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The Elusiveness of Trust: the experience of Security Council and Iran


By Farhang Jahanpour,  The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research

Note: This is the edited text of a lecture given by Dr Farhang Jahanpour at Cardiff University


First of all, I should point out that I am neither a spokesman for the Iranian government, nor indeed a supporter of that government. I am in favour of secular democracy and human rights, not of any form of theocracy. However, here I wish to look at the record of the Security Council's treatment of Iran's nuclear program from an academic point of view, regardless of my feelings for the domestic policies of Iran, which is something that the Iranian people should address. My only aim is to help prevent another disastrous war in the Middle East under false pretences.

It is a cliché to say that if we did not have the United Nations we would have to create one. The world, and especially the Middle East, are passing through a very dangerous and critical period, with the scourge of terrorism, and an arc of instability and crisis stretching from Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, right up to Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. Iran's nuclear file also cannot be discussed in isolation and without due attention to regional and international issues. All the problems of that region are interconnected and cannot be resolved in isolation. It is at such times that we need a strong and respected United Nations to address these very complex issues.

At the beginning of last century, the world was dominated by empires and the geopolitical interests of big powers. Lord Curzon, viceroy in India and British foreign secretary, was quite unapologetic about his aims. Speaking about Persia and Afghanistan in 1898, he said:

"To me, I confess, [countries] are pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game for dominion of the world."

Those policies of forming empires and using other countries as pieces on a chessboard for world domination produced two devastating wars that, in addition to the death of tens of millions of innocent people, also put an end to the European empires. At the beginning of the twentieth century, we had the British, French, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman and a number of smaller empires. By the end of the twentieth century we saw the collapse of all those empires. The Soviet Union, the successor to the Tsarist Empire, which extended from the Baltics to the Pacific and included most of Eastern Europe, also collapsed like a pack of cards.

One of the ideas behind the creation of the League of Nations and later the United Nations was to put an end to that pattern of domination and empire building and to establish lasting peace. However, the League's inability to stop the growing power of Nazi Germany and prevent the occupation of weaker countries was the main factor that sealed its fate and resulted in the outbreak of the Second World War. Recent history has shown that when one power assumes dominance over other countries and is not stopped by international action, it will become unrestrained in the exercise of power and will act in imperial and dictatorial ways treating other countries as vassals, which will ultimately result in its downfall.

The United Nations was meant to remedy that problem and treat every country as equal members of the international community. Its Charter starts with the words:


to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and

to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small"

However, the United Nations that started with such high hopes has also sadly failed to prevent wars altogether, despite its admirable record. Once again, we witness unilateral wars and imperial ventures and occupation and exploitation of other countries outside the framework of the UN. This trend is dangerous, not only for the survival of the UN and for the weaker nations, but also for the great powers because they are bound to repeat the bitter experiences of earlier empires and collapse under the weight of their ambitions. If empires failed in the 19th and 20th centuries, it is inconceivable that they can succeed in the 21st century when there is much greater international awareness and the desire for freedom and equality by all the people of the world.

So criticising this trend is not being anti-UN or anti-American. Indeed, I am in agreement with the vast majority of Americans who are against unilateralism and empire. The genius of America is democracy, human rights and republicanism, not empire building. My aim is to call on the UN to function as it was meant to do, and to remind the United States of the lofty aspirations of its founders that provided a beacon of hope to humanity. The mission of the Security Council is not to pass resolutions against weaker governments and enforce them. Its true calling is to stand up to the big powers and prevent the scourge of war.

One reason for the failure of the United Nations has been its inability to break out of the age-old concept of the domination of a few big powers. The UN was basically created by the victors of the Second World War, the United States, Russia, Britain and France who became the permanent members of the Security Council and gave themselves the right of veto. Let us remember that Beijing replaced Taiwan at the UN in 1971, and Germany was not admitted till 1973.

While the UN has been able to impose its will on weaker nations, it has failed to curb the ambitions of big powers. Speaking about the League of Nations Benito Mussolini stated that "The League is very good when sparrows shout, but no good at all when eagles fall out." His words were echoed by the Mexican delegate to the UN convention in 1945. Sadly, his words are as true today as when they were uttered more than sixty year ago. He said: "We have designed an organisation that will control the mice, but the tigers are still on the loose."

Let us examine a few cases in connection with the Middle East. Let us start with the case of Israel. This again is not meant to be anti-Israeli, for I am a strong supporter of the continued existence of the state of Israel in peace with all its neighbours. However, I believe that the exceptionalism that has been practised in the case of Israel has undermined the UN and has even harmed the long-term interests of Israel, as we see that sixty years after its formation she is still in a state of almost constant war with its neighbours. Here I have in front of me a list of more than 70 American vetoes of resolutions at the Security Council and at the General Assembly dealing with Israel. This constitutes by the far the largest number of vetoes cast by the United States.

What is so sad about this list is not that the United States has regularly vetoed any resolution critical of Israel, but has been almost alone in doing so. It has been a unilateral US decision against the rest of the world. This pattern started from the start of the establishment of the State of Israel and continues to the present time. Only two days ago, US blocked a resolution condemning Israel's cutting off of vital supplies to Gaza. In 1978 a resolution called for return of Palestinian refugees in accordance with Security Council resolution 194 about the right of return. It was defeated 121-3. Israel's admission as a member of the United Nations (see Resolution 273) was conditional on its acceptance of resolution 194. Israel formally agreed to accept the resolution. However, despite this formal acceptance, Israel has not upheld Article 11 of that resolution that confirms the right of return for Palestinian refugees. In 1981, the resolution to discuss Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip was defeated 141-2; the resolution to establish a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East was defeated 107-2; the resolution to clarify the status of Jerusalem was defeated 139-2. In other words, in nearly all those 70-odd resolutions Israel and the United States were on one side and the rest of the international community on the other. Israel is known to have amassed an arsenal of nuclear weapons and is not even a signatory of the NPT, yet no action has been taken about it.

Incidentally, the next largest number of US vetoes were in support of Apartheid South Africa. In 1978 a resolution called for an end to military and nuclear collaboration with the apartheid South Africa. It was defeated 114-3. The same year, another resolution called for strengthening arms embargo on South Africa. It was defeated 132-3. In 1981 there were seven resolutions condemning South Africa's attack on neighbouring states and attempting to impose apartheid on Namibia. They were defeated 145-1, 124-1, 136-1, 129-1, 126-2, 139-1, 138-1. The United States stood alone in all those years in support of South Africa against the rest of the world.

Let us look at the case of 2003 invasion of Iraq. For a couple of years before the invasion of Iraq on 19th March 2003 we had a barrage of propaganda about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. As late as August 26, 2002, Vice President Dick Cheney appeared before a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and publicly denounced "the UN route." Asserting that "simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us." Cheney advanced the view that going to the United Nations would itself be dangerous:

"A return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with UN resolutions. On the contrary, there is great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow 'back in the box.'"

However, as the result of British insistence, the United States was forced to go to the UN. Though Colin Powell managed the considerable feat of securing unanimous approval for Security Council Resolution 1441, the allies differed strongly on the key question of whether or not the resolution gave UN approval for the use of force against Saddam. The British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly stated that there would be a second resolution before any military action against Iraq. Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the UN, put this position bluntly on 8th November 2002, the day Resolution 1441 was passed:

"We heard loud and clear during the negotiations about 'automaticity' and 'hidden triggers' -- the concerns that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action... Let me be equally clear... There is no 'automaticity' in this Resolution. If there is a further Iraqi breach of its disarmament obligations, the matter will return to the Council for discussion as required.... We would expect the Security Council then to meet its responsibilities."

Nevertheless, the Coalition attacked Iraq without a second resolution in complete breach of UN rules. The former Secretary General of the UN said that the war was illegal. The war was said to be a preemptive war. The Nuremberg Tribunals from 1946 have set a clear precedent with Judge Jackson condemning German generals to death for invading Denmark and Norway in the same premise of pre-emption. What steps have been taken by the Security Council to bring those who have committed that illegal act to book?

Let us come to the case of Iran. Shortly after the victory of the Islamic revolution, Iraq invaded Iran on 22nd September 1980 with massive Western support, a war that lasted for eight long years, and killed and wounded about a million Iranians and caused massive destruction. The invasion across 700 miles of Iranian border and occupying some of the most important cities of Iran was not condemned by the Security Council. Resolution 479 issued on 28 September 1980, and resolution 514 issued on 12 July 1982, when Iraqi forces were deep inside Iranian territory merely called for an immediate end to all military operations, without naming the aggressor.

Use of Chemical Weapons

Iraqi troops were reported to have used vomiting agents during their initial smaller attacks on the Helaleh and Ney Khazar zones in 1981. They then employed chemical weapons in August 1983 on the Piranshahr and Haj-Omaran battlefields and later in November 1983 on the Panjvien battlefield. More than 50,000 Iranian soldiers died excruciating deaths due to chemical weapons

Following many requests by the Iranian Government, three official investigation teams were sent to Iran in March 1984, February/March 1986 and April 1987. The conclusions, based on field inspections, clinical examinations of casualties, and laboratory analysis of samples, were released as three official UN reports (S/16433, S/17911, and S/18852). Based on the UN fact-finding team's investigations they confirmed the use of mustard gas as well as nerve agents against Iranian troops. Iraq's use of chemical weapons culminated in the chemical bombardment of Halabja and massacre of more than 5,000 civilians (18 March 1988). Even that attack was initially hushed up, and only became a matter of concern after Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait.

According to official reports, major chemical attacks against Iranian (and some Iraqi Kurds) residential zones occurred more than 30 times. Resolution 582 on 24 February 1986, six years after the start of the war and five years after the use of chemical weapons, for the first time addressed the use of chemical weapons, without mentioning Iraq. Noting that both Iran and Iraq are parties to the Protocol for the prohibition of chemical and bacteriological methods of warfare, the resolution stated in article 2 that it "also deplores the ... the use of chemical weapons contrary to obligations under the 1925 Geneva Protocol", again without naming names.

Resolution 612 issued on 9th May 1988 stated that it ...  "Expects both sides to refrain from the future use of chemical weapons in accordance with their obligations under the Geneva Protocol."

  Resolution 620 issued on 26 August 1988, again stated:

"Deeply dismayed by the missions' conclusions that there had been continued use of chemical weapons in the conflict between Iran and Iraq and that such use against Iranians had become more intense and frequent, ...

2. Encourages the Secretary-General to carry out promptly investigations, in response to allegations brought to his attention by any Member State concerning the possible use of chemical and bacteriological (biological) or toxin weapons that may constitute a violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol or other relevant rules of customary international law, in order to ascertain the facts of the matter, and to report the results..."

I do not wish to speak about the sources of those chemical weapons here. In 1992 and again in 1994, hearings were conducted by the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, which has Senate oversight responsibility for the Export Administration Act. At the opening of the second round of Congressional hearings on May 25,1994, Chairman Donald Riegle and Ranking Member Alphonse D'Amato released a detailed staff report which constituted a searing indictment of U.S. arms export policies during the Reagan/Bush Administrations, linking those exports to the health problems of Gulf War veterans, and excoriating the then current (Clinton) Administration for denying that such a link existed.

Therefore, when one discusses the issue of Iranian nuclear programme, one has to bear in mind the rather regrettable background that has made Iranians, rightly or wrongly, lose faith in the impartiality of the UN and the Security Council.


As I have shown in the chronology of Iran's nuclear program, Iran started its nuclear, program mainly with US help, from 1957, when the United States and Iran signed a civil nuclear co-operation agreement.  Prior to the revolution, Iran had signed agreements for more than 20 nuclear reactors mainly with France, Germany and the United States. Bushehr plant that was being built by the German firm Kraftwerk Union (KWU) was nearly ready for commissioning when the revolution started. The Islamic revolution in Iran put an end to Iran's nuclear program. Later on, as Germany refused to complete the nuclear power plant at Bushehr, in July 1989 the Iranian President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani signed the 10-point Iran-Russia co-operation pact on peaceful utilisation of "nuclear materials and related equipment." In March 1994 Russian experts started work on the first unit of Iran's 1000MW plant, which was scheduled to be finished in four years. However, for ten years under intense Western pressure Russia refused to provide fuel for the plant. Therefore, Iranian authorities decided that as they could not rely on foreign supply of nuclear fuel they should engage in enriching uranium themselves.

On August 14, 2002, Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for an Iranian dissident group National Council of Resistance of Iran, revealed to the general public the existence of two nuclear sites under-construction: a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, and a heavy water facility in Arak. The IAEA immediately sought access to those facilities and further information and co-operation from Iran regarding its nuclear program. According to arrangements in force at the time for implementation of Iran's safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Iran was not required to allow IAEA inspections of a new nuclear facility until six months before nuclear material was introduced into that facility.

France, Germany and the United Kingdom (the "EU-3") undertook a diplomatic initiative with Iran to resolve questions about its nuclear program. On October 21, 2003, in Tehran, the Iranian government and EU-3 Foreign Ministers issued a statement[1], in which Iran agreed to co-operate with the IAEA, to sign and implement an Additional Protocol as a voluntary, confidence-building measure, and to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities during the course of the negotiations. The EU-3 in return explicitly agreed to recognise Iran's nuclear rights and to discuss ways Iran could provide "satisfactory assurances" regarding its nuclear power program, after which Iran would gain easier access to modern technology. Iran signed an Additional Protocol on December 18, 2003, and agreed to act as if the protocol were in force, making the required reports to the IAEA and allowing the required access by IAEA inspectors, pending Iran's ratification of the Additional Protocol.

A comprehensive list of Iran's specific "breaches" of its IAEA safeguards agreement, which the IAEA described as part of a "pattern of concealment," can be found in the November 15, 2004 report of the IAEA on Iran's nuclear program. However, on the question of whether Iran had a hidden nuclear weapons program, the IAEA reported as early as November 2003 that it found "no evidence" that the previously undeclared activities were related to a nuclear weapons program, but also that it was unable to conclude that Iran's nuclear program was exclusively peaceful.

According to the IAEA's own Annual Safeguards Implementation Report of 2004,[2] of the 61 states where both the NPT safeguards and the Additional protocol are implemented, the IAEA has certified the absence of undeclared nuclear activity for only 21 countries, leaving Iran in the same category as 40 other countries including Canada, the Czech Republic, and South Africa.

Under the terms of the Paris Agreement, on November 14, 2004, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator announced a "voluntary and temporary suspension" of its uranium enrichment program, and the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. The measure was said at the time to be a voluntary, confidence-building measure, to continue for some reasonable period of time (six months being mentioned as a reference) as negotiations with the EU-3 continued. Having suspended its enrichment for over two years, as Iran believed that the EU3 did not abide by their side of the bargain, it decided to resume enrichment. In early August 2005, Iran removed seals on its uranium enrichment equipment in Isfahan, under IAEA inspection, which UK officials termed a "breach of the Paris Agreement". Iran, however, maintained that the EU had violated the terms of the Paris Agreement by demanding that Iran abandon nuclear enrichment altogether.

Nevertheless, Iran did voluntarily implement the Additional Protocol, and the IAEA certified on Jan 31, 2006 that "Iran has continued to facilitate access under its Safeguards Agreement as requested by the Agency, and to act as if the Additional Protocol is in force, including by providing in a timely manner the requisite declarations and access to locations."[3] As of August 2007, Iran and the IAEA entered into an agreement on the modalities of resolving additional outstanding issue.

As for the referral of Iran's file to the Security Council, the IAEA Board of Governors deferred a formal decision on Iran's nuclear case for two years after 2003, until September 24, 2005, due to a lack of consensus among the members. The Board deferred the referral of the formal report to the UN Security Council for another five months, until February 27, 2006. The IAEA Board of Governors eventually opted to vote on the resolution rather than adopting it by consensus, making it a rare non-consensus decision with 12 abstentions.[4] The agreement was reached after India that had always sided with Iran voted against Iran after President Bush signed a nuclear agreement with India, in breach of the NPT.

On 31 July 2006, Security Council passed Resolution 1696, under Article 40 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations, which called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment "without further delay." However, on 18 September 2006 at the end of their 14th summit meeting on 18th September 2006, 118 member states of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) issued a strongly-worded statement supporting Iran's nuclear program. On 23 December 2006, after two months of tough negotiation, the Security Council unanimously approved resolution 1737, imposing a number of sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment.

To alleviate concerns that its civilian nuclear program may be diverted to non-peaceful uses, Iran has offered to place additional restrictions on its nuclear program. These offers included, for example, ratifying the Additional Protocol to allow additional inspections, operating the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz as a multinational fuel centre, renouncing plutonium reprocessing and immediately fabricating all enriched uranium into reactor fuel rods, and suggesting to form a consortium with the participation of Western firms. The West has rejected all those options.

The main problem with the Iran-EU negotiations was that the EU three could not provide Iran any of her demands, the releasing of her frozen assets, being taken out of the list of terrorist states, receiving a guarantee of non-aggression, etc. The only country that could provide those demands, the United States, was not involved and continuously labelled Iran a member of the Axis of Evil, a rogue state, a terrorist state, etc, with the constant refrain that 'all options are on the table'. For the past few years, US officials have spoken about Iran's imminent nuclear threat. President Bush even spoke about the possibility of a third world war.

However, a US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the consensus view of 16 intelligence agencies, reported on 3rd December that Iran had halted its nuclear weapon's program in 2003. It further pointed out: "We judge with high confidence that Iran will not be technically capable of producing and reprocessing enough plutonium for a weapon before about 2015." Instead of welcoming this report and reducing tension, Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak called it "a kick to the groin" and President Bush continued with his remarks that "Iran was a threat, is a threat and will be a threat" if she gains knowledge for making a nuclear bomb.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, claimed that U.S. intelligence services were seeking to influence political policy-making with their assessment that Iran had halted its nuclear arms program. Der Spiegel magazine quoted Bolton as saying: "This is politics disguised as intelligence." He described the NIE as a "quasi-putsch" by the agencies.

In Washington, a senior official at the office of the Director of National Intelligence, defended the NIE and said that intelligence agencies were confident in their analysis. "National Intelligence Estimates contain the coordinated judgments of the intelligence community regarding the likely course of future events and the implications for U.S. policy," said Deputy Director of National Intelligence Donald Kerr. "The task of the intelligence community is to produce objective, ground truth analysis," he said in a statement. "We feel confident in our analytic tradecraft and resulting analysis in this estimate."

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said he hoped the administration would "appropriately adjust its rhetoric and policy."

Even before the NIE report, Michael Spies of the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy had stated:

    "The conclusion that no diversion has occurred certifies that the state in question is in compliance with its undertaking, under its safeguards agreement and Article III of the NPT, to not divert material to non-peaceful purposes. In the case of Iran, the IAEA was able to conclude in its November 2004 report that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes. The IAEA reached this same conclusion in September 2005."[5]

Testimony presented to the Foreign Select Committee of the British Parliament supported this claim:

    "In the past four years that Iran's nuclear programme has been under close investigation by the IAEA, the Director General of the IAEA, as early as November 2003 reported to the IAEA Board of Governors that "to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities ... were related to a nuclear weapons programme." ... Although Iran has been found in non-compliance with some aspects of its IAEA safeguards obligations, Iran has not been in breach of its obligations under the terms of the NPT."[6]

On the other hand, many nuclear powers are in breach of their obligations. As then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan stated in 2006: "All of the NPT nuclear-weapon States are modernizing their nuclear arsenals or their delivery systems. They should not imagine that this will be accepted as compatible with the NPT. Everyone will see it for what it is: a euphemism for nuclear rearmament."

The time has come to use this window of opportunity and start a serious dialogue with Iran to resolve the outstanding issues. The policy of demonisation of Iran and sanctions is pushing Iran into the arms of Russia and China. Greater pressure on Iran will only force the people to back the hardliners, while Iran has one of the youngest and most pro-Western societies in the Middle East. Let us start talking and weakening the stranglehold of the hardliners on the Iranian population. Instead of contemplating a Third World War, let us lay the foundations of peace.

[2] IAEA's Annual Safeguards Implementation Report of 2004
[3] # Developments in the Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in Iran, Jan 31 2006
[5] Undeclared Nuclear Activities and Outstanding Issues: Clean Bill of Health? Michael Spies, Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy, May 2006

About the author: Farhang Jahanpour is a British national of Iranian origin. He has taught at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and spent a year as a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at Harvard. For the past 20 years he has been a part-time tutor at the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford.

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