Plotting a war

Published : Apr 07, 2006 00:00 IST

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before addressing a gathering at Agh Ghaleh, about 400 km northeast of Teheran, on March 14. - REUTERS

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before addressing a gathering at Agh Ghaleh, about 400 km northeast of Teheran, on March 14. - REUTERS

The decision to refer Iran to the Security Council takes the United States a step closer to effecting yet another "regime change" in West Asia.

THE decision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council, in the second week of March, did not come as a surprise. The writing was on the wall in the first week of February after the IAEA Board voted in favour of reporting Iran to the Security Council. Russia and China, which were perceived as being close to Iran, voted with the United States.

The IAEA had given Iran one month to come up with a compromise formula to end the impasse. Since early 2005, the Bush administration had made it clear that it considered Iran the primary threat to its interests in West Asia. Reporting Iran to the Security Council was an important step in its plans to effect yet another "regime change" in the region.

The letter of IAEA Director-General Mohammed ElBaradei to the U.N. stated that his agency could "not conclude that there was no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran". The IAEA Board now wants Iran to suspend once again all enrichment and reprocessing activities and stop work on the construction of its heavy water reactor. The Bush administration claims that Iran will divert the plutonium from the reactor for bomb-making.

Another tough condition that is put forward by the IAEA is that Iran ratify the "additional protocol" that it had agreed to sign voluntarily two years ago. Agreeing to the new protocol means more rigorous and intrusive inspections. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) does not require non-nuclear signatories to negotiate and conclude an Additional Protocol in addition to the IAEA Safeguards Agreement all NPT members have signed. Iran has described the decision to refer it to the U.N. as "the biggest blunder in the IAEA's history".

A last-ditch attempt by Russia to stave off the inevitable was rebuffed by the West. Russia had been working overtime to defuse the crisis. Days before the IAEA Board meeting, Iran had announced that it was prepared to accept the Russian proposal to supply enriched uranium for its civilian nuclear energy programme without the enrichment process taking place inside Iran. At the same time, Iran made it clear that it had not given up its right to develop and master a fuel cycle for civilian nuclear power.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had gone to Washington with the proposal but was given a cold shoulder. Dire warnings emanated from the highest echelons of the Bush administration, threatening aggressive steps against Iran. "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose meaningful consequences," Vice-President Dick Cheney said, while addressing the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israeli lobbying group.

The Bush administration has not ruled out military action. Cheney told his audience that "all options are on the table". The U.S. seems to have pressured Russia into giving up the role of a mediator for the time being.

Observers say that the Bush administration may now give up its objections to Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The U.S. is the only country that has not signed the protocol accepting Russia's WTO membership.

Iran has been insisting on its right under the NPT to enrich uranium fuel on a small scale. The IAEA in its latest report had stated that it had "not seen any (Iranian) diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons. The Iranian government has said that it has done all it could to reach a peaceful settlement on the issue. Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh said that the U.S. had "hijacked" the diplomatic process. Soon after the decision to refer Iran to the Security Council was taken, U.S. officials started escalating the threats against Iran. Every other day senior Israeli officials have been threatening to bomb Iran's nuclear installations. Israel, for the record, has the largest nuclear arsenal in the region. Recent documents have shown that the United Kingdom gave Israel plutonium and heavy water to develop its nuclear weapons programme.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, in his patently arrogant style, threatened fire and brimstone. He talked of bombing Iranian nuclear sites to break the chain of Iran's nuclear production. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Iran posed the "biggest" challenge to U.S. interests. She went to the extent of describing Iran as the leading exporter of terror in the world. She alleged that Iran supported militant groups in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon. She conveniently forgot that the U.S. military's cakewalk in Iraq and Afghanistan was facilitated by Iran's cooperation.

If left solely to the discretion of the Bush administration, economic sanctions on Iran would have been implemented with immediate effect. Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told Congress in the second week of March that Washington wanted a statement from the Security Council President "condemning" Iran. The next step, he said, was for the Security Council to move a binding Chapter Seven resolution, which would automatically lead to sanctions and the "isolation" of the Islamic government.

Burns said that it was "incumbent" on the allies of the U.S. to show that they were willing to act against Iran. The Indian government had indicated before the visit of President George W. Bush that it would continue to be with the U.S. on the Iran nuclear issue. The Bush administration has once again reiterated that it is against the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline.

However, Russia and China have signalled that they are against the imposition of sanctions. Lavrov has emphasised that any solution to the crisis should involve the IAEA.

Iran has said repeatedly that it would end all cooperation with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog if punitive sanctions are imposed. The Bush administration seems reconciled to the possibility of the Security Council refusing to endorse the U.S.' call for economic sanctions.

Hectic moves are already afoot in Washington to bypass the U.N. and rope in allies, including new-found "strategic allies" such as India, to form a new "coalition of the willing" against Iran.

Burns in his speech said that a number of countries had already started looking at "targeted sanctions" against Iran. Burns said that it was "incumbent" upon America's "allies" and "interested countries" to show that they were willing to act, "should the words and resolutions of the U.N. not suffice".

According to reports, most of the U.S.' traditional allies have indicated their willingness to join its latest military crusade. The Bush administration has set aside $85 million in its continuing efforts to effect a regime change in Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that the money would be better spent if Washington investigated the causes behind the continuing unpopularity of the U.S. in the world.

The Iranian leadership has responded with one voice, saying that the country will not be bullied or coerced into giving up its legitimate rights. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said that if the nation stepped back now on the issue of nuclear energy, the U.S. would find another "pretext" to isolate and harm it.

President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad said in a speech that the nation knew how to deal with "international bullies". He said that the West was aware that it would "suffer more".

Iranian officials have said on several occasions that if their country is threatened, it could retaliate. Javed Vaeedi, Iran's representative in the IAEA, said that the U.S. "may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain". Iran can use the "oil weapon" at any time it chooses.

The U.S. knows that Iran has the reach and power to destabilise the military and political situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. ElBaradei has urged all sides to tone down the rhetoric and give diplomacy a meaningful chance to sort out the dangerous impasse.

Russia and China want the Security Council to be involved. Previous experiences have shown that sanctions become inevitable once the Security Council gets into the picture.

Russian officials said that sanctions were no solution. China's envoy to the U.N., Wang Guangya, said that he would like the Security Council to leave sufficient room for diplomatic efforts. China gets 10 per cent of its energy needs from Iran.

The Russians built the Iranian nuclear plant in Bushehr. Russia and China are evidently not in the mood to placate the U.S. by sacrificing their traditional ties with Iran.

U.S. officials are putting pressure on Japan not to go ahead with the $2 billion Azadegan oilfield deal signed with Iran in 2004. Iranian, Pakistani and Indian officials are to meet in late March to discuss the gas pipeline project. The U.S. State Department has told India and Pakistan to desist from participating in the project.

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