Keeping A Straight Face In Istanbul

The toughest job the negotiators must have had is keeping a straight face. As each of the seven keepers of the nuclear gate gathered round the table to isolate and humiliate Iran by laying down their conditions and their demands—the P5+1 nations in body and the ghost at the table, Israel, not there in body but very much present in spirit—only the one being punished was not in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran has not enriched uranium beyond the 19.5% needed to produce medical isotopes for the imaging and treating of cancer. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, there are currently thirty countries in the world that enrich uranium for energy. The enrichment of uranium for energy and other peaceful purposes is guaranteed by Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s promise that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty”. And since no one—not America’s sixteen intelligence agencies, not Israel and not the International Atomic Energy Association—believes Iran is enriching beyond that, Iran is not in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But she is just about the only one at the table who can make that claim. Iran was being chastised for the illegal nuclear weapons she does not have by a horde of countries that are protecting the exclusive right to the illegal nuclear weapons they do have: Russia with her over 10,000 nuclear warheads, France with her 300, China with her 240 and Britain with her mere 225. All of them are in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty because all of them promised in Article VI to undertake “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control”.

The five countries that made that promise were the very same P5 countries sitting around the table in Istanbul: Russia, Britain, France, China and the United States. Only Germany—the +1 in the P5+1–has chosen to remain nuclear weapon free. But she has her own secret reason why she struggles to keep a straight face: a reason she hopes history will forget as fast as the media has. The United States is in violation of that treaty both because of her ever upgrading nuclear arsenal and because of her assistance to most of the nations who have become new members of the nuclear club. In addition to promising to work toward eliminating their own nuclear weapons, each of the nuclear weapons possessing countries promised “not to in any way assist, encourage or induce any non-nuclear-weapon State to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons”. But the U.S. has explicitly aided India and Pakistan in their illegal acquisition of nuclear weapons, and her bungling helped push North Korea down the path to hers.

But the job of keeping a straight face becomes harder still. Though Israel is not at the negotiating table in body, in spirit she is very near the head of the table. And not only is Israel in possession of at least two hundred very sophisticated nuclear warheads that she developed illegally outside the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but the U.S. aided Israel too. Though the U.S. was unaware that Israel was developing a nuclear weapon from 1963 to 1966, the CIA first caught on to the illegal program in 1968. Despite that knowledge, National Security Archive papers reveal that, in that same year, the U.S. went ahead with the sale of jets to the Israelis. Though early on Israel deceived American inspectors, by the 1969 inspection, George Monbiot says that State Department memos make it clear that the American inspectors of Israel’s Dimona plant were covering for Israel and that the inspection was not to be a real inspection. Soon after, these US inspections would stop altogether. According to Stephen Zunes, it was also in 1969 that Nixon privately endorsed Israel’s nuclear weapons program. U.S. violations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in support of Israel have continued unbroken to this day. According to the General Accounting Office, George H.W. Bush sold at least 1,500 duel use items to Israel. Zunes says that Clinton assured Netanyahu that he would continue to protect Israel’s nuclear weapons program. And Israel’s Army Radio recently reported that the US had secretly committed to nuclear cooperation with Israel and promised to sell Israel nuclear technology and supplies, despite Israel’s not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

And how did Israel manage to commence an illegal nuclear weapons program? Pass the plate one seat down the P5+1 table. Without France, Israel may never have acquired nuclear weapons. In 1956, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal: an event that, seemingly, has nothing to do with Israel developing nuclear weapons. But it does. In response to Nasser’s move, Britain and France planned an invasion of Egypt. But Britain didn’t want to look like the aggressor. So the French asked Israel to invade and conquer the Sinai. Egypt would respond, and France and Britain would demand that they both withdraw from the Sinai. Israel, as planned, would agree, while Egypt would not. Now Britain and France had a pretext to invade, and Britain would not appear the aggressor. But in exchange for invading Egypt and touching off the Suez War, Israel set her price at a nuclear reactor. And France agreed. According to Sasha Polakow-Suransky, “both parties knew [it] was not going to be used exclusively for peaceful purposes”.

Israel would then go on, in further violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that she had not signed, to help another country develop illegal nuclear weapons. And talk about fear that Iran could pass on nuclear secrets to an immoral and dangerous country, Israel shared her secrets with no less an immoral nation than apartheid South Africa, while that country was under a mandatory U.N. arms embargo.

Making it even harder to keep a straight face, Israel would actually offer help to Iran. In 1977, fearing the rising hostile power in Iraq, Iran went on the pursuit of missiles and found a receptive partner in Israel. The Israelis and Iranians began modifying an Israeli missile so that Iran could have a missile with the longer range of two hundred miles. But–and here’s the incredible part–these weapons were capable of being fitted with nuclear warheads. And, according to Iranian expert Trita Parsi, though the two countries did not exploit this possibility at the time, Iran read Israel’s signals “as indications that this possibility could be explored down the road”. According to General Hassan Toufanian, then in charge of Iran’s military procurement, secret Israeli documents left “no doubt about it”.

And passing the plate around the table one more time, it’s time for the Germans too reveal why they have to struggle to keep a straight face. What the media has expunged from history is that it was the Germans who build Iran’s first nuclear reactor. It was the German company Siemens that undertook construction of the Bushehr nuclear reactor.

And the other part you won’t hear in the media is that the Americans themselves lent Iran a helping hand. Though Henry Kissinger has in recent years called an oil rich country like Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy “a wasteful use of resources”, he used to, when he was secretary of state, praise Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy as providing for the growing needs of Iran’s economy and free[ing] remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals”. Kissinger also helped arrange the sale of nuclear energy equipment to Iran. At that time, the US also made her universities available for the training of Iranian nuclear engineers. And President Ford sold Iran a reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel, which, according to Parsi, allowed Iran to “master the complete nuclear fuel cycle, which also would grant it the know-how to produce material for a nuclear bomb”.

So the negotiation meetings at the P5+1/Iran nuclear talks are more like a reunion. France helped Israel acquire its nuclear arsenal and Israel, along with Germany and the U.S then assisted Iran on its nuclear journey. And every nation in the P5 is still in possession of its hundreds or thousands of nuclear warheads. Alone at the table, only Iran has never built a nuclear bomb or helped another nation build hers. How do the P5+1 negotiators keep a straight face?  

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