Wheeling and dealing over Iran

Posted in Iran | 20-Sep-05 | Author: Jim Lobe| Source: Asia Times

IAEA flag in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna.
WASHINGTON - Ahead of a crucial International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna on Monday, a group of some 50 prominent experts and former foreign-policy officials from the United States and Europe have mooted a deal with Iran on its controversial nuclear program.

If Iran agrees to a permanent and verifiable end to its efforts to enrich uranium and accounts fully for its past and present nuclear program, both the US and the European Union (EU) should provide significant benefits to Tehran, according to a statement issued by the group.

Washington, in particular, should enter into a dialogue with the Iranian government on issues of regional concern and "declare its willingness to explore directly with Iran other areas of concern", including moving toward the normalization of diplomatic and economic ties, the statement said.

If, on the other hand, Iran rejects such a deal, the EU could join the US in imposing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Iran, even if they were not authorized by the UN Security Council, and "consider additional steps" should Iran proceed with nuclear enrichment, withdraw from the IAEA Additional Protocol or withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"The credibility of Western non-proliferation policy is now clearly on the line," according to the statement, which was released in Washington by the Brookings Institution. "The European Union and the United States have a strong common interest in bringing Iran back to the negotiating table and persuading it to change course.

"The best way to do that is to make clear to Iran that it can win significant political and economic benefits if it foregoes a nuclear weapons program, but that it will pay a very big political and economic price if it does not. Such an effort will only work if America and Europe stand united."

The group, including top US national security policymakers, Sandy Berger and Anthony Lake; former defense secretary William Perry; and former deputy secretary of state Strobe Talbott, as well as former top Spanish and British foreign policy officials, was formed last February to foster trans-Atlantic unity on a range of issues that had caused friction between Washington and Brussels during US President George W Bush's first term.

It proposed a 13-point "Compact Between the United States and Europe" as "a demonstration that a comprehensive strategy can be forged to deal with the full range of key challenges we face".

Among other things, it called for Europe to be more supportive of Washington's efforts in Iraq, and for the US to commit itself to negotiations over Tehran's nuclear program being carried out with Iran by Germany, Britain and France (EU-3).

While the Bush administration has stuck to its first-term guns on a number of issues, it has shown greater flexibility on others and did, in fact, commit itself - albeit grudgingly - to abide by the results of any successful negotiation between the EU-3 and Iran.

Those negotiations, however, have run into what many observers - including some who believe that Washington went along with the EU-3 talks in the almost-certain belief that they would fail - see as a dead-end.

Rejecting an offer by the EU-3 to provide Iran with support for a civilian nuclear-energy program, in exchange for its agreement not to develop mastery over the nuclear-fuel cycle, the new government of President Mahmud Ahmedinejad last month removed IAEA seals at its nuclear facility in Isfahan and restarted its uranium conversion plant that could produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

The Europeans had repeatedly warned Tehran that such a move would prompt them to support a US effort to refer violations of the NPT allegedly committed by Iran to the UN Security Council for possible economic and diplomatic sanctions. The Vienna-based agency's 35-member board is scheduled to take up Iran's nuclear program on Monday.

Iran, which has steadfastly denied it intends to produce nuclear weapons and insisted that it has complied fully with its NPT obligations, has warned against any such move, suggesting even that such an action may provoke it to withdraw from the NPT. It has, however, offered to resume talks with the EU-3, possibly within the context of a larger group of nations, including perhaps Russia and China.

The latter two countries have already indicated their opposition to sending the issue to the Security Council, and some observers believe one or both of them may ultimately be prepared to veto any sanctions resolution. China has invested heavily in Iran's oil and gas sector, while Tehran is a major arms market for Russia, which has helped build Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant.

Moreover, Iran retains considerable sympathy among key developing countries on the IAEA board, which normally acts by consensus. India, Brazil, Malaysia and South Africa, among others, point out that no concrete proof of the existence of a weapons program has been forthcoming and that important gaps in information about Iran's nuclear program provided to the agency by Tehran have since been adequately explained.

In his maiden speech to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, Ahmedinejad appealed for support. "The raison d'etre of the United Nations is to promote global peace and tranquility," he said. "Therefore, any license for preemptive measures, which are essentially based on gauging intentions, rather than objective facts ... is a blatant contradiction to the very foundation of the United Nations and the letter and the spirit of its charter."

For its part, Washington has stepped up its own lobbying efforts against Tehran, according to an account in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal, dispatching intelligence analysts to China and India last week, for example, to brief them on Iran's alleged efforts to develop a missile warhead, specifically designed to carry a nuclear payload. The IAEA secretariat has reportedly been given a similar briefing.

Due to the lack of consensus on the agency's board - as well as the uncertain situation on the Security Council - many analysts believe that the IAEA is unlikely to act on Monday, and indeed US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed resigned to delay. "I am not so concerned about exactly when it happens," Rice told Fox News, "because I don't think this matter is so urgent that it has to come on September 19."

But others see a sense of urgency, even among Bush critics. Noting that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would be "dangerous and destabilizing", the group said it "could be a fatal blow to the NPT".

"Permitting Iran to develop enrichment and reprocessing capabilities - even under an international inspection regime - would leave [it] one short step away from a nuclear weapons capability - with which it could easily proceed, once the fuel cycle was in hand, by withdrawing from the NPT and asking inspectors to leave."

(Inter Press Service)