Last week’s decision by the UK, France and Germany to abandon their negotiations with Iran, followed by their joint call with the US for Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council by an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board, is a step toward a new war in the Middle East.
Iran has responded by reiterating its readiness for further talks but has warned that referral will result in a ban by Iran on further voluntary snap checks by IAEA inspectors. Republican and Democratic members of the U.S. Senate have already announced that military intervention against Iran must be an option.
The three European powers, known as the ‘E3’, took their decision after Iran ended its voluntary moratorium on nuclear research last Tuesday. But there are in fact no grounds for this decision under international law. The Tehran agreement of 21 October 2003 signed by the E3 states: “While Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, it has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.”
In November 2004, as part of the Paris Agreement, the E3 formally reconfirmed that Iran’s moratorium was “a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation.” Clearly if the moratorium was not a legal obligation in November 2004, resuming scientific research under the watchful eye of the IAEA now cannot reasonably be used as a justification for abandoning negotiations.
Amidst escalating and uncorroborated accusations about a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme, little attention has been paid to Iran’s rationale for its latest action. As a signatory to the IAEA, Iran has the right to develop the capacity to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Iran claims that its programme is aimed solely at using nuclear power to generate electricity for future generations.
No one disputes predictions that Iran’s oil exporting capacity will end well within this century, making the nuclear option a logical one for Iran to explore. Notwithstanding the contention in the West that Iran’s secrecy has, in effect, abrogated its rights in this regard, one cannot assume “facts not in evidence” as we know happened, with the benefit of hindsight, in the lead-up to the Iraq invasion.
On 23 March 2005, Iran offered a new set of practical measures intended to reassure the international community of its peaceful intentions, including:
Limiting the enrichment programme to a level sufficient “to solely meet the contingency fuel requirements of Iran’s power reactors;”
Offering “immediate conversion of all enriched uranium to fuel rods to preclude even the technical possibility of further enrichment;” and
Allowing “continuous on-site presence of IAEA inspectors at the conversion and enrichment facilities to provide unprecedented added guarantees.”
In September 2005, Iran offered to invite western companies — including American firms — to collaborate in the development of Iran’s nuclear technology, an arrangement which could provide further safety measures and guarantees that the program is indeed purely for the generation of electricity. These initiatives have been ignored both by the E3 and by the Western media, which have continued an almost exclusive focus on Israeli and Western accusations.
Iran feels that its efforts, particularly its 2 ½ year research moratorium and voluntary agreement to additional intrusive spot checks, have accomplished nothing. Negotiations have stalled over the E3’s insistence, under US pressure, that Iran permanently forfeit its right under international law to uranium enrichment — a step clearly not proscribed by the NPT.
After its experience in struggling with shortages of parts for its aging aircraft, Iran rejects the prospect of being dependent on external sources for reactor fuel. Significantly, Israel, India and Pakistan enjoy warm relations with and support from Western governments despite having covertly developed nuclear weapons and despite their continuing refusal to sign the NPT or to allow IAEA inspections. The employment of obvious double standards leads to a loss of credibility for the West, and loss of good-will elsewhere.
Iran’s resumption of nuclear research, which Iran says will be purely for generating electricity, has been deliberately conflated by the US administration with production of a nuclear bomb. Dr Mohamed El-Baradei, Director-General of the IAEA, has publicly confirmed that despite their rigorous inspection programme in Iran, IAEA inspectors have found no shred of evidence of a nuclear weapons programme in Iran.
Scott Ritter, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, is unequivocal about the situation: “It is the US, and not Iran that is operating outside international law when it comes to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.” Under Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has an “inalienable right … to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
Israeli and US administration figures, on the other hand, have made clear their intentions on Iran. Seymour Hersh, the renowned investigative journalist who exposed the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, revealed in the New Yorker Magazine in January 2005 on the basis of numerous interviews with high ranking Bush administration officials that the US is planning for a new war, this time against Iran.
On 11December 2005, the Sunday Times reported that Ariel Sharon the prime minister of Israel has instructed Israel Air Force to launch an air assault against Iranian nuclear plants before the end of March 2006. The neo-conservatives in the Bush administration and the pro-Israel lobby seem resolved to implement plans for fomenting regime change, as in the US-supported coup d’etat in Iran in 1953, or directly imposing such change, as happened in Iraq more recently. The destruction and loss of life for taking military action on a false premise — upwards of 30,000 Iraqi civilians to date in the current conflict — could be eclipsed by the aftermath of an assault on Iran.
Referral to the UN Security Council will escalate tensions to a new level. Iran’s parliament has passed by an overwhelming majority a law requiring the government to withdraw from its voluntary adoption of the IAEA snap inspections protocol if referral takes place.
Thus referral to the Security Council may start a runaway reaction that might bring us to a point-of-no-return. By advancing the referral process, the E3 may well have paved the way for another UN Security Council stand-off, similar to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, and conceivably to another US-led military confrontation in the Middle East even more catastrophic than the Iraq war.
We appeal to every member of the British, French and German parliaments to oppose their governments’ decisions to abandon negotiations with Iran. We appeal to the US Congress and Senate and to European parliaments to oppose Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council. The only realistic way forward in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme is through international dialogue under the auspices of the IAEA.