign against the IAEA
and its officials as having "exceeded their
By belligerently branding Iran as its number one
enemy, and by ignoring Iran's positive gestures, the US is losing an opportunity
for rapprochement with a country that has mutual interests in regional stability and could help secure American energy needs.
Such wilful errors suggest that the Bush
administration is less concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons as
it is with isolating and demonising Iran.
It is of little coincidence that since news of
Iran's cooperation with the IAEA emerged, the Bush administration has
increasingly issued wild and dubious accusations about alleged Iranian
involvement in the violence in Iraq. The recent detention in northern Iraq of an
Iranian businessman - which has even been protested by Iraq's Kurdish president
Jalal Talabani , a staunch
American ally - is symptomatic of the White House's patchy and erratic efforts
to open up another front of pressure against Iran.
Iran is a poor choice for a scapegoat in Iraq.
Having lost track of 190,000 weapons issued to
Iraqi security forces since 2003, US forces should not be surprised to find
themselves engaged in an open-ended fight with insurgents while basic security
remains a distant prospect in many Iraqi towns.
While the US has closed its eyes to the realities
of Iran, other major powers are using this situation to their own benefit. Only
last month, China surpassed Germany as Iran's top trade partner. Negotiations
continue on a groundbreaking Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. As European
politicians try to find a role to play
between Iran and the US, Iran's lucrative
market and its energy reaches are being steered towards future superpowers who
share Iran's economic interests.
Lessons of recent history
The recent agreement between Iran and the IAEA
provides a major opportunity for the US to clear up its genuine concerns
regarding Iran's nuclear program. Tehran has warned that this agreement will be
jeopardised should a fresh round of sanctions be imposed on Iran. Yet, the Bush
administration continues to pressure its European allies to impose unilateral
sanctions against Iran through the EU.
This approach harms American, European and Iranian
interests at the same time; but more importantly, it will undoubtedly make it
more difficult for the IAEA to conduct its inspections not only in Iran but also
in all the other 46 (including 14 western European) countries that, according to
the IAEA, are in the same situation as Iran.
The history of the relationship between the IAEA
and the US in the run up to the invasion of Iraq serves as a warning for all
those who blindly support the US position on Iran. Three days before the attack
on Iraq, Vice President Cheney famously claimed that the IAEA was simply
How many more innocent lives does it take for us to
understand who is wrong?