Posted in Iran | 04-Mar-06 | Author: James M.B. Keyser

James M.B. Keyser is WSN Correspondent to UN.

United Nations. The Bush administration has been busy defining the limits of American power. Having focused on Syria and Iran as their principal targets in the Middle East and, once again, in default of any possibility of unilateral military action, the Bush Team has lately had recourse to the United Nations.

The ostensible reason in the case of Iran is to enforce the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Although North Korea poses a similar infraction of a general agreement on nuclear non proliferation, the Americans have focused on the Iranian case. Together

with Israel they are equally concerned by the emergence of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a popular leader, who has openly called for the eventual elimination of the state of Israel and complained about the use of the Holocaust, a European crime, to justify crimes against citizens of the Middle East. This led to the Bush Team ( diplomats Condoleezza Rice and Karen Hughes, as well as long range warriors Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, and Paul Wolfowitz) to talk of the need for “regime change” to further the general population’s advance to democracy.

Threat of War is not enough

At the same time the Bush Team continues to insist that they will not take the option of military sanction against Iran off the table. The rattle of the sable, however, is weak, indeed because the geography of Iran will neither permit an easy strike as at Osira in the Mesopotamian Valley by israel over ten years ago, nor will it permit an inexpensive investiture of hostile troops. And although Condoleezza Rice and Richard Perle had the Pentagon review the details of what military action against Iran would require, they have also been looking to diplomacy. In fact they have concentrated on using the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the United Nations International Atomic Energy (IAEA) and the Security Council to weaken the potential threat of Iran as a power in the Middle East.

The first step was for the US to persuade the IAEA Board to refer Iran's case to the Security Council, after initial attempts to move the IAEA into making a referral to he Security Council had been thwarted by Britain, France and Germany, who favoured continued negotiations with Iran about suspension and eventual ending of its nuclear enrichment activities.

Finally, the Bush team did win over the three European countries, but Russia and China refused to join. It was only in late January of this year that the US along with the three European countries won support from Russia and China to get the IAEA to report if not refer, Iran's nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council on the understanding that the Council would not act on the question for at least a month after a formal referral had taken place. Furthermore, neither Russia nor China committed to voting for sanctions should they be considered in the Security Council. At the same time Russia negotiated an agreement with Iran to supply enriched uranium that would provide fuel for the generation of electricity while blocking an Iranian enrichment capability that could in theory lead to the production of nuclear arms.

Bush administration officials described the decision involving the five major nuclear powers and Germany and the European Union as a breakthrough in the effort to press Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program. While the Bush Team now praises the dispatch of the IAEA dossier to the Security Council as a multi- national statement to Iran, Condoleezza Rice and her aides, however, nearly scuttled the agreement at the last moment.

The Great Compromise

Actually, the agreement consists of a number of compromises worked out in late night sessions in London. The first compromise was that Iran would indeed be "reported", something less than a referral that according to the rules would have to be followed by either compliance or sanctions. It meant that the Security Council would not act until after an IAEA meeting in March where it will be decided to send or not to send a formal referral. The compromise favoring an informal report instead of a formal referral was the price the Bush Team, France, and Great Britain paid to bringing Russia and China to vote in favor of the transfer of the dossier to the Security Council rather than abstain.

While the Bush Team were touting this as a victory, it was still not clear how Russia and China would vote on sanctions if that question came before the Security Council. The US, moreover, still lacked a clear guarantee of broad international consensus on the IAEA vote and on future action by the Security Council.

If this were not shaky enough and as the 35- member board was ready to vote for a report to the Security Council, which the Americans had been working so hard to achieve, however, Condoleezza Rice balked at a clause, stating formal recognition of Israel’s violation of the nuclear proliferation treaty. As a result the IAEA board refused to vote, with Egypt supported by Russia, China and the Europeans, insisting on some recognition of Israel’s failure to conform.

But then a compromise, with great reluctance on the American side, was worked out, accepting a watered down version of the statement that was already so vague and utopian that it was difficult to understand why the Bush Team had been opposed to letting it stand in the first place. The new language referred to an eventual nuclear free Middle East, a utopia that would begin with a nuclear weapons free Iran. Israel, of course, while never admitting it had nuclear weapons, unlike Iran never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By adopting the new version the United States was in fact accepting a clause that is routinely inserted in all IAEA documents concerning the Middle East, calling for a "nuclear-free zone" there, which would be a normal, logical step in securing peace for the entire region.

No Word about Israel

The final draft read, “a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue would contribute to the goal of a Middle East free of all weapons of mass destruction, and their means of delivery." The state of Israel was not mentioned. Still, the United States found it necessary to have a statement issued by Nicholas Burns, an undersecretary of political affairs at the US State Department, calling the IAEA referral as an expression of the “international community’s lack of confidence in Iran”.

No wonder that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the same time at public meetings in Tehran declared his intention to move ahead with Iran’s nuclear program …

Only when it became known that Iran would let the Russians supply enriched uranium, the Americans were beginning to accept that the Iranian nuclear program was inevitable. The trajectory had gone even beyond UN control and, under the circumstances, beyond the military capabilities of the United States.

As a consequence, reluctant to admit that they had defined the limits of American power, the Bush Team then sent Condoleezza Rice to the Senate Committee of Foreign Relations asking for $75 million “to promote democracy in Iran”. This, of course, seemed to signal a retreat from the regime change scenario so popular only a few months ago, under which the authoritarian head of state would have to be deposed and the people allowed to choose democracy. Under the new scenario the Americans reversed the order. First teach the people about democracy through radio and the internet and then regime change will follow!

“ No one wants to see a Middle East dominated by an Iranian hegemony, particularly one that has access to nuclear technology," Secretary Rice stated her position before the Senate, describing Iran as "our biggest single strategic challenge" in the region. (At the same time, however, she requested a similar amount from Congress for the liberation of the Syrian people”). "The regime's policies are risking the total isolation of Iran, and the people of Iran shouldn't suffer from that," Ms. Rice told the Senate.

But there already exists grave doubt whether the change of the regime-change policy will be effective. Although the Iranians will be bombarded soon with round the clock radio and television programmes in Arabic and Farsi, which won’t cost any lives on the American side and certainly won’t cost as much as a real invasion, the example of Radio Marti in the case of Cuba may serve as a warning signal. It was started some 15 years ago but Fidel Castro is still in power!