Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Iran out of Options

Two articles (here and here) on TomPaine.com offer a grim prediction of coming US and western policy in the middle east. The problem is, neither really offers an alternative approach. Clearly the pieces are starting to fall into place in a familiar order for a showdown between the US, or the UN Security Counsel and Iran over its nuclear weapons program. But what do we really know about Iran's nuclear programs.

Here is a good start: Iran and the IAEA Part II.
Iran and Nuclear Weapons

Iran is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Nuclear Material Safeguards Agreement, but Iran is not a signatory to the Missile Technology Control Regime. Iran has recieved considerable techology assistance from the former Soviet Union, Russia, Pakistan and North Korea in the develepmont of its nuclear energy and balistic missile techologies.

Russia has offered to sell Iran all the enriched uranium they require for nuclear energy production if the proper audits and control are put in place, but Iran insists on developing its own enrichment facilities. Iran insists that it is pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program - but then why remove the IAEA seals and controls from the existing facilities?

The IAEA has raised a number of questions about possible violations of the IAEA Nuclear Safeguards Agreement (SGA) that Iran is a signatory to. Iran has also not signed the IAEA Additional Protocols (AP) agreement (although it has agreed to voluntarily abide by most of its conditions).

Some of the IAEA concerns relate to activities undertaken by Iran in the 1980s and 1990s, procurement and developement of gas centrifuge techology (aluminum tubes anyone?), the construction of a heavy water reactor that produces plutonium as a by product and construction of plutonium seperation techology etc. The problem is that like in Iraq, most of this technology is dual use - plutonium seperation technology can also be used for medical isotope production, centrifuge techology can also produce Low Enriched Uranium for a civilian fuel cycle etc. Also as in Iraq, it is important to determine what nuclear activity is current and what documents and components are relics of the 1980's and early 1990s when Iran was at war with Iraq.

The big problem is, that IAEA has only raised questions. Most of the intelligence on Iraq's clandestined nuclear activities is coming from the United State - which has absolutely no credibility after the Iraq debacle. Also not really helping the situation is US rhetoric towards Iran. "Axis of Evil" type statements do not help to resolve the situation and after the absolute failure of US policy in Iraq, make it look more and more like the US goal is to establish a permanent hegemony in the region.

In fact, all of the would be mediators in this issue have compromised positions. Germany and France's positions (Continental Europe really) and stature in the Islamic world have been compromised by the publication of the Danish cartoons. How can Europe possible appear neutral and unbiased toward Iran after such a gratuitous display of intolerance? Russia, China and Pakistan are compromised by past complicancy in the illegal transfer of nuclear and missile techology to Iran. The United States and the UK are obviously damaged by Iraq.

To me, it is like watching a car accident in slow motion, knowing what is going to happen, but not being able to stop it.


kevvyd said...

Good post. I've blogged about this a few times in the last few weeks, mostly on the potential economic underpinnings of this conflict-in-the-making. I haven't read the TomPaine articles you've cited yet, but will; I like that web site a lot.

I think that there is a way out, but it's going to take some time because the change has to happen from within. From my reading, there is a quite vocal but suppressed reformist movement in Iran that George Bush did his best to kill.

Thankfully, it yet lives. I think that this harsh talk with the west is the government's way of keeping the pressure off. If the west negotiates fairly, and yes, cedes to some of the mullah's demands, I think the conservative government might lose some of its leverage over the people and the reformers will begin to gain power again.

It might be a long shot, but we ain't got too many arrows in the quiver.

Thanks for the post.

Peter Wrightwater said...


Sorry to highjack your post but I just wanted to thank you for your regretably accurate comment. :(

CoteGauche said...

Not Highjacked at all Peter, I appreciate your posts on Afghanistan. In both cases, the options do not look very good.

BTW - Peter is refering to this post on his blog.