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Iran’s nuclear program: Opposition between US-Europe versus a Turkey-Brazil consensus

Iran’s nuclear program and international negotiations around it have entered into a new stage of heated discussions which, this time, sees new countries enter the fray to challenge the usual position of authority wielded by the UN’s five permanent members of the Security Council.

On May 19, the US circulated a draft sanctions program aimed at forging consensus in the 15 member UN Security Council (5 permanent — the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France — and 10 rotating members, which currently includes Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon).

The push for sanctions by the US implicitly rejects a tripartite diplomatic deal reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil.

The tripartite deal would see Iran swap almost half of its existing supply of low enriched uranium with Turkey. This is intended to add a measure of transparency to the process of enrichment in order to ensure that Iran’s uranium is used for research and medical purposes over what the US alleges might be an Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons. The fuel is intended to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor, which supplies the countries medical isotopes.

A similar deal was proposed by the US, France, and Russia in October 2009, which Iran rejected after long discussion. In that particular case, Iran claimed it was worried that the agreement left it vulnerable to the West. Essentially, Iran was worried that it might hand over its fuel to France, and then France would refuse to return it after processing, leaving Iran in the lurch. One of the key differences in the latest tripartite deal is that Turkey would act as the conduit, a country which actually has good relations with its neighbour, Iran. It is presumed, then, that Iran feels more secure having a country that has not publicly supported the possibility of war against it to act as guarantor. An example of the pressure (to put it lightly) that Iran faces is that, in April 2010, the US president Obama opened the door to the launch of nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea if deemed necessary. The US excluded these two countries from limits placed on the use of atomic weapons.

It should be made clear that the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which both the US and Iran are signatories, states that “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations, and that the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security are to be promoted with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.”

The idea is that if you threaten another country with war, especially if the threatening party rattles its atomic weapons, then there would be the danger of creating an incentive for non-nuclear weapons countries to pursue a weapons program in order to reduce the urgency of the threat.

Gary Swick writes:

The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.

The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.

The sanctions proposed by the US would, according to the Washington Post, “expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A critical element still to be negotiated is a list of those names.” Sanctions would also include a ban on shipments of large weapons systems “such as battle tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.”

More from the same article: “Diplomats said that some of [the] sanctions were proposed with the full knowledge they would be removed by the Russians and Chinese — but then could be revived in an E.U. resolution. Individual country sanctions could follow, and would be led by the United States and like-minded nations.”

The Daily Start reports that although the agreement reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil “was hailed as a diplomatic coup by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the United States and its allies Britain and France said it did not go far enough to avert the sanctions push.”

Well-informed sources close to the Lebanese delegation to the UN in New York said: ‘Lebanon has always been against any sanctions against Iran because Lebanon believes it is the right of all nations or countries to own nuclear energy.’

‘Lebanon has repeatedly reiterated its stance against the sanctions, especially that Iran is saying that the proliferation of the enriched uranium is done for peaceful purposes,’ the sources said, adding that Lebanon will abstain from the vote on sanctions.

Nine out of fifteen security council members have to vote in favour for a resolution to pass. The five permanent members of the security council have veto power.

The Brazilian foreign minister on Tuesday stated that the “agreement [between Iran, Brazil and Turkey] is a new fact that has to be evaluated.” And “to ignore this agreement would be to discard the possibility of a pacific solution.”

The conflicting proposals from the US and Europe for sanctions on one side and a tripartite deal led by Turkey and Brazil on the other also reflects a tension in international affairs as countries outside of the framework of Washington’s consensus of world order vie for alternative visions of international affairs in general. This was voiced by some Brazilian newspapers, such as Folha de Sao Paulo (quoted in the Daily Star): “The US government is more than anything looking to show who runs a hierarchy of global power that emerging powers such as Brazil and Turkey see as outdated.”

Similar sentiments challenging the existing international model centered around overwhelming US power emerged during an April meeting between Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa at the Brazilian capital.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister claimed that the US president had personally encouraged Brazil and Turkey to pursue the now contested deal with Iran. According to FP’s The Cable:

It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.

Nor did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Davutoglu by last Friday, give the talks an unqualified thumbs up. ‘During the call, the secretary stressed that in our view, Iran’s recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program,’ State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

According to the White House, Obama did not mean to suggest that a fuel-swap deal alone would be enough to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Antonio Ramlho, a professor of international relations at the university of Brasilia has said that the “Brazilian government believes that new and tougher sanctions on Iran would not work.”

It would only contribute to strengthening Iran’s position in the region and strengthening the hardliners within Iranian society and within the Iranian government. They would be able to say that the economic problems they face were due to the sanctions imposed by the international community.

If we impose further sanctions, that will only increase the secrecy in Iran and increase the military orientation of this program.

He also expresses the view that the NPT is, in practice, discriminatory and does not treat all members as equal before international law. That some countries are viewed as irresponsible and are generally pressured not to pursue any nuclear technology despite the fact that the NPT clearly indicates their right to pursue civilian nuclear technology.

He says that, “In 1998, when Brazil signed the NPT treaty, there were arguments for and against. The argument against adhering to the NPT was that Brazil already made its program transparent, but at the same point, it had this principled position which is the one followed by India. Although we know that India had a military program, the Indian government has never agreed to adhere to the NPT [because] it is a discriminatory treaty. In 1998, the majority of the military, as well as many diplomats and experts, [thought] that Brazil should not sign the NPT, based on this argument. It is the tradition of Brazil to fight for a more fair international order that is ruled by institutions and norms [and] that considers states to be equally responsible from the point of view of international law. The argument was that we should not subscribe to a treaty that is discriminatory. This did not mean that Brazil aimed at developing nuclear artifacts or whatever.”

Despite US claims that it has Russia and China’s support in pushing for expanded sanctions, Russia has recently sent a contradictory signal, which goes some way to explaining why the US was not able to include its real wish list in the proposed sanctions. From Reuters: “A reactor being built by Russia at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is scheduled to begin operating in August, the head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation told journalists on Thursday.”

The US has rejected Turkey and Brazil’s initiative and is trying to quickly cobble together support for its proposed sanctions. The Russian foreign minister has “called on Iran to send details of its proposed uranium swap to the UN’s nuclear agency as soon as possible.” US secretary of state Clinton has said that her government has the support of Russia and China. I have not seen any clear message from either of these countries on whether and to what extent they might support the sanctions as presented by the US.

The position of the US is that new sanctions should be applied to Iran unless it halts all enrichment activity. Period. “But that had not been the [US] Administration’s position” since a similar fuel swap deal was first tabled in October 2009. “From that point until this Monday, the Administration repeatedly indicated that Iranian acceptance of the [October] Baradei proposal would preclude the imposition of further sanctions, at least until there had been further negotiations about the broader range of issues associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.  At least in the near term, the avoidance of new sanctions was no longer linked to suspension.  (Senior British officials told us last fall that this was why, as a matter of policy, Her Majesty’s Government did not want to see the TRR [the Tehran Research Reactor] deal go through—because it would then be practically impossible to sanction Iran over its continued refusal to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for suspension.)” write Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at The Race for Iran.

They add that, “Now that Tehran has accepted the main elements of the Baradei proposal—the transfer of 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for new fuel for the TRR—the United States has unilaterally changed the game.”

Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, says that:

The Obama administration had not previously declared publicly that it was demanding an end to all enrichment by Iran, and had suggested directly and indirectly that it wanted a broader diplomatic engagement with Iran covering issues of concern to both states.

The new hard line, ruling out broader diplomatic engagement with Iran, and the new light on the strategy behind last year’s swap proposal confirms what has long been suspected – that the debate within the Obama administration last year over whether to abandon the demand for an end to Iranian uranium enrichment as unrealistic had been won by proponents of the zero enrichment demand by late summer 2009.

It is possible that the American claim of China’s ‘support’ of the sanctions program is in principle only. That China might support the writing of a sanction to be held in reserve but in fact back the tripartite Iran, Turkey, Brazil deal.

You can listen to an interview with Gareth Porter regarding these events on Antiwar Radio or click on the play button below.

Below are links to full texts of the proposed agreements:

The Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement

Sanctions proposal against Iran

It’s true that Obama “encouraged” Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions
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Assumptions in the language of conflict management: US and Israeli war games against Iran

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

A scene from the film 'Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb'

Three war games have recently reviewed the US and Israeli options and outcomes in the face of Iran’s nuclear program. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy has very briefly analyzed these games and has presented its own conclusions.

I am here going to respond to Jeffrey White’s analysis of these games. I am most interested in his choice of language, and unfortunately only have the time to comment on two out of the three games.

White provides highlights of the Harvard war game, which had as its goal an investigation of the general evolution of events and international actions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

1) The US could not organize “meaningful support for sanctions.”

2) Russia and China engaged in their own “secret negotiations with Iran.”

3) Iran ‘won’ the game by increasing its supply of uranium and “was proceeding to weaponization.”

My response:

1) The game is conducted by an American institution and focuses on the central role of the US as the catalyst or primary actor, seemingly subordinating other state actors as responders to US policy on the issue. That the US could not coordinate sanctions may well be rewritten as any number of other states having varying levels of ‘success’ in rolling out their own plans. I don’t here mean to say that the agency of other states is not recognized by individual players who represent state actors, but rather that we should be aware that the game assumes the central motive of investigating US interests in degrees related to a binary dimension, success/failure. This game assumes then that the dominant articulation of US interest in regards to Iran, the Middle East, and Asia, is an inviolate constant. It does not investigate international interest, simply US interest. I would argue that it investigates this the issue not simply from the point of view of war games conducted by the interested nation’s institution but also assumes the given that US power is hegemonic, if not implying that US hegemony is good then at least ignoring the question entirely. I argue that ignoring the question of articulating power can lead to or facilitate a quest to maximize power for power’s sake and forgetting why an exertion of national will is necessary in the first place. The danger inherent in accepting dominant paradigms of trans-regional power is that actors may forget that it may well be desirable to seek political action for something other than the accumulation of power but may be the means to a multitude of goals.

2) That it would be stated that Russia and China would seek “secret” negotiations with Iran relates to my first point. It suggests that any negotiation with Iran outside the schema presented by US arbitration or national interest is a breach of some unvoiced law. What is here meant by secret? That the US or those of its allies in full compliance with its national interest were not invited to bilateral talks between Russia or China and Iran? Just as the US and European nations have the right, as independent state actors, to enter into private negotiations with a second party, I would think that China or Russia would also enter into dialogue with those they see fit without necessarily seeking outside approval. If the full transcript of bilateral talks are not made available in the case of the US and some second party, this might be for the reason of its national interest, such as the mutable outcome of sensitive negotiations not yet concluding in formal agreement. That the bilateral talks of non-US actors working independently of this forcibly centralized player are articulated as “secret” suggests a displeasure with independent action that may be counter to US interest, but disguises this self-interest as a form of breach that requires secrecy.

3) Here is revealed another assumption made by the game, that Iran, without question, seeks to have nuclear weapons. The nature of Iran’s nuclear program is not questioned, it is presented as a weapons program. Within this assumption is inscribed the message that the program is an act of aggression against the US, meaning that it is contrary to US interest. Here is assumed that the US has a right, perhaps it would be worded as a responsibility in some journals, to exert its political, economic, and military power within the Asian continent, far from its shores and that local actors must not have the power to threaten US monopoly on violence. This relates very much to the symbolic reduction of US wars of aggression within the region, such as in the case of Iraq, to police action in which the police/US has the right to violence while other states must be presented as subjects — international citizens — in a necessarily undefined global system in which their actions could well be regarded as criminal if it falls outside US interest. Such a schema is perhaps best articulated in a paper written for the US military, Joint Vision 2020, in which the idea of American full spectrum dominance is explained as:

The label full spectrum dominance implies that US forces are able to conduct prompt, sustained, and synchronized operations with combinations of forces tailored to specific situations and with access to and freedom to operate in all domains – space, sea, land, air, and information.  Additionally, given the global nature of our interests and obligations, the United States must maintain its overseas presence forces and the ability to rapidly project power worldwide in order to achieve full spectrum dominance.

Next, White discusses the highlights of a related war game that was conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. This game investigates US-Israel relation along with potential for Israeli responses to Iran’s nuclear program. White outlines the following highlights from the Tel Aviv war game:

1) The game assumes a clear objective for Iran: “obtaining nuclear weapons.”

2) Israel and the US did not have clear strategies nor clear goals in confronting Iran.

3) Iran ‘wins’, and continues its nuclear program.

My responses:

1) This war game also assumes that Iran seeks to have nuclear weapons, generating a scenario on the very basis of an intractable conflict. There is no deviation from weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program and therefore diplomatic negotiations could not possibly succeed. In order to have Iran refrain from building nuclear bombs, you must force it to do so, through economic, political, or military threats or actions. Beyond the assumption that Iran must want nuclear weapons is the treatment of the nuclear program in isolation from the very state actors who are here presented as the side (though a fractured side) facing a common foe in Iran. Israel and US, it is assumed, have a right to nuclear weapons. The impact of Israeli nuclear weapons on politics, and military programs within the region are entirely ignored in this particular scenario. To explore it would mean questioning it. Anyway, Israel does not publicly acknowledge that it has nuclear weapons. To do so, or to discuss this topic might result in the question of how it developed them in the first place, which of course included European and US aid. Israel has not signed on to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The US and all nuclear capable European countries have. Under the NPT, it is not allowed that signatories help non-signatories develop a nuclear program, let alone a weaponized one. So, the NATO countries involved in this affair are in breach of what is supposed to be a binding international treaty that they helped create. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meant to help police the accountability of signatories that may be implicated in a breach of the NPT, which permits the development of a civilian nuclear program but limits weaponization. The IAEA is thus involved in the case of Iran yet it is not involved in the case of the open secret of Israel nor of Western involvement in Israel’s nuclear development. This might bring into question the objectivity of the NPT, or rather of its application. It suggests, then, that it is OK for some countries to have nuclear programs, even nuclear weapons, but not OK for others to have them. If the application of the NPT is not universal, and in fact we witness a clear miss on its application in the case of the only nuclear weapons holder in the Middle East, then we must conclude that the NPT is at the very least flawed. Whether by flaw or purpose, it has in this case served to help maintain a power dynamic and problematic articulation of international law in which one side — Iran — is investigated because of accusation by the US, while another side — Israel — who happens to be an integrated ally of the US does not have to even worry about investigation. So, here we see that the application of an international treaty moves according to the existing dynamic of global power which favours the dominant player and its close allies.

2) The lack of clarity in terms of goals and strategies does not immediately seem clear to me when reading White’s review of the Tel Aviv war game. In reading further sections of the short report, I wonder if it simply means that they did not have common goals, or that goals and strategies were not clear enough because the US did not come forward with preconditions and ultimatums then seek these out through any means possible including military aggression.

3) That Iran wins the war game fits into the binary world we are presented throughout the report, with Iran on one side and US-Israel on the other. One is bad, the other is good, implicitly. Therefore, there is no need to critically examine the impact of each state action within the context of a multitude of national and sub-national needs or interests; it is assumed here that good and bad are inherent to each party. Perhaps the confusion lies in that the dimension of national interest embedded in power politics is taken as the judge of good and bad. In this case, if a situation or action contrasts with Israeli or US national interest reduced to a game of power politics then the need to examine its effect on the many peoples of the world is diminished. Inversely, what is good for the interested parties must be good for everyone, or is for the good of everyone.

Interview with Iran’s envoy to the IAEA

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Iran, on Monday, informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it would pursue improved enrichment of uranium at one of its nuclear plants producing medical isotopes.

Press TV reports:

“Today we handed over the letter,” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Press TV.

He said Iran has asked the UN nuclear agency to dispatch its inspectors to the country to oversee the process of the 20 percent enrichment work.

…Soltanieh said Iran will use its nuclear stockpile to enrich uranium to up to 20 percent to supply the Tehran research reactor which produces medical isotopes.

Juan Cole, an expert on the Middle East, has written the following on his blog about the issue at hand:

The compromise Iran offered is that they would keep sending abroad a small portion of their low enriched uranium for another country to enrich to 19.75% for the medical reactor, on a rolling basis. Salehi is saying that Ahmadinejad’s announcement was meant primarily to force acceptance of this alternative. At the same time, on Saturday Ahmadinejad seemed to say that he would accept the deal offered by the US in October. US officials were understandably skeptical about this alleged softening of Tehran’s position, and Salehi on Monday seemed to suggest that Iran was making a push for the hard liners’ compromise.

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates spoke as though Iran’s announcement that it was going to try to make its own medical isotopes with low enriched uranium was tantamount to a weapons program. Gates said that if Iran did seem to be close to getting a nuclear warhead, it would provoke a nuclear arms race in the region. But it seems obvious that it is Israel’s stockpile of some 200 nuclear weapons that is driving the already-existing nuclear arms race in the region.

The US will probably seek further sanctions on Iran at the UN Security Council, this time on its banking sector. But there is a substantial possibility that China may protect Iran by vetoing any such new program of sanctions.

The following is Press TV’s exclusive interview with Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, on February 8 (this is an excerpt, read the full interview here):

Press TV: Iran’s formal announcement of enriching 20-percent uranium; great news for Iran. Can you give us more details?

Dr. Soltanieh: Yes, upon instruction of my government today, officially, I reflected to the agency the intention of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to start its nuclear enrichment activities of uranium up to 20%, I repeat up to 20%, in order to produce the required fuel for Tehran research reactor. This has been already officially delivered about 12 o’clock today Vienna time to the agency and then also in the evening. We received the acknowledgment of the letter and also in the letter I have invited the agency inspectors to be present as of tomorrow during this whole process, to show utmost transparency in our cooperation with the IAEA; then also in the acknowledgement letter this evening the agency informed us that the inspectors will be present and supervising the whole activity.

Press TV: If this capability was within Iran’s ability, why did it leave the option open for the West?

Dr. Soltanieh: Well, in fact, as you correctly said, we have in fact this capability, technological capability, because this is a fact that Iran has mastered the enriching technology but the government of Islamic Republic of Iran decided to open a window of opportunity for the others in order to enter into a new avenue, rather than confrontation, to come to cooperation, and while we receive the fuel for our research reactor within the framework of the IAEA the technical cooperation among member states will be enhanced.

Unfortunately, we waited so long, roughly about nine months, since I sent a letter to former [IAEA] director general, asking the agency to facilitate for this exchange of the fuel and receiving of the fuel. In fact, by coincidence, I am the same one that over 20 years ago, as ambassador to the IAEA at that time, wrote a letter to Director General Hans Blix, requesting the fuel for Tehran reactor and we finally had an agreement through the IAEA by Argentina we got the fuel and we paid for it. This time unfortunately, the potential suppliers put a condition. It means not only they wanted to receive the money but they wanted to receive the material which we have produced in Natanz. Now, again this was a test of the political will of parties concerned. During the negotiation, which was held 19th to 21st of October, and I had the honor to be in charge of the delegation and the negotiator, we in fact tried to show utmost flexibility. Therefore, we accepted and agreed to send the required material for the fuel outside. The only thing is, because of the past confidence deficit, we insisted on the modality which will give the guarantee that we will receive the fuel at the end of the day, and this was the best logical, technically-sound proposal that Iran made during that negotiation.

I have to remind you that after I wrote a letter to the director general and asked him to send to potential suppliers, the director general at the time Mr. Baradei only sent the letter of course to Russia and the US and they gave us a non-paper. In that non-paper, they gave this proposal that they wanted 1,200 kilograms to be sent to Russia for further enrichment and then further on, of course, France joined it in order to do fuel fabrication. That was, in fact the proposal of those countries. But, by mistake, during the last four months, in the media you have noticed that they are explaining that that was the Geneva proposal and those three countries accepted and Iran has not accepted that proposal. This is absolutely wrong, because that was the proposal of those three countries in fact. Therefore there was no surprise that they agreed with their own proposal. But our proposal was also on the table, which was very important as I explained to you: simultaneous exchange of LEU (low-enriched uranium) produced in Iran with the fuel which will be going to be produced outside. Simultaneous exchanges swap in Iran. It is that we are ready to show compromise to send the material out although we were not obliged to do so and get the fuel. Therefore the common denominator between these two proposals was that the material, the required material, the equivalent material, could be sent out. They should have welcomed this opportunity, but for the last eight months [or] more roughly close to nine months we have been desperately waiting and we tried not to in fact further elaborate for the media. We tried to let the diplomacy work. But, unfortunately, we have been disappointed that until now today there was no response to our proposal.

IAEA report on Iran

November 16, 2009 Leave a comment

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has release its latest report on Iran’s nuclear program. The report is dated 16 November 2009. Read it here.

IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) just released a report on Iran’s nuclear program. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but you can: read or download the PDF here.

The report is only a little over 4 pages long but technical. Note that this report is in response to UN Security Council resolutions (1737, 1747, 1803, and 1835) and not just to the NPT. I found the report on the Arms Control Wonk site.

Categories: Iran, Middle East, Politics Tags: ,
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