Cornering Iran

Print edition : December 16, 2011

IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano. - RONALD ZAK/AP

The IAEA becomes a compliant tool in Washington's game plan to corner Iran and impose punitive sanctions.

THE West has been turning up the pressure on Iran on several fronts since the beginning of the year. The events relating to the Arab Spring gave the government in Teheran some respite as the Western governments focussed their energies in securing their interests in the Arab world. Now, after effecting regime change in Libya, the focus has shifted to Syria and Iran. These two are among the few remaining countries in the region that have dared to challenge the hegemony of the West. They are also close political allies.

Iran's nuclear programme continues to provide the pretext for the destabilisation programme that the West is now implementing with renewed vigour. The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is now proved to be a compliant tool in Washington's game plan to corner the Islamic republic in the international arena and impose even more punitive sanctions. In the case of Libya, the United Nations Security Council provided the cover for military intervention.

On November 17, the IAEA passed a resolution expressing deep and increasing concern over Iran's nuclear activities. A total of 32 countries, among them India, in the 35-member IAEA Board voted for the resolution. Indonesia abstained while Cuba and Ecuador voted against the resolution. India had chosen to abstain on a U.N. resolution that condemned the assassination attempt on the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States. Although Iran was not specifically blamed for the attempt, the resolution had demanded that Iran cooperate with the investigations. Even in the U.S. very few people have given credence to the assassination plot, yet the U.N. General Assembly chose to vote on the issue. The vote was passed with 106 in favour, nine against and 40 abstentions. The Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. was quick to claim that the vote, coupled with that in the IAEA, showed that the international community viewed Iran as a terror state.

The IAEA resolution came after the agency's critical report in early November on Iran's nuclear programme. The report, which was selectively leaked to the Western media before it was released officially, stated that Iran had engaged in activities relating to the development of nuclear weapons before 2003 and that these activities may still be ongoing.

The toughly worded IAEA resolution, which followed, stopped short of reporting Iran to the Security Council or imposing a deadline on Teheran to comply with the IAEA's demand for ending its nuclear programme. This was done to bring Russia and China on board. These two veto-wielding countries have so far been against any additional sanctions being imposed on Iran. Russia's representative to the IAEA, Grigory Berdinnikov, went on record as stating that the leak of the report alleging that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons plays into the hands of those who objected to a diplomatic solution to solve the impasse. Berdinnikov was also critical of the IAEA report which, he said, was disappointing that in the context of the absence of convincing evidence there have begun assumptions and suspicions and juggling with information in order to produce an impression that some military component is present in Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran has been insisting that its nuclear programme is completely peaceful in nature and that its uranium enrichment programme is only meant for producing fuel for its power plants. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, was defiant while reacting to the new IAEA resolution. The only immediate effect is a further strengthening of the determination of the Iranian nation to continue its nuclear activities for peaceful purposes without any compromise, he said. He went on to add that the report was so unprofessional, unbalanced, illegal and politicised that it had deeply ruined the reputation of the Agency as a technically competent authority. Soltanieh emphasised that Iran would not halt its uranium enrichment programme even for a second.

Ali Larijani, the influential Speaker of the Iranian Majlis (Parliament) and a former national security chief, said that the tone of the IAEA report was hostile, that the report was a copy of the orders issued by the U.S. and Israel, and that it was meaningless and hasty. The Russian Foreign Ministry described the IAEA report as highly politicised. For its reports on Iran, the IAEA relies a lot on intelligence provided by Western intelligence agencies and Israel.

The report barely talked about the ongoing research in Iranian nuclear facilities: it instead chose to revert to allegations about what had surfaced in the early part of the last decade. The latest IAEA report stresses on the development of explosive bridge water detonators, which are also used in nuclear weapons. The IAEA admitted in 2008 that it was informed by Iran that it was developing the detonators for use in conventional and civilian applications. At the same time, it maintained that there could be non-nuclear uses for these kinds of detonators. The report focusses on computer- and design-modelling research undertaken by Iranian scientists. According to many specialists, Iran is pursuing this kind of work to strengthen its conventional warhead missile programmes. In recent years, Iran has made great strides in missile technology.

Daniel Joyner, an American academic who specialises in nuclear non-proliferation issues, is of the view that the IAEA simply has no mandate to produce such a report on activities being carried on within an IAEA member-state concerning items and technologies that may be related to the development of a nuclear explosive device, but that are not directly related to fissionable materials or associated facilities. The Arms Control Association, a respected U.S.-based organisation, said the only conclusion from the IAEA report was that Iran is working to shorten the time frame to build the bomb, once and if it makes the decision. But it remains apparent that a nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable.

IRANIAN STUDENTS FORM a human chain around the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan in support of Iran's nuclear programme.-VAHID SALEMI/AP

The IAEA report did concede that all of the low-enriched uranium produced inside Iran was accounted for. The American daily The Christian Science Monitor reported that the latest IAEA report on Iran's nuclear programme may not be the game changer it was billed to be, as some nuclear experts raise doubts about the quality of evidence and point to lack of proof of current nuclear weapons work. The IAEA, in its report, also talked about the role of a former Soviet atomic scientist in helping Iran construct a detonation system that could be used in a nuclear weapon. The investigative journalist Gareth Porter revealed in an article that the scientist, Vyacheslav Danilenko, was not even a nuclear weapons scientist but a top specialist in the world in the production of nanodiamonds by explosives. The story of the renegade Soviet scientist apparently originated from Israeli security services.

Iran is particularly angry with the new IAEA Director-General, Yukiya Amano. He is viewed in Teheran as a man close to the U.S. establishment. Unlike his predecessor Mohammed ElBaradei, who had angered Washington by taking an unbiased and principled stand on Iran's nuclear programme, Amano, according to many experts on disarmament studies, seems to be bending over backwards to please the Barack Obama administration. This is not surprising. WikiLeaks cables reveal Amano as assuring the U.S. of his undying fealty by telling U.S. diplomats that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic issue, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran's alleged nuclear weapons programme.

Iranian lawmakers have described the latest IAEA reports as U.S.-authored and read by Amano. Soltanieh asserted that the latest report was based on forged documents. Robert Kelley, a retired IAEA Director who spent 30 years with the U.S. Department of Energy's nuclear weapons programme, told the noted investigative reporter Seymour Hersh that he could find very little information in the new IAEA report. Kelley observed that hundreds of pages of material in the report came from a single source a laptop computer supplied by a Western intelligence agency. This information was old news, Kelley said, but Amano chose to accept it as evidence.

On November 16, the Iranian mission to the IAEA released a copy of the letter it had sent to the IAEA chief. The letter said the leaking of the names of Iranian scientists involved in the country's nuclear programme had made them targets of assassination by terrorist groups, aided and abetted by U.S. and Israeli secret services. In the past two years, Iranian nuclear scientists working in the country have been selectively targeted for assassinations and kidnappings.

In the run-up to the release of the IAEA report, top leaders and officials in the U.S. and Israel started beating the drums of war. Front-runners in the Republican primaries for next year's presidential election have in one voice suggested the immediate bombing of Iranian nuclear installations. The U.S. Congress is all set to approve a Bill The Iran Threat Reduction Act. If it becomes law, it will prohibit U.S. officials from having any contact with Iran. This will be the first time in U.S. history that government officials will be banned from meeting with representatives of another country.

The Obama administration has said that it is not taking any option off the table. Israeli President Shimon Peres, arguing for an Israeli attack, claimed that Iran was the only country that threatened the existence of another country. There are reports in the American media that the warmongering Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is determined to attack Iran's nuclear facilities with or without Washington's permission. Netanyahu has been repeatedly saying that Jews are facing an existential threat from Iran, similar to the one they faced from the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.

Israel has test-fired its new Jericho missiles, which it claims can hit targets in Iran and Pakistan. The Israeli media are also full of stories about Israel's German-supplied nuclear-armed submarines lurking off the Iranian coast, ready to go into action at a moment's notice. But Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, in an unguarded moment, told a television channel that Iran's nuclear programme was not aimed against Israel. He said he would not delude himself into believing that the Iranians are doing it because of Israel. He went on to add that if he were an Iranian he would go for the nuclear option. They [the Iranians] look around. They see the Indians are nuclear, the Chinese are nuclear, Pakistan is nuclear, not to mention the Russians.

Iran, since the Islamic Revolution, has never attacked another country. In 1980, it was the victim of aggression when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, goaded by the U.S., invaded the country. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a recent statement that Iran was not seeking a confrontation with anyone. He reiterated that acquiring nuclear weapons was against the basic tenets of the Islamic Revolution. The Iranians are a nation of culture and logic and are not warmongers, he said. A former President, Mohammad Khatami, dismissed Israeli threats as psychological warfare or a bluff and an attempt to persuade the West to take the military initiative against Iran.

Meir Daggan, who retired in early 2011 as the chief of the Israeli intelligence agency the Mossad, said that bombing Iran was a stupid idea. He said an Israeli military attack would give Teheran the best excuse to acquire nuclear weapons arguing that it was attacked by a country with nuclear weapons at a time when it was engaged in peaceful nuclear research.

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