Benefit of the doubt

Print edition : December 21, 2007

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. - HANS PUNZ/AP

The IAEA states that Iran neither has nuclear material that can be readily used in weapons nor is engaged in an active weaponisation programme.

IAEA Director General

IN the report brought out by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the second week of November, the agency concluded that Iran was generally truthful about crucial aspects of its nuclear programme. The report also said that Iran was going ahead with its uranium enrichment programme in spite of a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that it suspend the programme. The Iranian government has announced that it has installed 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium. International experts and Western governments have acknowledged that the assertions made by Teheran are true. This is proof enough that Iran has mastered enrichment technology.

The IAEA report said that Iran provided sufficient access to individuals and has responded in a timely manner to questions. Irans cooperation, it said, had been reactive rather than proactive. Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General, said in a speech to the agencys board of governors on November 22 that Iran at the same time needed to erase a confidence deficit created in the 18 years of secrecy that had surrounded the countrys quest for a nuclear programme. ElBaradei told the 35-nation board that Iran had answered questions regarding its links with the A.Q. Khan network in Pakistan. The network run by the father of the Pakistani nuclear bomb sold nuclear technology to many countries.

The George Bush administration in the United States has vowed to prevent Teheran from achieving the goal of mastering the nuclear fuel cycle. The growing talk of war emanating from Washington can be ascribed to this. Russia and China have been counselling the U.S. to exercise patience. Diplomats from both countries have warned that if more sanctions are imposed or if the U.S. resorts to foolhardy non-diplomatic methods, then Iran could walk out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the IAEA.

The 10-page IAEA report traces the history of Irans nuclear programme and the clandestine activities that were associated with it in the initial stages. Saeed Jalili, the newly appointed top Iranian nuclear negotiator, told the media in Teheran that the latest IAEA report showed that the allegations made by the U.S. and its allies about Irans nuclear programme were baseless. He emphasised that Iran had answered all questions raised by the IAEA. Jalili went on to add that there was no logic behind the continuing U.S. demands that the U.N. impose more sanctions on Iran. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the IAEA report showed that Teheran was cooperating with the international community on its areas of concern. The world will see that the Iranian nation has been right and the resistance of the nation has been correct, he said.

The U.S. continues to insist that Iran is only offering selective cooperation to the U.N. The U.S. State Department spokesman said that Iran was continuing with its enrichment programme. Iran has reiterated that as an NPT signatory, it has an irrefutable right to develop its own nuclear programme for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and its European allies seem determined to pile pressure on Iran. They are calling on the U.N. to impose additional sanctions immediately. Top German companies, such as Siemens, Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank, have withdrawn from Iran in recent months following intense pressure from the Bush administration.

Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and other U.S. officials have been making frequent trips to European capitals to warn companies that they risk losing business in America if they continue to invest in Iran. Burns also cautioned the Chinese government against doing business with Iran. Were concerned that Chinas trade has increased significantly with Iran. Its incongruous for China to continue to sell arms to Iran and become Irans top trade partner. Weve advised the Chinese to take a much more resolute role, Burns recently told The Washington Post. Russia is apparently not heeding the warning from the U.S. After the recent visit of President Vladimir Putin to Iran, bilateral relations have warmed up once again. Moscow has pledged to complete the nuclear plant in Bushehr, Iran. Russia is a key supplier of arms to Iran.

Both Burns and his immediate boss, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, periodically warn India to desist from signing oil and gas deals with Iran. From available indications, New Delhi, unlike Beijing, seems to have buckled under American pressure. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, echoing the Bush administration, has called for an international ban on investing in Irans hydrocarbon sector. But many European nations would like to source their energy supplies from Iran and not to be too dependent on Russia. Iranian oil and gas may soon be heading to Europe in more significant quantities via the new pipeline to Turkey.

Iran has other cards to play against Washington. Ahmadinejad, during the recent Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) summit, called for an end to the trading of oil in U.S. currency, describing it as a worthless piece of paper. At the summit, Venezuela also demanded that the cartel stop dealing in U.S. currency and switch to the euro, yen or yuan. Iranian Oil Minister Gholam Hossein Nozari warned foreign companies that if they did not complete the projects that they had signed up for, Iranian firms would complete the job. Recent contracts in the hydrocarbon sector have gone to Iranian firms.

Saeed Jalili, Irans newly appointed top nuclear negotiator.-RAHEB HOMAVANDI/REUTERS

Saeed Jalili, Irans

Gregory L. Shulte, the U.S. Ambassador to the IAEA, said that additional sanctions on Iran were all but certain unless Iran agreed to more intrusive inspections and to halt enrichment. In tandem, the United Kingdom, France and Germany called for a time limit lasting a couple of weeks for Iran to suspend enrichment. Both Russia and China have stated their opposition to a third Security Council resolution calling for even tougher sanctions on Iran. Both Moscow and Beijing want to give the IAEA more time so that the full picture of Irans nuclear programme becomes clear to the world.

Hawks in the U.S. administration, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and the remnants of the neoconservative clique that precipitated the Iraq war, want military action before a new administration takes office in 2008. Cheney, in a recent television interview, described ElBaradeis position on Iran as wrong and vowed that the U.S. would never allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons. The Iranian leadership has repeatedly emphasised that it is not interested in nuclear weapons. Condoleezza Rice is not lagging behind either. She said that the policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge to American security interests in the Middle East [West Asia] and around the world.

The Israeli government has been egging on the Bush administration to take military action against Iran at the earliest. Sallai Merridor, the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., said that there was very little time left for the U.S. to move against Iran. He described Iran as the main threat to the Jewish state. Israel is known to possess some 200 to 300 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

The Iranian government has warned the West against resorting to the military option. Top Iranian officials have said that U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Iraq would suffer in that case. Playing with the security of Iran is like dominoes. We believe that world powers are aware of Irans effective role in global security. Our role in Iraq and Afghanistan is in the direction of peace, stability and improving the governments there, said Jalili.

In the third week of November, Iran sent a letter to most of the capitals in the world explaining its stance on the nuclear issue. The letter, signed by Foreign Minister Mancuchehr Mottaki, reiterated that Irans nuclear programme was completely peaceful and was not a threat against any country. The letter explained that the main aim of the nuclear programme was to generate electricity. The huge amounts of oil and gas it now uses to generate electricity could then be exported so that the country could earn valuable hard currency.

MEMBERS OF IRAN'S Revolutionary Guards shouting slogans in support of the country's nuclear programme during Friday prayers at a university in Teheran on November 23.-MORTEZA NIKOUBAZL/REUTERS

Iran is currently the fourth largest oil producer in the world. The letter emphasised that Iran had bent over backwards, going even beyond its legal commitments to clear doubts about its nuclear programme. All Irans nuclear activities are based on the IAEAs charter and the NPT, under the agencys full and continuous supervision, the letter stated.

Washington has no problems with other countries opting for civilian nuclear power. Egypt announced recently that it was planning to go in for nuclear energy in a big way by building several nuclear plants. Reacting to this news, the U.S. State Department spokesman said that any country that fulfils its obligations under the NPT and follows the IAEA safeguards will have a programme that is perfectly acceptable to us. South Africa, one of the few countries to give up the nuclear option voluntarily (it decided to do so after the fall of the apartheid regime), has now announced ambitious plans to build civilian nuclear reactors.

In Brazil, senior political figures as well as serving generals are calling for the acquisition of nuclear weapons. General Jose Benedito de Barros Moreira, a serving four-star general, speaking on a popular television show, said that Brazil should have the ability in the future to develop a nuclear weapon. The officer compared a nuclear weapon to a lock that would safeguard the countrys future. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said in July: Brazil could rank among those few nations in the world with a command of uranium enrichment technology, and I think that we will be more highly valued as a nation as the power we wish to be.

The IAEA chief has stated categorically that Iran neither has nuclear material that can be readily used in weapons nor is engaged in an active weaponisation programme. Irans nuclear programme, most experts feel, is no different from that being pursued by many other nations. But the U.S. seems to have decided that only those countries it classifies as freedom loving will be allowed to exercise the right to proceed along the nuclear road.

We owe it to our children, Bush said way back in 2002, to free the world from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of those who hate freedom.

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