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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

Turkey in context: The Turkey-Brazil-Iran nuclear negotiation

May 19, 2010 3 comments

On Monday Turkey and Iran agreed to swap nuclear fuel (low enriched uranium).

From Huffington Post:

The deal forged with Turkey and Brazil appeared to be another attempt to stave off U.N. sanctions – a doubtful endeavor judging by reactions from the United States and other Western powers.

This article, sent to me by a friend, has prompted a short response from me. I am particularly interested in the alternative fulcrums of international power that have increasingly been voicing their visions of international relations. This voice represents a share of those ‘developing’ countries that have grown to be economically impossible to ignore, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China (collectively known as the BRIC), and also including such regional influences as Turkey.

Given this context of new challenges to the traditional power of Western states and international institutions, the case of Turkish involvement in Iran’s nuclear deal is particularly interesting.

It is in line with what the April BRIC meeting in Brasilia had articulated regarding any sanction or deal to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Specifically, the BRIC nations indicated a support for diplomatic options to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and have strongly suggested they would resist harsh sanctions. The meeting took place after the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, and brought Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa to the Brazilian capital.

The meeting in Brasilia was a step toward the generation of an international order that does not marginalize participating states, now representing some of the world’s largest economies. In that case, it was strategic that the group assembled only one week prior to the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting of 24-25 April. It also precedes the G8 summit to be held in Canada this June.

Turkey wants access to more energy. It has limited options for domestic electrical generation. According to an Asia Times article by Saban Kardas, “The country’s current total proven oil reserves could meet only its consumption for a year, and entire natural gas reserves could satisfy only one sixth of its consumption for one year.” It would like to import electricity from its neighbours, including from Iran’s grid. It also seeks to expand its gas and oil imports from Iran. Imports from Iran can be key to Turkey’s energy security, helping it diversify away from overwhelming dependence on Russian natural gas. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia, according to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. It imports 97.3% of its natural gas, and 93% of its oil.

Beyond meeting domestic demand and energy security desires, Turkey would like to improve its access to multiple sources of energy from throughout the Middle East and Central Asia in order to position itself as an energy hub. This is clearly indicated in Turkey’s latest five year energy and natural resources plan.

Turkey could then transit energy through its territory from its southern and eastern neighbours to energy consuming Europe. This transit infrastructure is to rely on pipelines, highways, and the Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean.

Its real options for sourcing such an energy corridor are Russia, Iran, Iraq, and under the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan then Georgia or Armenia. The Caspian route will also be greatly facilitated if it has Iranian cooperation since Iran and other Caspian countries have been long negotiating how to collectively manage that body of water since the fall of the Soviet Union.

An alternative to the Caspian Sea route that Turkey seems interested in as well is to have gas pass from Turkmenistan, through northern Iran, to Turkey. Such an option would greatly facilitate access to rich deposits of natural gas in Central Asia. A submarine pipeline running under the sea would require the cooperation of many more countries via contested waters. Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are engaged in protracted negotiations regarding how to collectively manage the Caspian Sea and how to finalize their individual zones of influence.  The submarine route would also be a lot more vulnerable to future disruption.

Turkey wishes to diversify its energy imports in order to maximize its energy security and maximize the potential of turning itself into an energy hub. Turkey’s recent energy and natural resources five year plan states that, “great importance is given to the improvement of the diversification of resources, technologies and infrastructure. For this reason, the oil and natural gas exploration operations both at home and abroad have been intensified in the recent years and these shall also be continued increasingly within the period of the Plan.” (p. 13)

Turkey has, in the new millennium, shown notable examples of greater independence from US dominance of NATO. I think this has been the result of various outcomes throughout the past decade.

The war in Iraq, which was seen as an unjustified and illegal war of aggression undertaken by the US, NATO’s leader, certainly served as a catalyst. The US tried to convince NATO allies, among others, to join it in a ‘coalition of the willing’. This didn’t play too well as an example of NATO’s new post Cold War direction and helped give voice to a more independent Turkish policy.

I think the war in Afghanistan has also had an impact in drawing Turkey’s gaze to events in the region of Central Asia, where a great number of cultural similarity (in that it is an older home to Turkic peoples prior to their migration to the Republic of Turkey) has raised ideas of the origins of Turkish identity prior to their push for Westernization by way of integrating some aspect of European identity. I don’t think that this trend is in fact what some have called pan-Turkish sentiments. It is simply a greater curiosity of their non-European roots coupled with an interest in seeing how this may be used to exert influence in the energy rich Central Asian region.

We must not forget the continued failure of the project to have Turkey be accepted as European and enter the EU. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU is not interested in Turkish accession, and that a central component of European resistance stems from their perceiving the Turks as eternally non-European.

This notion of a difference in culture between Europe and Turkey has been quite unflattering and even at times publicly racist. Interestingly, the move to further democratize Turkey (namely to apply a representative form of democracy that is rooted in a framework of institution legality) has been disempowering the ‘deep state’ under the leadership of the military, thus eroding these leaders’ ability to push for the Westernization of Turkey.

Public opinion has also indicated at least significant strains of caution and resistance to turning the national identity into a ‘Western’ one. This resistance includes opposition to the West’s wars in that neighbourhood (Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as opposition to Western governments’ support of Israel following that country’s most recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza.

Also, Europe is really waning politically and economically. It has essentially bent knee to the US politically, which I think many in Turkey would see as less incentive to join that bloc since they wanted to join in order to gain greater influence internationally not to be bound in a structure of subservience. Further, Europe’s economy continues to falter, and if Turkey was to join the EU it would be one of the only countries in that bloc with consistent and significant economic growth. It would also be the only EU country with a significant military to speak of. Yet, it is clear that it would remain an isolated member in the unlikely case of the EU taking it in, so Turkey feels even more indignant given this scenario. Why be, on paper, one of the most robust EU members yet be isolated by others who antagonistically see themselves as techno-economically and culturally superior? Turkey is no fool, it realizes that Europe has a significant degree of vulnerability to it as a gateway to the east, and if the West is stagnating why sell yourself short?

Iran, meanwhile, has significant domestic reserves of hydrocarbons, is positioning itself as an energy transit hub (though the success of this plan remains to be seen), and can also serve as a gateway to Central Asian energy and politics.

Regarding the development of nuclear technology, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are planning to set up their own facilities and have signed agreements with the US or Europe to this end. I think they realize it would be seen as so very hypocritical if they gave Iran no possibility of access to a civilian nuclear program. Turkey resides within the Middle East after all and it is not as easy to fool their own population about the fact of burgeoning nuclear programs in that region. After all the average person tends to know more about their neighbours than say someone an ocean and a continent away.

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.

Escalation’s human cost: Iran’s nuclear program and rockets in the face of proposed US sanctions

December 16, 2009 Leave a comment
Iran's pretroleum sector facilities

Iran's pretroleum sector facilities -- Source: CIA

Iran is said to have arrested an alleged Western spy in one of its nuclear enrichment facilities, the Fordo plant. This is to have taken place some two months ago, though the government has not spoken of this incident. News of this was released by Israel’s Channel 2 and elaborated by Hebrew Radio.

Times of London, on Monday, released a report based on its obtaining intelligence documents that claim strong evidence of nuclear weapon development. “The notes, from Iran’s most sensitive military nuclear project, describe a four-year plan to test a neutron initiator, the component of a nuclear bomb that triggers an explosion. Foreign intelligence agencies date them to early 2007, four years after Iran was thought to have suspended its weapons programme.”

From the same Times report: “A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate concluded that weapons work was suspended in 2003 and officials said with “moderate confidence” that it had not resumed by mid-2007. Britain, Germany and France, however, believe that weapons work had already resumed by then.”

The publication of these documents coincide with increased pressure on Iran from Western governments, led by the US.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Ramin Mehmanparast, has responded to the Times story, reaffirming the country’s claim that the nuclear program is purely civilian. “This claim has political aims, and it is psychological warfare,” he said. Tehran Times has more on this. Beyond the Times report, the claims of a weapons program have not been confirmed, and though the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed receipt of the intelligence documents it has made no ruling on their accuracy.

Middle East historian and expert on Middle East politics, Juan Cole, had in October written a salient article, Top Things you Think You Know about Iran that are not True, that addresses many of the assumptions made by the media. Cole’s article is good to keep in mind when assessing the political and security situation in relation to Iran, and it can help the reader sift through the many allegations and counter-claims between the West and Iran.

Some key points from Cole’s article:

Iran’s military budget is a little over $6 billion annually. Sweden, Singapore and Greece all have larger military budgets. Moreover, Iran is a country of 70 million, so that its per capita spending on defense is tiny compared to these others, since they are much smaller countries with regard to population. Iran spends less per capita on its military than any other country in the Persian Gulf region with the exception of the United Arab Emirates.

…Iran has a nuclear enrichment site at Natanz near Isfahan where it says it is trying to produce fuel for future civilian nuclear reactors to generate electricity. All Iranian leaders deny that this site is for weapons production, and the International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly inspected it and found no weapons program. Iran is not being completely transparent, generating some doubts, but all the evidence the IAEA and the CIA can gather points to there not being a weapons program… While Germany, Israel and recently the UK intelligence is more suspicious of Iranian intentions, all of them were badly wrong about Iraq’s alleged Weapons of Mass Destruction and Germany in particular was taken in by Curveball, a drunk Iraqi braggart.

…Iranian politicians are rational actors. If they were madmen, why haven’t they invaded any of their neighbors? Saddam Hussein of Iraq invaded both Iran and Kuwait. Israel invaded its neighbors more than once. In contrast, Iran has not started any wars. Demonizing people by calling them unbalanced is an old propaganda trick. The US elite was once unalterably opposed to China having nuclear science because they believed the Chinese are intrinsically irrational. This kind of talk is a form of racism.

Xinhua reports that the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has called for a peaceful political solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The PGCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. According to the news report, “the PGCC emphasized the right of all countries in the region to have peaceful nuclear energy within the framework of international agreements, based on regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency and under its supervision.”

These same Gulf countries have together, and individually, reiterated the same point on countries’ rights to a peaceful civilian nuclear program. This may well underscore their own nuclear ambitions. Many countries in the Middle East, Central Asia, South Asia, and North Africa already have nuclear programs or are planning to set up new ones with the help of the US, Russia, Europe, or China.

The Council officially expressed its desire to seek a civilian nuclear program after its December 2006 summit.

In 2007, the Council asked for help from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in developing a civilian nuclear program and has since had some positive response from the energy agency.

The US, under president George W. Bush, has signed nuclear cooperation agreement with a number of Council members: with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain (click on each country name to read the agreement). All of these agreements were signed in 2008, save one with the UAE in 2009.

You can read more about the nuclear programs of other regional actors in an earlier report: A swarm of nuclear deals in the Middle East and Asia

A day after the Times of London story, The US House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a sanctions bill against Iran, as a response to the nuclear program. The US Senate has still to review the legislation. According to Dawn news, “The measure would empower US President Barack Obama to effectively block firms that supply Iran with refined petroleum products, or the ability to import or produce them at home, from doing business in the United States… Because of a lack of domestic refining capacity, oil-rich Iran is dependent on gasoline imports to meet about 40 per cent of domestic consumption. Iran gets most of those imports from the Swiss firm Vitol, the Swiss/Dutch firm Trafigura, France’s Total, the Swiss firm Glencore and British Petroleum, as well as the Indian firm Reliance.”

Al Jazeera on the US sanctions bill:

Asia Times reports on the sanctions:

Americans for Peace Now (APN), which advocates for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opposed the sanctions legislation because ”it is about sanctions that target the Iranian people, in the hope that if the people become miserable enough they will pressure their government to change course. This is a strategy that few experts believe will work, and a strategy that has a very poor track record in other contexts (Iraq, Cuba, Gaza).”

”Indeed, experience has demonstrated with sanctions like these, the most likely and immediate result will be a backlash by the people of Iran against the United States, not against the Iranian regime,” APN concluded.”

I would argue that, in general, economic sanctions have some strong similarities with blockages and sieges. During the long history of blockades and sieges, non-combatants have always been the first to suffer. This is because the defending ruling forces will always reserve the most secure position for themselves, and have first access to necessary supplies. This is simple strategic logic. Proponents of a siege often argue their innocence by claiming that the enemy has forced civilians into the front lines by taking the best for themselves. This assumes that the attacking force did not intend to gain from the economic hardship and strangulation that provides military and psychological benefits in military, economic, and political warfare. The political philosopher, Michael Walzer, references the British military historian B.H. Liddell Hart’s assertion that in the First World War the British blockade was a decisive factor in Germany’s defeat. Hart argues that “the spectre of slow enfeeblement ending in eventual collapse,” drove the enemy military to make desperate and disastrous military decisions. (Michael Walzer, 2000. ‘Just and Unjust Wars’, Basic Books, p. 160.)

On Wednesday, Iran claims to have successfully test-fired an upgraded medium-range ground-to-ground missile. Iran’s PressTV has more on the test of the Sejjil-2 missile. It claims that the “new version of the Sejjil-2 is faster during the powered flight portion of its trajectory and also during the re-entry phase. It is also harder to detect for anti-missile systems, as it is covered with anti-radar material.” It is designed to be “more efficient as it requires less amount of time for prelaunch preparations. This quality reduces the possibility of it being targeted prior to take off. According to comments made by Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier Ahmad Vahidi, the missile-launch is part of Iran’s efforts to boost deterrence capabilities.”

The announcement was made only hours after US House approved the sanctions bill, in a time of increased tension regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

AP on the missile test:

Global powers, the IAEA, and Iran’s nuclear program

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Al Jazeera’s Inside Story hosts a discussion on Iran’s nuclear program and negotiations to-date. The program’s guests are Seyed Mohammad Marandi from Tehran University, Patrick Clawson from the Washington Institute, and nuclear physicist and consultant to the Oxford Research Group, Frank Barnaby, from London.

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.

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