Listening, on 15 April, to the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on US policy towards Iran put me in mind of the inscription Dante imagined over the entrance to Hell: “Abandon hope all you who enter here”.
There seemed no notion among members of the committee that territories beyond the borders of the United States of America are not subject to US jurisdiction – still less that reasoned persuasion and reciprocity can be more effective tools for achieving US foreign policy goals than sanctions (how the good Congressmen love sanctions!) and the infliction of pain.
Wendy Sherman, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs who heads the U.S. delegation in the P5+1 negotiations with Iran, must have come away from that hearing with the feeling that she has an impossible task. Congress will howl if the administration makes the slightest concession to secure Iranian agreement to non-proliferation assurances and restrictions on nuclear activities. Yet if Iran is offered nothing in return for measures it deems to be voluntary, because they lie beyond the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it will continue to defy the US and its allies.
Still, it is hard to avoid the thought that the administration could have made more of this opportunity.
Ambassador Sherman’s opening statement contained no reference to the US intelligence community’s confidence that Iran’s leaders have not taken a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Instead, it referred to “Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions” and to the need for Iran to “change course”, which the congressmen could be forgiven for taking as confirmation of their chairman’s opening assertion that Iran is trying to build a nuclear arsenal.
On top of that, Ambassador Sherman fed the Congressmen’s appetite for a penal approach by stressing that the goal of US policy is to have Iran live up to its “international obligations”. The Congressmen were left undisturbed in their conviction that Iran is entirely in the wrong and most certainly should not be rewarded for mending its ways. The opportunity to start helping their Honours to understand that the reality is more complicated went begging.
I hope LobeLog readers who know what lies behind that last sentence will forgive me for explicating it.
Iran’s “international obligations” come in two forms. One lot of obligations stem from the provisions of the NPT. Iran accepts that these are genuine obligations under international law and is ready to comply fully with them without reciprocity. Indeed some observers believe Iran is already fully compliant.
The other lot stem from the provisions of four Security Council resolutions adopted under article 41 of the UN Charter. Iran refuses to accept the legally-binding nature of these, not unreasonably, given that, when they were adopted, the Council had not determined that Iran’s nuclear activities represented a threat to international peace and security. Instead, Iran offers to proceed on the basis of reciprocity, volunteering the steps specified in these resolutions in return for recognition that Iran has NPT rights as well as obligations, and also for the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
The third missed opportunity was ethical in nature. The administration had no need to indulge in misrepresentation and distortion but succumbed to temptation.
The Congressmen were told that Iran is “isolated”. In reality, Iran maintains full diplomatic relations with some 100 states. Iran’s Foreign Minister is received courteously almost everywhere in Asia and Europe apart from the UK and Israel. Just this week Iran assumed the chair of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Currently Iran presides over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement
Ambassador Sherman implied that responsibility for the appalling civil conflict in Syria must be ascribed to Iran, “a destabilising influence across the entire Middle East”. The initial supply of weapons to the Syrian opposition by Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia was not mentioned. Some Middle Eastern states are allowed to have interests beyond their borders, it seems, and others are not.
Oh, and in Syria all the violence against “the Syrian people” is being inflicted by the Assad regime, supported by its Iranian ally. Perish the thought that the opposition has shed a single drop of Syrian blood!
Most Europeans yearn for the objectivity and ethical agnosticism that underlay the US opening to China, détente with the Soviet Union, and the final flurry of US/USSR agreements heralding the end of the Cold War. That sort of objectivity should come naturally, one might think, when the adversary is Iran, a state so very much weaker than the US. Alas, the opposite seems to be the case!
- Israel says no ‘compromise’ should be made with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- US obstructing global disarmament: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
By once again blowing the chance to close a nuclear deal with Iran, the U.S. and its western partners have set themselves up for escalating the conflict with the Islamic republic
The most recent round of nuclear talks between the P5+1 were, by any meaningful measure, a failure. Even as she sought to put the best face possible on the non-outcome in Almaty, Kazakhstan last month, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton had to acknowledge that western members of the P5+1 and Iran “remain far apart on substance.”
Western officials blame the failure either on the Islamic Republic’s upcoming presidential election or on that old fallback, Iranian “intransigence.” In reality, talks failed because America and its western partners remain unwilling to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
U.S. strategic culture
As a sovereign state, Iran is entitled to enrich, if it chooses; as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is entitled to do so under safeguards. The NPT explicitly recognises signatories’ “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. That this inalienable right includes the right to enrich is clear from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen non-weapons state parties having developed safeguarded fuel-cycle infrastructures potentially able to support weapons programmes.
If Washington recognised Iran’s right to enrich, a nuclear deal with Tehran could be reached in a matter of weeks. As long as Washington refuses to acknowledge Tehran’s nuclear rights, no substantial agreement will be possible.
Yet the Obama administration is no closer than its processor to accepting safeguarded enrichment in Iran. This is partly due to pressure from various allies — Israel, Saudi Arabia, Britain, France — and their American supporters, who expect Washington somehow to defy legal principle along with political reality and compel Tehran to surrender its indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
But the real reason for U.S. obstinacy is that recognising Iran’s nuclear rights would mean accepting the Islamic Republic as a legitimate entity representing legitimate national interests. No American administration since the Iranian Revolution — not even that of Barack Hussein Obama — has been willing to do this.
Washington’s unwillingness is grounded in some unattractive, but fundamental, aspects of American strategic culture: difficulty in coming to terms with independent power centres (whether globally or in vital regions like the Middle East); hostility to non-liberal states, unless they subordinate their foreign policies to U.S. preferences (as Egypt did under Sadat and Mubarak); and an unreflective but deeply rooted sense that U.S.-backed norms, legal rules, and transnational decision-making processes are meant to constrain others, not America itself.
Because these attitudes are so fundamental, it is unlikely that Obama will invest the political capital required to bring America’s Iran policy in line with strategic reality before his presidency ends. And so the controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities will grind on.
The world has experienced such diplomatic stasis before. In 2003-2005, Britain, France, and Germany worked (ostensibly) to prepare a nuclear settlement with Tehran; Iran suspended enrichment for nearly two years to encourage diplomatic progress. The initiative failed because the George W. Bush administration refused to join the talks unless Tehran was willing to abandon pursuit of indigenous fuel-cycle capabilities.
In 2009-2010, efforts to negotiate the exchange of most of Iran’s then-stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor collapsed for similar reasons. In the May 2010 Tehran Declaration brokered by Brazil and Turkey, Iran accepted all of Washington’s terms for a fuel swap, yet the Obama administration rejected the Declaration because it openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich. Three years later, the administration is once again undermining chances for diplomatic success with its inflexibility regarding Iran’s nuclear rights.
The world has also seen what happens when America and its European partners demonstrate such bad faith in nuclear diplomacy with Tehran — Iran expands its nuclear infrastructure and capabilities. When Iran broke its nearly two-year suspension of enrichment in 2005, it could run less than a thousand centrifuges; today, it has installed 12,000 centrifuges, more than 9,000 of which process uranium gas to produce enriched uranium. In February 2010, Iran began enriching uranium to the near-20 per cent level needed to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) after the U.S. and its partners refused to sell the fuel; Iran consistently offered to suspend near-20 per cent enrichment if it could obtain an adequate fuel supply for the TRR. After the Obama administration torpedoed the Tehran Declaration, Iran accelerated its production of near-20 per cent uranium and began indigenously manufacturing fuel plates for the TRR.
With America and its European partners once again blowing an opening to accept Tehran’s nuclear rights and close a nuclear deal, we are likely to see another surge of expansion in Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Certainly, Iran will continue enriching, at the three to four per cent level needed for power reactors and at the near-20 per cent level needed for the TRR, and installing more efficient second-generation centrifuges. Iran also appears to be on track to commission a heavy water reactor at Arak next year.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) consistently certifies that no nuclear materials have been diverted from Iran’s safeguarded nuclear facilities, all of these steps will be cited by Israel, the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, and other constituencies in the U.S. hankering for military action as evidence that time for diplomacy with Tehran has run out. Additionally, it is possible that the Islamic Republic will find legitimate reasons to begin enriching above the 20 per cent level. While such higher-level enrichment would be done under IAEA safeguards, this would also be interpreted in the U.S. and Israel as provocative Iranian “escalation.”
Pressure on Obama
Obama would prefer to avoid another U.S.-initiated war in the Middle East. But his unwillingness to revive America’s deteriorating regional position through serious nuclear diplomacy with Tehran will increase pressure on him to order U.S. military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities before the end of his presidency.
Rather than openly abandon the delusion of U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, Obama will try to placate more hawkish elements by escalating America’s ongoing “dirty war” against the Islamic Republic — including economic warfare against civilians, threatening secondary sanctions against third countries in violation of U.S. WTO commitments, cyber-attacks, and support for groups doing things inside Iran that Washington elsewhere condemns as “terrorism,” stoking sectarian tensions, and fuelling further violence in Syria to prevent Tehran from “winning” there. But that, too, will only further destabilise the Middle East and bring American and Iran ever closer to the brink of overt confrontation.
Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett are authors of Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms with the Islamic Republic of Iran, New York: Metropolitan, 2013. They teach international relations, he at Penn State, she at American University.
- Nuclear Iran: What’s at Stake for the BRICS (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Flynt Leverett: U.S. Is Engaged in A Dirty War against Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
The controversy over Iran’s nuclear activities has at least as much to do with the future of international order as it does with nonproliferation. For this reason, all of the BRICS have much at stake in how the Iranian nuclear issue is handled.
Conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme is driven by two different approaches to interpreting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); these approaches, in turn, are rooted in different conceptions of international order. Which interpretation of the NPT ultimately prevails on the Iranian nuclear issue will go a long way to determine whether a rules-based view of international order gains ascendancy over a policy-oriented approach in which the goals of international policy are defined mainly by America and its partners. And that will go a long way to determine whether rising non-Western states emerge as true power centers in a multipolar world, or whether they continue, in important ways, to be subordinated to hegemonic preferences of the West—and especially the United States.
The NPT is appropriately understood as a set of three bargains among signatories: non-weapons states commit not to obtain nuclear weapons; countries recognised as weapons states (America, Russia, Britain, France, and China) commit to nuclear disarmament; and all parties agree that signatories have an “inalienable right” to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. One approach to interpreting the NPT gives these bargains equal standing; the other holds that the goal of nonproliferation trumps the other two.
There have long been strains between weapons states and non-weapons states over nuclear powers’ poor compliance with their commitment to disarm. Today, though, disputes about NPT interpretation are particularly acute over perceived tensions between blocking nuclear proliferation and enabling peaceful use of nuclear technology. This is especially so for fuel cycle technology, the ultimate “dual use” capability—for the same material that fuels power, medical, and research reactors can, at higher levels of fissile isotope concentration, be used in nuclear bombs. The dispute is engaged most immediately over whether Iran, as a non-weapons party to the NPT, has a right to enrich uranium under international safeguards.
For those holding that the NPT’s three bargains have equal standing, Tehran’s right to enrich is clear—from the NPT itself, its negotiating history, and decades of state practice, with at least a dozen states having developed safeguarded fuel cycle infrastructures potentially able to support a weapons program. On this basis, the diplomatic solution is also clear: Western recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights in return for greater transparency through more intrusive verification and monitoring.
Those recognising Iran’s nuclear rights take what international lawyers call a “positivist” view of global order, whereby the rules of international relations are created through the consent of independent sovereign states and are to be interpreted narrowly. Such a rules-based approach is strongly favoured by non-Western states, including BRICS—for it is the only way international rules might constrain established powers as well as rising powers and the less powerful.
Those who believe nonproliferation trumps the NPT’s other goals claim that there is no treaty-based “right” to enrich, and that weapons states and others with nuclear industries should decide which non-weapons states can possess fuel cycle technologies. From these premises, the George W Bush administration sought a worldwide ban on transferring fuel cycle technologies to countries not already possessing them. Since this effort failed, Washington has pushed the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group to make such transfers conditional on recipients’ acceptance of the Additional Protocol to the NPT—an instrument devised at US instigation in the 1990s to enable more intrusive and proactive inspections in non-weapons states.
America has pressed the UN Security Council to adopt resolutions telling Tehran to suspend enrichment, even though it is part of Iran’s “inalienable right” to peaceful use of nuclear technology; such resolutions violate UN Charter provisions that the Council act “in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations” and “with the present charter.” The Obama administration has also defined its preferred diplomatic outcome and, with Britain and France, imposed it on the P5+1: Iran must promptly stop enriching at the near-20 per cent level to fuel its sole (and safeguarded) research reactor; it must then comply with Security Council calls to cease all enrichment. US officials say Iran might be “allowed” a circumscribed enrichment programme, after suspending for a decade or more, but London and Paris insist that “zero enrichment” is the only acceptable long-term outcome.
Those asserting that Iran has no right to enrich—America, Britain, France, and Israel—take a policy-or results-oriented view of international order. In this view, what matters in responding to international challenges are the goals motivating states to create particular rules in the first place—not the rules themselves, but the goals underlying them. This approach also ascribes a special role in interpreting rules to the most powerful states—those with the resources and willingness to act in order to enforce the rules. Unsurprisingly, this approach is favoured by established Western powers—above all, by the United States.
BRICS need to call Washington’s bluff
All of the BRICS have, in various ways, pushed back against a de facto unilateral rewriting of the NPT by America and its European partners. Since abandoning nuclear weapons programmes during democratisation and joining the NPT, Brazil and South Africa have staunchly defended non-weapons states’ right to peaceful use of nuclear technology, including enrichment. With Argentina, they resisted US efforts to make transfers of fuel cycle technology contingent on accepting the Additional Protocol (which Brazil has refused to sign), ultimately forcing Washington to compromise. With Turkey, Brazil brokered the Tehran Declaration in May 2010, whereby Iran accepted US terms that it swap most of its then stockpile of enriched uranium for new fuel for its research reactor. But the Declaration openly recognised Iran’s right to enrich; for this reason, the Obama administration rejected it.
The recently concluded 5th BRICS Summit in Durban saw a joint declaration Declaration that referred to the official BRICS position on Iran:
“We believe there is no alternative to a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue.”
At the same time, the BRICS have all, to varying degrees, accommodated Washington on the Iranian issue. Russian and Chinese officials acknowledge there will be no diplomatic solution absent Western recognition of Tehran’s nuclear rights. Yet China and Russia endorsed all six Security Council resolutions requiring Iran to suspend enrichment. Beijing and Moscow did so partly to keep America in the Council with the issue, where they can exert ongoing influence—and restraint—over Washington; at their insistence, the resolutions state explicitly that none of them can be construed as authorising the use of force against Iran.
Russia, China, and the other BRICS have also accommodated Washington’s increasing reliance on the threatened imposition of “secondary” sanctions against third-country entities doing business with the Islamic Republic. Such measures violate US commitments under the World Trade Organisation, which allows members to cut trade with states they deem national security threats but not to sanction other members over lawful business with third countries. If challenged on this in the WTO’s Dispute Resolution Mechanism, America would surely lose; for this reason, US administrations have been reluctant actually to impose secondary sanctions on non-US entities transacting with Iran. Nevertheless, companies, banks, and even governments in all of the BRICS have cut back on their Iranian transactions—feeding American elites’ sense that, notwithstanding their illegality, secondary sanctions help leverage non-Western states’ compliance with Washington’s policy preferences and vision of (US-dominated) world order.
If the BRICS want to move decisively from a still relatively unipolar world to a genuinely multipolar world, they will, at some point, have to call Washington’s bluff on Iran-related secondary sanctions. They will also have to accelerate the development of alternatives to US-dominated mechanisms for conducting and settling international transactions—a project to which the proposed new BRICS bank could contribute significantly.
- Nuclear warheads in US, Europe threaten all of humanity, Soltanieh says (alethonews.wordpress.com)
On February 22, 2012, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons “a grave sin” from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.
The Leader described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “senseless, destructive and dangerous,” adding that the Iranian nation has never sought and will never seek atomic bombs as the country already has the conventional capacity to challenge the nuclear-backed powers.
A former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has dismissed as “overhyped” the Western propaganda over the ‘threat of nuclear-armed Iran,’ saying there is no evidence that Tehran is even interested in producing weapons of mass destruction.
“So far Iran has not violated the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons) and there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons,” Hans Blix said in Dubai.
He added that no action can be justified against Iran’s nuclear activities on “mere suspicions or intentions that may not exist.”
The former IAEA chief had previously said that Iran has been more open to international inspections than most other countries would be.
Iran has repeatedly expressed its strong opposition to any production, possession or use of nuclear weapons, saying such arms have no place in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear doctrine.
On February 22, 2012, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Iran considers the pursuit and possession of nuclear weapons “a grave sin” from every logical, religious and theoretical standpoint.
The Leader described the proliferation of nuclear weapons as “senseless, destructive and dangerous,” adding that the Iranian nation has never sought and will never seek atomic bombs as the country already has the conventional capacity to challenge the nuclear-backed powers.
The US, Israel, and some of their allies have repeatedly accused Iran of pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.
Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the NPT and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
Despite the IAEA’s numerous inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, the UN nuclear agency has never found any evidence showing that Iran’s civilian nuclear program has been diverted to nuclear weapons production.
Israel has rebuffed a UN call to adhere to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and open itself to international inspectors, calling the suggestion a “meaningless mechanical vote” of a body that “lost all its credibility regarding Israel.”
In a 174-6 vote, the United Nations General Assembly demanded in a non-binding call that Tel Aviv join the NPT “without further delay,” in an effort to create a legally binding nuclear-free Middle East.
Washington, Israel’s strongest ally, surprised no one by voting against the resolution – but did approve two paragraphs that were voted on separately, which called for universal adherence to the NPT and for all non-signatory governments to join.
The UN body “has lost all its credibility regarding Israel with these types of routine votes that are ensured passage by an automatic majority and which single out Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor was quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying.
The Assembly’s call on Israel comes days after a large majority of its members voted to grant Palestine statehood state status and just weeks after the an escalation of violence between Gazans and Israel’s occupation forces. Palmor stressed, however, that since the NPT vote takes place annually, the Palestinian victory is not connected.
Israel is not a signatory to the 1970 Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, the main objective of which is to is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology. Despite near-universal acknowledgement that Tel Aviv maintains a powerful nuclear arsenal, Israeli officials promote a position claiming their government will “not be the first country to introduce weapons into the Middle East.”
The Middle East’s only democracy possesses as many as 400 nuclear warheads, along with various ways to deliver them. It is also one of four countries known to have nuclear weapons that are not recognized as Nuclear Weapons States by the NPT. The others are India, North Korea and Pakistan.
Israel follows a policy known as “nuclear opacity,” which it sees as a deterrent against its neighbors.
The timing of the Israeli dismissal of the call for transparency comes less than two weeks after Washington’s withdrawal from December’s nuclear-free Middle East conference, to be held in Finland and sponsored by Russia, the UK and the US.
State Department officials said the international effort is being postponed because of “a deep conceptual gap [that] persists in the region on approaches towards regional security and arms control arrangements,” and because “states in the region have not reached agreement on acceptable conditions” for the meeting, quotes the IPS.
But many blamed Israel’s refusal to accept the terms as the real reason for postponing the regional nuclear drive.
“The truth is that the Israeli regime is the only party which rejected to conditions for a conference,” Iranian diplomat Khodadad Seifi told the General Assembly on Monday, as he called for “strong pressure on that regime to participate in the conference without any preconditions.”
The meeting is now expected to be held early next year.
There are currently five nuclear-weapon-free zones in the world, according to the UN: Latin America and the Caribbean, the South Pacific, South-East Asia, Central Asia, and Africa.
- NAM slams nuclear meeting cancellation, urges Israel to join NPT (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- World tells Israel to open up its nukes (morningstaronline.co.uk)
On U.S. Efforts to Take Away Iran’s Rights by (Unilaterally) Rewriting the NPT: And the Complicity of America’s Iran “Experts” in the Charade
One of the more striking passages in President Obama’s address to the United Nations General Assembly last month presented Obama’s view of Iran’s nuclear rights. Specifically, the President noted, “We respect the right of nations to access peaceful nuclear power, but one of the purposes of the United States is to see that we harness that power for peace.”
This is a more restrictive formulation than Obama and senior officials in his administration have deployed in previous statements, which emphasized that Iran has a right to “pursue peaceful nuclear energy.” In normal English usage, the verb “to pursue” implies that, in the official American view, Iran might at least have a right to generate its own “peaceful nuclear energy.” By contrast, Obama’s more recent phrasing implies that, in Washington’s current reading, Iran does not even have a right to generate its own nuclear power, but may have to content itself with trying to “access to peaceful nuclear power” that is generated by others.
Needless to say, all of this is far removed from Iran’s longstanding insistence on its right to enrich uranium if it chooses to do so. And, of course, Iran has long recognized that, as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), it must exercise that right under international monitoring.
Initially, even the George W. Bush administration acknowledged that there was, somewhere in a vague legal ether, an Iranian right to enrich—but it argued that Tehran had somehow managed to “forfeit” this right. Such an argument did not persuade most of the lawyers working on the issue in the Bush administration, much less most of the other nations of the world. Eventually, the Bush administration retreated to a rigid demand that the Islamic Republic obey Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend enrichment before the United States would negotiate with Tehran—and without ever stipulating that a negotiated settlement would include an explicit recognition of Iran’s nuclear rights. Predictably, this stance was diplomatically dysfunctional.
When the Obama administration came in, it dropped the Bush administration’s insistence on suspension as a precondition for negotiations. But it has been even less willing than the Bush administration to acknowledge Iran’s nuclear rights—and it, too, has the diplomatic (non)results to show for its obtuseness.
From a global perspective, the positions of the Bush and Obama administrations on Iran’s right to develop indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities and to pursue internationally safeguarded enrichment of uranium on its own territory make the United States a real outlier. This reality was underscored in August at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit, convened in Tehran, where NAM members—including the vast majority of the world’s nation-states—strongly endorsed the Islamic Republic’s right to pursue uranium enrichment. Although hardly covered in the American media, the NAM summit marked a significant international repudiation of U.S. policy regarding the nuclear rights of Iran and, by extension, other non-Western NPT signatories.
In the United States, this prompted defenders of the Bush/Obama line to spring into action. One of them, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, co-wrote a piece for the U.S. government-sponsored Iran Primer last month, see here, which argued that the NAM communique “misconstrues the NPT.” This sparked a vigorous online exchange between Albright—who is not a lawyer or student of international legal regimes—and Daniel Joyner, professor at the University of Alabama’s School of Law and one of the legal academy’s most accomplished scholars of the NPT. That exchange reveals much about the contribution of many Western Iran “experts” to America’s Iran debate.
According to Albright and his co-author,
“Under Article IV [of the NPT], Iran cannot claim the right to nuclear energy production—or a right to enrich at all—while under investigation for possible non-peaceful uses of these capabilities. Iran’s right to nuclear energy is qualified—a long as there are no major lapses in its Article II obligations…the NAM communique failed to acknowledge the need for Iran to fully comply with the international treaty on nuclear weapons. Iran tried to portray that the final communique represented a diplomatic victory for Tehran and its controversial nuclear program. But the summit’s resolution instead undermined the Non-Aligned Movement’s credibility, since it demonstrated that developing nations cannot be counted on to deal seriously with nuclear nonproliferation issues.”
Leaving aside the patronizing tone of the last sentence—in effect, Albright and his co-author are positing that responsible Americans and Europeans (the rightful masters of the universe) cannot possibly think non-Westerners are “dealing seriously” with important international issues unless those non-Westerners simply accept, uncritically, the views advanced by their Western superiors—this statement is wrong on several substantive points. Among other things, it is wrong as an interpretation of the NPT and in its assertion that there have been “major lapses” in Iran’s Article II obligations. These features prompted Daniel Joyner to offer the following observations on his blog, Arms Control Law, see here:
“Why is it that in the nonproliferation area everyone, including engineers, physicists, chemists and general policy wonks, think they can do legal interpretation? You won’t find me writing articles about the technical aspects of missile capabilities, or the internal physics of a warhead core. I know these things are outside of my training and qualification to do. But apparently everyone thinks they can do legal analysis. With respect, I think David should stick to obsessing over satellite pictures of tarps at random military bases in Iran.”
On our own, we found Joyner’s comment mildly amusing. But it clearly touched a nerve in David Albright, see here, who responded with a remarkable broadside characterized by ad hominem invective and fallacious arguments from authority:
“I have belatedly read Joyner’s rant about our Iran Primer article with amusement and likewise find his chorus of lackeys a pathetic bunch. Now I understand that Joyner’s blogging is supposed to be an ego trip for him and a safe haven for commentators, but Joyner’s blogging is particularly egotistical and, with respect, off-the-wall. In the comments and in Joyner’s writings, I can see the deep ignorance of the NPT. I certainly see no need to revise our analysis and statements in our Iran Primer article. We have consulted with many lawyers who find Joyner’s analysis deeply flawed and agenda driven… I would recommend that Joyner have his work reviewed by competent lawyers. He would need to revise most of his work.”
Joyner responded vigorously, see here, making the point, among his other rejoinders, that he has published two peer-reviewed books, with Oxford University Press, on interpreting the NPT. But, for our purposes, the most important part of his response concerns the public posture adopted by too many Washington, DC-based policy “experts” and the motives for their adoption of such a posture. Joyner’s analysis focuses on nonproliferation specialists, but, in our view, it also applies very well to many who claim expertise on other Iran-related issues:
”A colleague in D.C. once said this to me about the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community—and by this community we both meant the entirety of the various NGOs and think tanks and the few University based centers that focus on nonproliferation studies in the U.S.: that the community is very D.C. centric, cliquish, incestuous and self-referential, to its detriment. These words have really stuck with me, because I find them to be absolutely true, and both insightful and parsimonious as I’ve observed the community over the years.
I would take it even further and say that in addition, in my opinion, the whole U.S. based nonproliferation experts community—with few exception—is systematically biased toward support of USG positions on all the top nonproliferation issues. They maintain an essentially common narrative and set of emphases that is in line with, and that provides support for, the narrative and emphases of the USG, with only the smallest amounts of quibbling around the edges (Albright will talk all day long about his “aluminum tubes” work). I think that there is in the work of the U.S. nonproliferation epistemic community far too little real, independent evaluation and criticism of USG positions. As I see it, the U.S. nonproliferation community almost acts as a second wave of apologists for U.S. policy, after the USG itself—though it sometimes shrouds this effort in a lot of technical and sometimes academic-looking jargon. But in the end what the U.S. nonproliferation community ABSOLUTELY DOES NOT DO is serve in the role of an independent, rigorous, analytical check on USG nonproliferation positions, as it could and should do, and as the nongovernmental nonproliferation community in other countries does. And I think there are some clear reasons for this. Much more so than in other countries, the members of the U.S. based nonproliferation community tend, with very few exceptions, to
1) have been employed by the USG in the past;
2) want to be employed by the USG in the future;
3) be funded by or hope to be funded by the USG; and/or
4) want to maintain the access and good favor they have with USG officials, for the sake of information and for the sake of invitations to cool events, etc.
Basically what I’m saying is that they are biased towards the positions of the USG, because of their overly close personal and institutional associations with the USG, and because they see their own professional success as being tied to the favor of the USG.
I think there’s also a significant degree of media whorishness at work here as well. As a colleague once wrote to me while we were discussing this topic: ‘I think there is another—very important—aspect you may be missing that may even over-ride the ones you mention: aside from taking USG positions, the non-proliferation community likes the high-media profile allotted it, when it loudly tut-tuts 3rd world nuclear arms capacities (or enemies of the west’s nuclear arms capacities), whether or not such capacities are consistent w/ NPT and/or CSAs. People like being quoted, appearing on TV, and generally feeling important. The Non-proliferation community “loves” the attention and basks in this glow, and though they would “privately” acknowledge that Iran is not so far outside bounds (if at all), they nonetheless pass on statements and innuendo to media indicating the alleged dangers and thus wittingly or not, fan the flames. Others like ISIS simply pass on opinions dressed as expert findings. It just would not do for Non-proliferation types to tell the media: “well, no, Iran’s program is actually not a threat to world peace yet” like the DNI did.’”
Not surprisingly, Joyner sees David Albright as embodying this description, as he points out in criticizing some of Albright’s analysis on Iran’s nuclear activities:
“All [Albright] really does is make provocative speculations about what “could” be happening at locations in Iran, and what “maybe” Iran will do in the future. And it’s so clear that he’s working on the basis of a set of unproven, but firmly held assumptions about Iran—the same assumptions he had about Iraq, for which his work has been widely discredited—that they have a nuclear weapons program, and he is ginning up all the evidence he can that might support that assumption, speculating about what that evidence may mean, but only in a direction that would tend to support his preexisting assumption. There’s no rigor here in thoroughly considering and evaluating other possible explanations for the same observations—like a real academic or even a real, quality NGO analysis would. Maybe it’s because David has never done PhD level academic work, and so he doesn’t understand what is expected of quality scientific analysis. But this is an assumption-driven piece of provocative speculation that serves only to provide support for the USG’s contentions about Iran’s nuclear program. That’s just what he infamously did in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq war too. That’s not rigorous and independent analysis. That’s biased and low quality work…
I know very well how the D.C. nonproliferation crowd feels about me… They think my work is pro-Iranian and generally pro-developing country, and anti-U.S. They say I’m biased and agenda driven… Am I personally sympathetic to or biased towards the policies of the Iranian government? Absolutely not… However, do I think that the legal arguments of the current government of Iran deserve a fair and independent and rigorous hearing and analysis by the international community, just as the legal arguments of any other government do? Yes I do, for many reasons, not least of which is the prevention of unnecessary and unjust economic sanctions and possibly war against the Iranian people, and the fairness and perceived legitimacy and relevance of international law. I don’t see anyone else stepping up to make these arguments, and make sure that they are taken seriously in the West, and that’s why I keep doing it.
Am I sympathetic to developing countries’ positions in the nuclear energy area generally? Yes I am. I admit that freely. And it’s because I genuinely think that they are bullied by the West in the nuclear area, as in many other areas, for a whole range of political and economic reasons, and that the legal advisors of Western governments have concocted erroneous legal arguments to give perceived credibility to these policies. I can’t change the policies and the politics they’re based on, but I think there is a real need to lend whatever professional abilities I have to making sure that their legal arguments are made at a high level of competence and sophistication, and are given due consideration by the international community. Again, no one else seems to be doing this in the West, and so I keep doing it. But I maintain that my legal analysis is independent and essentially objective, and that I follow the proper analysis of a legal source to its most persuasively correct conclusion, no matter what that conclusion is.
I think that the U.S. nonproliferation community, linked so closely as it is to the USG itself, generally takes a negative view of my work for a number of reasons. One of the primary reasons is that they are so used to being able to effectively tell the rest of the world what to think about the NPT regime, and how to interpret the law associated with it, that when someone independent comes along and poses a genuine intellectual challenge to the warped and USG driven legal views of the NPT regime that they’ve been spouting for decades, they genuinely don’t know what to do about it. With the errors and intellectual bankruptcy of their legal arguments laid bare, they make only feeble attempts to defend themselves substantively because, honestly, they don’t have very good substantive arguments to make and they never have. The only argument they have left to make is to argue in desperation that the challenger is biased and agenda driven—which is in the end the ultimate irony, because it’s precisely their own bias and USG-centric agenda that has made their arguments so weak, and has provided the legal errors that the challenger now corrects, to the persuasion of everyone else in the world.”
Our compliments to Prof. Joyner.
- NAM demands that Israel join the NPT without further delay (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- IAEA resolution casts doubt on benefit of NPT: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran Urges Israel to Join NPT (en.rian.ru)
- NAM calls for total nuclear disarmament (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- What If Iran Leaves the NPT? (nationalinterest.org)
TEHRAN – In a statement read out at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on Monday, Iran and other members of the Non-Aligned Movement called for total nuclear disarmament in the world.
The statement was read out by the Iranian ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, on behalf of the NAM member states, during a meeting of the First Committee on all disarmament and international security agenda items.
Following are the main points of the statement:
- NAM reaffirms its principled positions on nuclear disarmament, which remains its highest priority. The movement reiterates its deep concern over the threat to humanity posed by the continued existence of nuclear weapons and of their possible use or threat of use and expresses its concern over the lack of progress by the Nuclear-Weapon States (NWS) to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.
- NAM reaffirms that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is the only absolute guarantee against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons and reaffirms further that all Non-Nuclear-Weapon States (NNWS) should be effectively assured by the NWS against the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.
- The movement remains deeply concerned by the strategic defense doctrines of the Nuclear-Weapon States and NATO’s Deterrence and Defense Posture Review adopted at its summit in May 2012 that set out the rationales for the use of nuclear weapons. NAM strongly calls for the complete exclusion of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons from their military doctrines.
- The movement also calls on the NWS to immediately cease their plans to further modernize, upgrade, refurbish, or extend the lives of their nuclear weapons and related facilities.
- NAM calls for convening a high level international conference to identify ways and means of eliminating nuclear weapons, at the earliest possible date, with the objective of an agreement on a phased program for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons, to prohibit their development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use, and to provide for their destruction.
- NAM recognizes the need to enhance the effectiveness of the UN disarmament machinery. NAM notes that the main difficulty of the disarmament machinery lies in the lack of genuine political will by some states to achieve actual progress, including in particular on nuclear disarmament.
- NAM considers the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones as an important measure, and, in this context, NAM continues its strong support for the establishment in the Middle East of a nuclear-weapon-free zone. Pending its establishment, NAM demands that Israel, the only country in the region that has not joined the NPT nor declared its intention to do so, renounce any possession of nuclear weapons, accede to the NPT without precondition and further delay, and place promptly all its nuclear facilities under IAEA full-scope safeguards. The movement also calls for the total and complete prohibition of the transfer of all nuclear-related equipment, information, material and facilities, resources or devices and the extension of assistance in the nuclear related scientific or technological fields to Israel. NAM also supports the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction.
- NAM reaffirms the inalienable right of each state to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy, including the sovereign right to develop full national nuclear fuel cycle, for peaceful purposes without discrimination. The movement once again reaffirms the sovereign right of each state to define its national energy policies, including the inalienable right of each state to develop a full national nuclear fuel cycle.
- NAM is of the firm belief that non-proliferation policies shall not undermine the inalienable right of states to acquire and access material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
- NAM expresses its deep concern at the continued imposition of and/or maintaining limitations and restrictions on exports to developing countries of nuclear material, equipment, and technology for peaceful purposes.
- NAM once again reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities – operational or under construction – poses a great danger to human beings and the environment, and constitutes a grave violation of international law, principles of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA.
- While noting that considerable progress has been made in developing and applying the latest information technologies and means of telecommunication, the movement expresses concern that these technologies and means can potentially be used for purposes that are inconsistent with the objectives of maintaining international stability and security and may adversely affect the integrity of the infrastructure of states to the detriment of their security in both civil and military fields. NAM emphasizes that these technologies and means should be utilized by member states in a manner consistent with international law and the principles and purposes of the UN Charter.
- NAM stresses the need for a multilaterally negotiated, universal, comprehensive, transparent, and non-discriminatory approach toward the issue of missiles in all its aspects, as a contribution to international peace and security.
- NAM stresses the importance of the sovereign rights and security concerns of all states at regional and global levels in any approach to the issue of missiles in all its aspects. NAM further stresses the importance of contribution of peaceful uses of space technologies, including space launch vehicle technologies, to human advancement.
- NAM states parties to the Chemical and Biological Weapons Conventions call for their balanced, effective, and non-discriminatory implementation.
- NAM reaffirms the sovereign right of states to acquire, manufacture, export, import and retain conventional arms and their parts and components for their self-defense and security needs.
- NAM demands that Israel join the NPT without further delay (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- NAM calls for total abolition of chemical weapons (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran FM Salehi: NAM Should Oppose Sanctions, Foreign Intervention Unacceptable (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iranian defense minister: Israel should set red lines for itself (theuglytruth.wordpress.com)
Gingerly Pussyfooting Around the Third Rail: Semi-Brave Washington Post Ombudsman Mentions Israel’s Nukes
For a number of years the mainstream media and politicians have been in an uproar about Iran’s nuclear program, alleging that the Islamic state is developing a nuclear weapons program, or at least the capability of developing nuclear weapons, and thus threatening the peace of the world. But no reputable source claims that Iran actually possesses a nuclear weapons arsenal. In 2009, the then-dean of the Washington White House Correspondents, Helen Thomas, was so intrepid as to ask President Obama in his inaugural press conference if there were any Middle Eastern countries that currently possessed nuclear weapons. President Obama was caught flat-footed, uttering that he did not want to “speculate” (somehow America’s varied claims about Iran’s nuclear program do not count as speculation), and then, resorting to the verbal gymnastics common to American politicians, dodged the question as best he could. (A little over a year later, Thomas would be hounded out of journalism for what were widely regarded as anti-Semitic remarks about Israel, which were made in private but were video-recorded by an individual unknown to Thomas who turned out to be a an ardently pro-Israel rabbi, and then publicized by the major media.)
On August 31, the Washington Post’s ombudsman, Patrick B. Pexton, dared to touch on the taboo subject of Israel’s nuclear-weapons program in a piece titled “What about Israel’s nuclear weapons?” The Post’s ombudsman is supposed to deal with complaints about the newspaper and he began by noting: “Readers periodically ask me some variation on this question: ‘Why does the press follow every jot and tittle of Iran’s nuclear program, but we never see any stories about Israel’s nuclear weapons capability?’”
Pexton then offered some ostensible reasons for such a state of affairs. He wrote: “First, Israel refuses to acknowledge publicly that it has nuclear weapons. [Israel’s policy is known as “nuclear ambiguity.”] The U.S. government also officially does not acknowledge the existence of such a program.” But the very purpose of a purportedly free media is to ferret out and mention things that governments don’t acknowledge. And the fact that Iran actually denies trying to develop nuclear weapons does not prevent the U.S. media from charging it with that very activity.
Then Pexton glommed onto the idea that since Israel has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) its nuclear weapons are not ipso facto illegal and that it is under no legal obligation to have them inspected, whereas since Iran did sign that treaty it is not allowed to develop nuclear weapons and must allow for full inspections of all of its nuclear facilities. Pexton maintains that “the core of the current dispute is that Tehran is not letting them [International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) weapons inspectors] have unfettered access to all of the country’s nuclear installations.” It is not apparent that the NPT actually allows inspectors to have “unfettered access” to go wherever they want. And while the IAEA has found some faults with Iran’s adherence to the NPT, Israel and the United States go beyond the letter of the Treaty in demanding that Iran be prohibited from developing a “nuclear weapons capability” or engaging in the enrichment of uranium to high levels that could lead to nuclear weapons. Such demands would inhibit the promotion and sharing of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, which is one of the fundamental “pillars” of the NPT and a significant reason why countries lacking nuclear weapons would be motivated to become Treaty members. Iran thus has some justification in claiming that its treaty rights in this area have been violated by existing sanctions.
Furthermore, the NPT does not give the United States the right to enforce its provisions—even if they were being violated—by attacking Iran, and still more outrageous would be the claim that it would be legal for Israel to enforce a treaty to which it is not a party.
And, finally, Iran could withdraw from the NPT, which it could legally do according to Article X of the Treaty, which allows such a move if “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” To do so, Iran would simply be required to give the reasons for leaving and three months’ notice. In sum, the clear-cut legal distinction between Israel and Iran on the nuclear weapons issue made by Pexton does not actually seem to exist.
Next, Pexton points out that Israel “has military censors that can and do prevent publication of material on Israel’s nuclear forces.” But is Iran without such censorship? If this were the case, then all the charges that the Islamic Republic is an oppressive government, which is the fundamental argument for “regime change,” would have to be abandoned. And if Iran does have censorship, then its existence cannot be a reason for the failure to discuss Israel’s nuclear program.
Then Pexton attributes the failure to discuss Israel’s nuclear program to the fact that Israel and the United States “are allies and friends.” This explanation obviously contains much truth, but it is insufficient. It is not the whole truth and is certainly not a justification for the existing situation. It is an admission of bias, while most people, even government leaders and media officials, profess to believe in truth. An obvious question would be: why can’t the light of truth shine through on this issue?
This same critique could also apply to Pexton’s next exculpatory explanation: “not being open about Israel’s nuclear weapons serves both U.S. and Israeli interests.” More than this, while it obviously serves Israel’s interests, to be seen as biased in favor of Israel does not benefit U.S. interests in regard to the rest of the Middle East or, for that matter, the rest of the world. This has been a concern of U.S. diplomatic officials from the time of the creation of Israel.
Then Pexton tells an obvious, but rarely mentioned, truth: criticizing Israel “can hurt your career.” He quotes George Perkovich, director of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “It’s like all things having to do with Israel and the United States. If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel.”
But Pexton ends up his article by trying to show that he really identifies with the best interests of Israel, and thus implies a benign intent, and even justification, for the current blackout and double standard on Israel’s nukes, while simultaneously chiding the lack of press coverage of the subject. In exonerating Israel, he avers: “I don’t think many people fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. If I were a child of the Holocaust, I, too, would want such a deterrent to annihilation. But that doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t write about how Israel’s doomsday weapons affect the Middle East equation. Just because a story is hard to do doesn’t mean The Post, and the U.S. press more generally, shouldn’t do it.” Note that in his effort to show his identification with Jewish suffering, Pexton plays the obligatory, and often debate-ending, Holocaust card.
The problem with what Pexton asserts is that the Jews of Israel are not facing annihilation, whereas, as a result of Israel’s nukes, its neighbors do confront such a possibility. And it is quite understandable that they do not like that situation and there is no moral reason why they should have to face annihilation any more than the Israeli Jews.
Moreover, contrary to what Pexton claims in his above statement, many people around the world do fault Israel for having nuclear weapons. For example, the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement in its 16th global summit recently voted for global nuclear disarmament, with no exception for Israel. And the Arab states for a number of years have advocated that the Middle East become a nuclear weapons-free zone. Even a majority of Israeli Jews in a November 2011 poll favored the idea of a nuclear weapons-free zone, though it was made known to them that this would entail Israel giving up its nuclear arsenal.
Finally, many Americans might oppose the nuclear double standard, too, if its stark reality were often thrust before them in the same way that the alleged misdeeds of Iran are placed in the media’s spotlight. It is quite understandable that an issue ignored by the mainstream media would not attract widespread public attention.
What Pexton leaves out in his discussion of Israel’s nuclear arsenal is also of the utmost significance. First, while Pexton invokes legalistic arguments in his quasi-apologetic for the status quo, it is not apparent that the United States government is following federal law on this issue. The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 as amended by the Symington Amendment of 1976 and the Glenn Amendment of 1977 prohibits U.S. military assistance to countries that acquire or transfer nuclear reprocessing technology when they do not comply with IAEA regulations and inspections. For the United States to provide aid in such cases requires a special waiver from the office of the President, and it has issued such a waiver for Pakistan, another non-signatory of the NPT with nuclear weapons. But, in line with Israel’s wishes, the United States government does not want to publicly recognize Israel’s nuclear weapons, and thus eschews this approach. Hence, it directly violates federal law in its provision of aid to Israel, America’s foremost foreign aid recipient.
United States actions regarding Israel’s nuclear weapons program may also run afoul of the NPT. There is considerable evidence that Israel has relied on material and technology from the United States in order to develop its nuclear weapons arsenal. Grant Smith, who has been studying recently declassified U.S. government documents on Israel’s nuclear weapons program, wrote in response to Pexton’s article: “The ongoing clandestine movement of material and technology out of the U.S. may mean America has violated Article 1 of the NNPT, since according to the GAO it has never apparently taken successful efforts to stem the flow.”
Moreover, it is not apparent that Israel would only resort to nuclear weapons to prevent the annihilation of its populace; rather, it might use its weaponry to prevent any type of significant defeat. The Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir, revealed this mindset in an interview with British commentator Alan Hart in April 1971 for the BBC’s Panorama program. Hart queried Meir: “Prime Minister, I want to be sure that I understand what you are saying . . . . You are saying that if ever Israel was in danger of being defeated on the battlefield, it would be prepared to take the region and the whole world down with it?” And Meir replied: “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.” (Alan Hart, “Zionism The Real Enemy of the Jews,” volume 2, 2005, p. xii)
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, it has been argued by analysts such as Seymour Hersh that Israel used the threat of launching nuclear missiles to blackmail the United States to begin an immediate and massive resupply of the Israeli military. It was correctly perceived in Israel that American strategy intended to delay any resupply in an attempt to let the Arabs achieve some territorial gains and thus force Israel to be more pliable and trade the occupied land for peace.
Grant Smith pointed out in his response to Pexton that blackmail of the United States government was not simply restricted to the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but has been a major purpose of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. “As understood by the CIA back in the early 1960s,” Smith stated, “Israel’s nuclear arsenal is primarily used to coerce the United States to provide enough benefits that they will never have to be used.”
Since the United States government has given in to this blackmail it would seem that it believes that Israel is not simply bluffing.
In sum, Pexton offers a rather tepid and incomplete account of Israel’s nuclear program and its ramifications, one that often verges on the apologetic. Still, given the limited parameters of permissibility in the American mainstream on anything concerning Israel, even broaching this subject is courting danger, and for this Pexton has been lauded by Phil Weiss as having “some spine,” especially for noting that to give Israel negative publicity on its illegal settlements can lead to the destruction of one’s career.
And that fact underscores how unfree American society is on the whole subject of Israel. Grant Smith, however, after pointing out the shortcomings of Pexton’s article, writes: “The Washington Post in particular seems to want to play a role in shoring up the decrepit policy of ‘strategic ambiguity’ [rather] than enlighten readers about the true role of Israel’s arsenal in US and Iranian relations.” It is apparent that in the mainstream the full truth about Israel’s nuclear weapons remains strictly verboten.
TEHRAN – Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani has said that the most recent resolution issued against Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency raises doubt about the benefit of being a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Larijani made the remarks in a speech during an open session of the Majlis on Sunday in reference to the resolution that the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors adopted in Vienna on Thursday, which condemned Iran’s refusal to meet international demands to curb uranium enrichment and its alleged failure to allay international concerns about its nuclear program.
The Iranian parliament speaker said, “The recent resolution by the Board of Governors raises this question for the public: What is the benefit of the NPT and membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency for countries?
“If Iran had not been committed to the NPT, would Western countries have taken other measures?”
He stated that IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has a responsibility to encourage the world’s countries to join the NPT, adding, “Will Mr. Amano be able to succeed in his job through such high-handed decision-making?”
“If the path taken by the West and the United States is the adoption of resolutions and sanctions against Iran, then why are they seeking negotiations between Iran and Western countries? However, these countries must be aware that the result of the negotiations is predetermined with the adoption of such an attitude,” Larijani noted.
He also said, “The main text of the resolution was definitely drafted by a few Western countries. It seems that certain tyrannical countries made their intention to make excessive demands at the 5+1 talks more public with (their) insistence on the adoption of the resolution.”
The latest round of high-level talks between Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) over the country’s nuclear program was held in Moscow on June 18 and 19.
After the Moscow talks, both sides agreed to hold expert talks, the most recent round of which was held in Istanbul on July 24.
No decision has yet been made on the next round of negotiations.
- Analysis of latest IAEA report on Iran – August 2012 (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Iran’s right to enrichment questioned again (alethonews.wordpress.com)
A guarantee of support for a strike against Iran overlooks the lessons of the First World War
Israel’s attempt to steer American foreign policy has been nowhere more evident than in the sustained campaign to move the United States in the direction of war with Iran, a war that serves no American interest unless one believes that Tehran is willing to spend billions of dollars to develop a nuclear weapon only to hand off the result to a terrorist group.
The most recent overtures by the Israeli government have pushed the United States to make a declaration that negotiations with Iran have failed and will not be continued. For Israel, this is a necessary first step towards an American military intervention, as failed negotiations mean there is no way out of the impasse but by war, if the Iranians do not unilaterally concede on every disputed point.
Two recent op-eds have elaborated the argument, promoting the necessity of convincing the Israelis that the United States is absolutely serious about using military force against Iran if the Iranians seek to retain any capacity to enrich uranium. One might note in passing that this new red line, sometimes also called the abstract “capability” to create a nuclear weapon, has been achieved by moving the goal posts back considerably. At one time Iran was threatened with a military response if it actually acquired a nuclear weapon (which is still the official position of the Obama administration), but earlier benchmarks within that policy saying that enrichment should not exceed 20 percent or that the enrichment should not take place on Iranian soil have been abandoned in favor of what now amounts to zero tolerance. Those who note that Iran, which is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is under IAEA inspection, has a clear legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes have been ignored in favor of those who believe that Iran is somehow a special case.
On August 17, the Washington Post and The New York Times featured op-eds explaining why the United States must do more to convince Israel not to attack Iran this year. Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence who is believed to be close to the country’s political leadership, argued in the Post that Obama must basically convince the Israelis that he will use force against Iran if sanctions do not convince the country’s leadership to abandon enrichment of nuclear fuel. Over at the Times, Dennis Ross, a former senior U.S. diplomat who has been described as Israel’s lawyer, made pretty much the same arguments. Both advocated giving Israel refueling tankers and special munitions that would enable an attack on Iran to be more effective, thereby widening the window of opportunity for sanctions to work, in light of Israeli arguments that hardened Iranian sites might soon be invulnerable to attack. Ross advocates giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu effectively a blank check, asking him what he will need to attack Iran and granting the Israeli government commitments for a full range of U.S. military support. Both Yadlin and Ross argue that it is necessary to create the conditions for Israel to delay a possible attack until 2013. As Yadlin puts it, “if the United States wants Israel to give sanctions and diplomacy more time, Israelis must know that they will not be left high and dry if these options fail.”
Assuming that Ross and Yadlin are speaking for the Israeli government, which is almost certainly the case, Israel is essentially demanding a commitment from Washington to attack Iran unless the issue of Iran’s ability to enrich uranium is resolved through negotiation or through Iranian surrender of that right. In return, Israel will not attack Iran before the American election. So in effect, Washington would be promising to fight a war later if Israel does not start one now.
Israel knows it cannot successfully attack Iran unilaterally and must have the United States along to do the heavy lifting. It also knows that the threat to attack Iran before the election is a powerful weapon, with neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama welcoming such a potentially game-changing diversion from their debate on the economy and jobs.
Critics like Arnaud de Borchgrave have correctly noted that many former generals and intelligence officers in the United States and Israel have, in fact, decided that the basic premise is wrong. Iran does not pose a threat that could not be contained even if it does some day make the political decision to obtain a crude nuclear device. Launching a new war in the Middle East to prevent it from doing so would create “mayhem” throughout the region, guarantee a breakdown in Egypt-Israel relations, and create a perfect breeding ground for the civil war in Syria to spill out and lead to turmoil among all of its neighbors. American ships in the Persian Gulf would be attacked, unrest in Bahrain would turn to revolution, and the Palestinians would stage a new intifada. Israel would be bombarded from Lebanon and from Iran. Gas prices would soar, economic recovery would stall worldwide, and European nations now struggling to deal with unprecedented unemployment levels would watch the eurozone collapse before the rage of hundreds of thousands protesters in the streets. Americans would again become the targets of international terrorism.
And there is another serious objection to going along with the Israeli government’s thinking. Israel is by its own volition not an ally of the United States in any technical sense because alliances are troublesome things that require rules of engagement and reciprocity, limiting the partners’ ability to act independently. If Israel obtains a virtual commitment from the United States to go to war in 2013, it would mean enjoying the benefits of having a powerful patron to do its fighting without any obligation in return, beyond delaying unilateral military action until a more suitable time. A guarantee from Washington for Israel’s security which still permits unilateral action by Netanyahu is all too reminiscent of the entangling arrangements that led to World War I. The fact that the murder of an Austrian Archduke in the Balkans led to a world war that killed tens of millions was due to promises not unlike what Israel is demanding today.
If the United States commits to unconditional support for an Israeli attack on Iran, it will be a surrender of one of the defining attributes of national sovereignty: the power to choose when and where to go to war. Amos Yadlin suggests at one point that President Obama go to Congress and get approval in advance to take military action “to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a military nuclear capability.” Such a pre-approval for war certainly raises constitutional issues, but it also creates a virtual casus belli because Iran already has the “capability” to enrich uranium for potential military uses. A guarantee precludes any consideration that the United States might actually have an overriding national interest to avoid a war. It denies that the United States should be able to exercise complete sovereignty over the issue of Iran, and it also freezes the status quo, as if new ways of looking at the problem of the Iranian nuclear program could not evolve over the next few months.
Washington should make no commitment to anyone about what it will do vis-à-vis Iran in 2013 no matter what inducements are offered. As the 19th-century British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston put it, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Let America’s actual interests dictate U.S. foreign policy.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.
- Peace is War: How Israel Induces America into War with Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
So the latest IAEA report on Iran is out. The media have been trying very hard to put as scary a spin on the report as possible. Here’s my analysis.
Paragraphs 1 and 2 attempt to portray UNSC resolutions on Iran, demanding that Iran give up enrichment, as being “binding”. They further demand that Iran ratify the Additional Protocol.
Sorry, but the UNSC is not legally authorized to make such demands. A very fundamental principle of the international law of treaties is the principle of “voluntariness” – treaties are only binding when a country voluntarily agrees to them, and the UNSC cannot demand that any country sign and ratify a treaty. This is a basic principle of international law: “International treaty law comprises obligations states expressly and voluntarily accept between themselves”
Nevertheless Iran not only implemented the Additional Protocol for a period of about 3 years in the past (with no evidence of any nukes found) but has offered to permanently ratify the treaty as long as its rights under the NPT are also recognized. Thus far, the US has refused.
There are also references to the “Annex” published by the IAEA in the Nov 2011 report which was touted as proof positive of Iranian nuclear perfidy. But as reporters like Scott Peterson and Seymor Hersh pointed out, it was just a repeat of well-known and still unsubstantiated claims that the previous IAEA head Elbaradei had refused to endorse. The same Annex in the news in Sept 2009, having been partially leaked to George Jahn of the AP. Back then, Elbaradei stood accused of “censoring” this “secret annex” which supposedly proved that Iran had an on-going nuclear weapons program, contrary to the NIEs. The IAEA denied there was such a “secret” annex, and the IAEA spokesman characterized it as simply information that was insufficiently verified to be included in the IAEA reports. Apparently, with the replacement of ElBaradei with Amano, this view changed, and the annex was included in the latest report, but under Elbaradei the IAEA issued a press release stating that “it has no concrete proof that there is or has been a nuclear weapon programme in Iran.”
Paragraph 3 attempts to justify the expanded role of the IAEA as the “enforcer” of the NPT on Iran, but in fact if you read the text of Iran’s safeguards agreement you’d see that the role of the IAEA is quite limited — its function is “exclusively” to send inspectors to measure the declared nuclear material in Iran to ensure non-diversion to weapons use — and the IAEA has fulfilled this role already, which is why every single IAEA report on Iran (including this one) states that there is no evidence of such a diversion.
Paragraphss 5 – 7 are mainly about Parchin. The IAEA demands access to this site — even though it is not a declared nuclear facility, and therefore falls outside of the IAEA’s legal inspection authority. However Iran voluntarily allowed the IAEA to inspect this site already in 2005 — twice — with no evidence of any nuclear material or activities found. If the IAEA was serious about the “suspicions” here, all it has to do is present the evidence to the IAEA Board and get a “special inspections” authorization which Iran is legally required to allow — but the IAEA has not done so because the IAEA simply does not have any actual evidence of any nuclear work there. In fact the IAEA officials complained previously that the US intel on Iran’s nuclear program were bogus. Note that the Iranians have not refused another visit to Parchin, but want a “structured approach” to be determined beforehand. This was arranged for the previous IAEA visits to Parchin so why is the IAEA not doing so for this visit?
Paragaph 9 is the key paragraph where the IAEA verifies the non-diversion of nuclear material to non-peaceful uses. This is key, because that’s the relevant standard in determining whether Iran is in compliance with the NPT or not. As Michael Spies of the Lawyer’s Committee on Nuclear Policy has explained:
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 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.
Paragraphs 10-12 admits that all of the nuclear activities in the declared nuclear sites and facilities in Iran are under IAEA safeguards, which again means Iran is in full compliance with the actual requirements of the NPT, even though the UNSC has tried to impose additional demands and restrictions on Iran.
Footnote 14 is interesting because it states that Iran reportedly intends to make several more reactors that manufacture medical isotopes. This again is in full compliance with Iran’s rights under the NPT
Paragraphs 13-16 are about the Natanz enrichment facility, which operates under IAEA safeugards, and specifically paragraph 16 essentially states that the operations are not violating the NPT either, and the uranium is enriched to less than 5% which is low-enriched uranium used for reactors.
Footnote 17 states that a small amount of uranium is enriched to slightly more than 5% due to a “known technical phenomenon associated with the start up of centrifuge cascades”. This was previously misrepresented in the media as evidence of Iranian perfidy when the same phenomenon was found at Fordo, the site where Iran enriches uranium to 20%, but is in fact simply an unavoidable phenomenon: when introducing uranium into the centrifuges, the process takes a bit of time, so some of the uranium initially introduced into the a centrifuge may be enriched to slightly higher levels than the rest. In fact paragraph 26 , which addressese this “overshoot” phenomenon at Fordo, confirms that this “Iran’s explanation is not inconsistent with the further assessment made by the Agency.”
Paragraphs 18-22 are about the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant — again in Natanz, which according to paragraph 22 continues to operate in accordance with the NPT.
Paragraphs 23-26 are about the enrichment facility at Fordo, which makes the 20% enriched uranium for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. It states that Iran has expanded the number of centrifuges there, but that they’re not operating. In any case this hasn’t stopped the media scaremongering about the facility, which operates under IAEA safeguards. Of course, the media scaremongers don’t bother mentioning that Iran would not have had to start 20% enrichment had the US not interferred with Iran’s right to acquire the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in the first place, nor that Iran has already announced plans to covert 1/3 of this material into fuel rods thus precluding their use for bomb-making. In fact Iran has suggested that it would agree to a plan of immediately converting all of its enriched uranium into fuel rods. This is not what a country intent on making nukes would do.
Paragraph 27 states that the IAEA is awaiting information about Iran’s plans to make new reactors in the future. Well, according to Iran’s safeguards agreement, Iran is only required to formally disclose such reactors 180-days prior to the introduction of nuclear material into them. Since these reactors have yet to be built, then Iran is under no obligation to provide any other information – yet.
Paragraph 28 states that Iran is not reprocessing uranium — a process that is used to extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods, and Iran has stated that it has no intention of doing so. Again, no NPT violatons there either.
Paragraphs 29-31 are about the heavy water reactor that Iran is building which according to the report continues “under Agency safeguards”. Specifically Paragraph 31 complains that the IAEA has not been allowed “further access” to the Heavy Water Production plant. However, since heavy water is not fissile material, and the IAEA’s inspection authority is limited to the inspection of fissile material and places where fissile material is stored, Iran is not obligated to allow ANY IAEA inspections of the plant at all – even though it has already done so voluntarily.
Paragraphs 32-37 are about Iran’s Uranium conversion and fuel plate manufacture facilities. It is interesting to note that the report states Iran has been making fuel plates on its own, when a few years ago we were told that Iran could not possibly figure out how to do this, and so any enriched uranium it was making was necessarily intended for nukes rather than reactor fuel (the fact that making fuel plates is a lot easier than making nukes, went unmentioned). Again, nothing violates the NPT here either.
Section H (paragraphs 38-44) are about the continued saga of the “alleged studies” from the Laptop of Death, as well as allegations about Parchin, specifically the “explosives testing container”. Note however that the IAEA report does not state that there were nuclear activities here — rather it refers to “undisclosed nuclear related activities” — which is funny because the IAEA’s inspection authority is limited to nuclear material not “nuclear related” material. The report states that the IAEA has “become increasingly concerned about the possible existence in Iran of undisclosed nuclear related activities” since 2002, but in fact Elbaradei stated clearly that the IAEA has no evidence of any such “undisclosed” activities. Furthermore Robert Kelley and others have already debunked a lot of the allegations about this “explosives testing chamber“
In fact, the chamber is far too small to contain explosive proof tests of a full scale mock-up, and far too big to contain smaller tests of research interest. Thus, a container of this size is irrelevant to a Iranian nuclear weapons program.
If you’re interested, here’s what the former IAEA head Elbaradei had to say about these alleged studies.
Section I (paragraphs 45-47) are the IAEA’s complaints that Iran should provide information on plans to build nuclear facilities (such as the Fordo enrichment facility) earlier than what its standard safeguards agreement requires. This is a long-standing technical dispute between the IAEA and Iran about when precisely Iran should provide design information on planned nuclear facilities. For a while Iran agreed, as a gesture of good faith, to adopt a “Modified” version of a safeguard agreement that required it to provide this info earlier than its existing standard safeguards require, but Iran ended that voluntary cooperation after the Paris Agreement negotiations fell apart. Since then, the IAEA has been insisting that Iran is somehow obligated to continue this practice, but this demand is legally questionable. The bottom line, however, remains that regardless of when Iran declares a nuclear facility, the declared facility will still operate under IAEA safeguards and so cannot be used to secretly make nukes anyway, so this is really a side issue and involves no violation of the NPT as long as the IAEA continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material.
Section J (paragraph) 48 says that Iran hasn’t implemented the Additional Protocol, and so the IAEA cannot verify the absence of undeclared material until it does. Which is true, but the same is true for many other nations including Egypt, Argentina, Brazil. However, unlike those countries Iran voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol, and has since allowed inspections that exceed even the Additional Protocol, with no proof of any nuclear weapons work found.
Section K is about other technical matters that involve no violation of the NPT either.
So that’s about it: Iran continues to work on enrichment, and the IAEA continues to verify this program and there’s still no proof of any nuclear weapons work
- Iran’s right to enrichment questioned again (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Israel has become infuriated by a fresh initiative of Arab member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which seeks to launch a global campaign to slam Israel’s possession of nuclear stockpile.
The motion tabled by 17 Arab IAEA members has been submitted to a preparatory commission to be put to vote at the Agency’s September meeting which is to be attended by 154 countries, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday.
The initiative is widely expected to be ratified, as it enjoys the support of Muslim countries as well as other states critical of Israel’s stance on Palestine, the report said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the IAEA Ehud Azoulay, has censured the initiative, saying the Arab nations have no moral right to point fingers.
Tel Aviv has also repeated its allegations against Iran’s nuclear energy program and claimed that the new motion seeks to distract attention from Iran’s nuclear case at the IAEA.
US President Barack Obama Administration had initially supported the plan but later condemned the initiative Under Israel’s duress, which is the sole possessor of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Defending the Arab initiative, Jordan’s Ambassador to IAEA Makram Queisi argued that Israel has been exposing the Middle East “to nuclear risks and threatening peace” by continuing its secretive military nuclear program.
He lashed out at Tel Aviv for thwarting “all initiatives to free the region of the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction, and in particular of nuclear weapons.”
Since Israel began building its Dimona plutonium- and uranium-processing facility in the Negev Desert in 1958, it is believed to have secretly manufactured hundreds of nuclear warheads, becoming the Middle East’s sole possessor of nuclear weapons.
Enjoying Washington’s support, however, Tel Aviv has steadily refused to either declare the nuclear arsenal or join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
This is while the US, Israel, and some of their allies accuse Tehran of pursuing military objectives in its nuclear energy program and have used the false accusation as pretext to impose international and unilateral sanctions against Iran and to call for military attack on the country.
Iran argues that as a signatory to the NPT and a member of the IAEA, it has the right to acquire and develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, while promising a crushing response to any possible attack on its nuclear facilities.