The Price of Indifference I

If ever the U.S.-Israeli Axis of Good had reason to bomb nuclear-related sites within Iran—though an errant strike upon an orphanage or a hospital, “collaterally” damaging them, wouldn’t hurt, either—now is the time. After a Letter of Agreement to suspend all uranium-enrichment activities was signed between the Government of Iran and the E3/EU (Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union) in Tehran on Sunday, the Letter was officially accepted by the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna today, placing its terms on the IAEA’s agenda when it meets November 25 to deal with the Americans’ latest threat to haul Tehran before the UN Security Council, and squeeze a little tighter.

“Washington, which accuses Iran of using its nuclear power programme as a front to develop nuclear weapons, wants the IAEA to refer the case upwards because Tehran concealed a uranium enrichment programme for 18 years,” was how Reuters explained Washington’s contest with the European states. “Diplomats in Vienna said that, with a suspension in place, the United States would have only a handful of supporters on the IAEA’s 35-member board for such a move.” (“Iran agrees to full nuclear enrichment freeze,” Nov. 14.)

Lose a Big One like this to the Europeans, the logic goes. Take it out on the Iranians. (That’ll show the rest of the world. Beginning with the Iranians. And ending god-only knows where.)

Thus a serious blow to the fabled American “credibility” seems to be in the offing. The question of how the Bush regime will react to this blow so early after winning re-election cannot easily be dismissed.

We should have guessed something big was at stake, when one from among the troika of American mass-circulation newsweeklies, U.S. News & World Report, hit the newsstands over the weekend with a cover story devoted to Iranian perfidy in American-occupied Iraq—constructed out of leaks from the very same American Government.

The Iran Connection,” the headline screams (Nov. 22), a distinctly fair-skinned, blue-eyed fighter peering out from behind a kiffiyeh-shrouded mask. U.S. News claims to have been given access to “thousands of pages of intelligence reports” fed to the magazine (presumably from within the Bush Administration), all of which reveal the “critical role Iran has played in aiding some elements of the anti-American insurgency after Baghdad fell.” According to U.S. News, the “picture that emerges from the sheer volume of the reports, and as a result of the multiplicity of sources from which they were generated, leaves little doubt about the depth of Iran’s involvement in supporting elements of the insurgency and in positioning itself to move quickly in Iraq if it believes a change in circumstances there dictates such action.” The U.S. News reporting includes a plot to assassinate former Coalition Provisional Authority Proconsul Paul Bremer. (The specificity of the allegedly leaked documents upon which this story is based is laughable.) And a defense of the American connection with the armed and quite bloody group Mujaheddin-e-Khalq, a longstanding member of the U.S. Department of State’s list of “Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations“—and yet, to hear U.S. News tell it, also a “valuable source of information to the U.S. government, about not only Iran’s activities in Iraq but also its secret nuclear program.” Even Syria gets blamed in this tale for the troubles confronting the American occupation. Still. In American-occupied Iraq, “no actor is more dangerous than Iran,” U.S. News asserts. Which will come as quite a surprise to the surviving refugees from the burned- and blasted-out hulk of Fallujah, no doubt. And whichever Iraqi city is next on the list.

But no exercise in demonizing anybody but the American political leadership for the charnel house that is occupied Iraq would be complete without bringing up the Iranian nuclear threat—and U.S. News is no exception. “[T]he political dynamic in Washington is making a confrontation with Iran more likely,” we read. “The Pentagon, U.S. News has learned from two officials, is revising contingency plans that originated with the Clinton administration for attacking Iran’s nuclear plants.” (Notice that according to so-called pre-emptive war doctrine as preached by the Americans in recent years, the existence of such contingency plans would justify an Iranian strike against those formulating these plans. But let us return to the real world….) “Since late summer, they have also studied options in case Israel, as it has hinted, decides to hit Iran’s nuclear sites in raids reminiscent of its 1981 attack on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor. The Bush administration recently agreed to sell Israel 500 bunker-busting smart bombs of a sort that could be used in such an operation.” As U.S. News concludes, ominously, “Few are confident that even a favorable response from Tehran…[can] halt the slide toward crisis.” (“Iran and the bomb: What will it take to thwart Tehran’s nuclear aims?“) Which—the truth be told—suggests that the cause of the crisis lies somewhere else besides Tehran. Wouldn’t you say?

Around the world today, Sunday’s agreement between Iran and the E3/EU was received as a clear rebuke to the Bush regime—a “diplomatic victory for the European Union,” The Guardian called it, “and a move that should spare Tehran being sent to the UN security council.”

(Quick aside. You will all recall that, along with the old Iraq and North Korea, Iran is a charter member of the American President’s “Axis of Evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world,” as the President originally described them. “By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” (“President Delivers State of the Union Address,” Jan. 29, 2002.))

“The agreement is a significant victory for the three European Union members that led the negotiations—France, Germany and the UK,” the Financial Times explained. “It marks a significant step forward for the three countries, rent during months of disagreement over the Iraq war. It is also the first significant breakthrough for the EU’s style of diplomacy in a region that has been dominated by US brinkmanship in recent years.”

But this is if, and only if, Washington relents. And only if a nuclear-weapon-free Iran is what Washington really wants. Above all else.

On the contrary. Washington’s target in Iran is not only the Government of Iran’s nuclear program. (Whatever its many facets and ambitions. Whatever its purposes. Declared and undeclared. And by their very nature, all nuclear programs contain non-peaceful possibilities within them. Whether one likes it or not.)

Washington’s target is also those damned Europeans, who are starting to behave a lot more like the “old” Europeans than the “new.” As much as Washington (and Israel) dreads a nuclear-powered Iran, Washington also dreads a diplomatically independent—and diplomatically successful—Britain, France, and Germany. In fact, now that Tehran has reached a deal with these European powers, there is probably a sizeable group within the Bush regime that is more worried about the Europeans than it is about the Iranians. And just as one side of the Atlantic finds in Sunday’s agreement with Tehran the “start of a new chapter in our relations” (European Union Foreign Minister Javier Solana) and a “significant development in relations between Europe and Iran” (British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw), so, too, on the other side of the Atlantic, there is doubtless an equal and opposite reaction that Europe’s gains are America’s losses.

That in this single case, upon which the Americans have staked so much of their prestige, America is no longer in command. But has been pre-empted, so to speak, by the Europeans.

This cannot sit well in Washington.

For the record: In Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East, one of the many resolutions adopted during September’s annual (and 48th overall) General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, one version or another of the phrase “nuclear-weapon-free-zone” turns up at least six times. (My count including the exact phrase itself (par. 2) and all four of the subsequent mentions of “NWFZ,” as well as the somewhat looser “zone free of all weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons” (par. d). But not the last mention of a “zone free of all weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East” (par. 3). Though the gist of “NWFZ” clearly is suggested. And if you’d like to count it—feel free and go right ahead.)

This IAEA Resolution (GC(48)/RES/16) affirms the overarching good of “international peace and security,” recognizes the “importance of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—both globally and regionally—in enhancing” this goal, and with respect to the Middle East in particular, notes that the presence of “nuclear activities not wholly devoted to peaceful purposes” would be destructive of this goal.

Statement by the Iranian Government and visiting EU Foreign Ministers,” IAEA website, October 21, 2003
Iran agrees to full nuclear enrichment freeze,” Reuters, November 14, 2004
Iran-EU Agreement on Nuclear Programme,” IAEA website (linking a report in the Mehr News Agency), November 14, 2004
TEXT-Nuclear Agreement Between Iran and EU Trio,” Reuters, November 15, 2004

Iran Says It Will Halt Enriching Uranium; U.S. Officials Still Wary of Nuclear Development,” Farah Stockman and Brian Whitmore, Boston Globe, November 15, 2004
Iran agrees to suspend uranium programme,” Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, November 15, 2004
Iran bows to EU pressure to freeze uranium programme,” Ian Traynor, The Guardian (London), November 15, 2004
Uranium agreement with Iran: climbdown is a victory for methods promoted by UN,” Editorial, The Herald (Glasgow), November 15, 2004
Iran Agrees to Freeze Nuclear Programme,” Andrew Buncombe, The Independent (London), November 15, 2004
Iran Agrees to Nuclear Deal Sought by EU,” Maggie Farley and Sonya Yee, Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2004
Overthrow Tehran? Hey, Not So Fast; Iranian Americans are dismayed by glib neocon talk of regime change,” Jeet Heer and Laura Rozen, Los Angeles Times, November 15, 2004
Iran Gives Pledge on Uranium, But Europeans Are Cautious,” Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, November 15, 2004
Iran ready to abandon nuclear ambitions for EU trade deals,” Rory Watson, The Times (London)< November 15, 2004 "Iran Vows To Freeze Nuclear Programs,” Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, November 15, 2004

In Focus : IAEA and Iran, International Atomic Energy Agency (accessed Nov. 15, 2004) (Unfortunately, the most current report of the IAEA on Iran’s implementation of its NPT Safeguards Agreement has yet to be posted here.)
Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iran, IAEA, September 1, 2004
Resolution GOV/2004/79, IAEA Board of Governors, September 18, 2004
Statement to the Forty-Eighth Regular Session of the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Reza Aghazadeh, Vice-President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, September, 2004

Application of IAEA Safeguards in the Middle East (GC(48)/RES/16), International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference, September 24, 2004

UN General Assembly Resolution 59/18 (A/RES/59/18), November 1, 2004 (Currently unavailable in an electronically-linkable form)
General Assembly Urges Global Cooperation in Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy, Following Discussion of IEAE Report (Press Release GA/10291), UN General Assembly, November 1, 2004

Prospects for Security Transformation, John Steinbruner and Nancy Gallagher, March, 2004 (A shorter version of this paper was published as “Constructive transformation: an alternative vision of global security,” Daedalus, Summer, 2002, pp. 83-103)

Iran’s Dire Threat (It might be able to defend itself),” Edward S. Herman, Z Magazine, October, 2004

“Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat” I, ZNet Blogs, September 4
Iranian Nukes? Search Their Beards, ZNet Blogs, September 21
The Non-Aligneds Have Gotten the Message, ZNet Blogs, September 22, 2004
“Israeli Nuclear Capabilities and Threat” II, ZNet Blogs, September 27
Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone,” ZNet Blogs, September 28, 2004

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