The already frail nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was bombed to oblivion last week by US President George W Bush – immolated On the altar of a strategic relationship with India to counteract the emergence of China. Meanwhile, the US threatens to punish Iran because the Islamic Republic is a full member of the NPT. This is the (surrealist) way geopolitics works.
Bush in India imperiously buried all international norms – enshrined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the NPT and the United Nations. He proclaimed himself as the nuclear emperor – the only one who decides who has the right to nuclear power and who doesn’t.
Defending the Indian deal, Bush said that nuclear power was a renewable energy source (which it’s not) and that the deal would help to alleviate global demand for crude oil. The Iranian leadership also argues it needs nuclear power to alleviate its own dependence on crude oil. This is the way geopolitical enemies coincide.
It takes a world-weary aristocrat to put things in perspective. In the remarkable Blood & Oil (Random House), exiled Prince Manucher Farmanfarmaian of the Qajar royal family (which ruled Persia for 140 years before the Pahlavi dynasty) writes that the long, lurid drama between the United States and Iran “is a tango between two old lovers who now only know how to face each other with knives in their teeth”. The knives are out and may soon reach the UN Security Council.
Farmanfarmaian knows the tango by heart. Just after World War I, his second cousin – the last of the Qajar line – was the first shah to fall under the faded British Empire (the British wanted a dictator). The British then chose Reza Shah – whom our aristocrat wickedly describes as “a soldier who had worked for my father”. Then the American empire via the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) toppled nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh (a cousin of Farmanfarmaian’s father), which led to great friend of America Shah Reza Pahlavi’s reign and his toppling by ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who dubbed the former American friend “the Great Satan”. No wonder that since 1979 the former lovers have been at each other’s throats.
The Natanz unfinished melody
The nuclear tango is worthy of a soundtrack by Astor Piazzolla. IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, the lead singer, is now certain that the imbroglio cannot be solved until next week. Not so fast, said spurned lover Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state. Washington’s strategy is more military marching band than tango. It regards the IAEA board meeting convened this Monday in Vienna as a mere formality; the only thing that matters is immediately to turn the matter to the UN Security Council.
Not so fast, say the Russians, experienced former players in the Great Game in Central Asia alongside the British Empire, now interfering with the tango with a loud Russian techno beat. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is on Mission Impossible in Washington, meeting with Rice and Bush and trying to convince them that a last-minute Russian proposal is the only peaceful way out.
A Belgian diplomat close to the EU-3 (France, Germany and Britain) negotiations in Brussels has confirmed to Asia Times Online that the Europeans knew about the Russian proposal since last Friday. The proposal was discussed by the Russians and Iranians in Tehran.
“The Russians offered something we [in Europe] were not able to agree on. What the Russians describe as ‘limited research activities’ by Iran means that the Iranians don’t do industrial research and don’t produce enriched uranium at their plant in Natanz for at least seven years, maybe nine or 10.”
Instead, Russia and Iran, in a joint venture, would produce enriched uranium in Russia, monitored by the IAEA, to generate electricity. The Iranian press is reporting that Iran would agree to negotiate the suspension of industrial-scale enrichment for two years, not nine or 10, and as long as it can go on with its own nuclear research. ElBaradei himself recognized that the uranium-enrichment plant at Natanz is “the sticking point”. But for the Bush administration, the Russian proposal is still anathema.
Washington wants by all means a “presidential statement” (a degree lower than a resolution) exclusively focused on the negative (my former lover has been cheating, now it must behave). But the whole point is that the IAEA inspectors have not found any proof that Iran is violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So Washington’s obsession on Iran being officially reprimanded on the world stage does reek of tango betrayal. European diplomats know there’s no support for a UN resolution. Russia and China have already made it clear. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has released a statement saying the involvement of other UN organizations (that would mean the Security Council) is not welcomed. NAM is in favor of diplomacy within the confines of the IAEA.
Iranians see the most important points of the IAEA report as Paragraph 53 (“All the declared nuclear material has been accounted for”) and Paragraph 44 (“The enrichment process at Natanz is covered by agency safeguards containment and surveillance measures”). Thus the Iranian view that ElBaradei’s concerns are political, not technical; there is no legal or technical basis for the dossier to be referred to the Security Council. The Iranians also point out that the IAEA spent 27 years clearing up the nuclear “ambiguities” of Japan. Compared with that, three years investigating Iran is not much.
The “presidential statement” sought by Washington would mean in practice that Iran has to give up – with nothing in return – all of its rights under the terms of the NPT. Once again, the IAEA report – after three years of investigation – told the agency’s 35 board members it has not found “any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices”.
The overall perception in Iran is that the nation will never accept being humiliated as a pariah – especially when there is no evidence that it is deceiving the IAEA. Americans and some Europeans would do well to study some history. This is a proud nation, according to Farmanfarmaian, “that rebuffed the Romans in the 3rd century and took the Emperor Valerian prisoner, a country that redefined the Arabs’ Islam and made it its own”.
The US$250 billion question (the cost of the occupation of Iraq so far, and counting) is how Iran’s possible humiliation on the world stage can be engineered by the Bush administration as the first step toward another “shock and awe” attack.
Bush himself has warned on the record that a military strike “is not off the table”. Both the CIA and the State Department are in favor of applying a lot of pressure all of the time – but no air strikes or Special Forces on the ground, at least not in the immediate future. The Pentagon wants a military-enforced embargo.
Significantly, the most hawkish of hawks had to be the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. In a speech, not by accident, at the annual convention of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, the powerful pro-Israel US lobby, he said Iran’s nuclear program could be “taken out”.
So a classic old-lovers-with-knifes-in-their-teeth tango keeps rambling on. Now it has expanded to a tango for two couples: the US plus the EU-3 on one side of the dance floor, and Russia and ElBaradei on the other.
There’s some possibility of intermingling as Germany, part of the EU-3, has show signs of agreeing with experimental enrichment in Iran. Nobody – the IAEA, the UN, NAM, the EU-3, the Muslim world, the world at large – wants to see blood on the dance floor. If only the former lovers would get rid of those knives.