Iran “reported” to the Security Council


“We meet when the world is remembering the atomic bombings of the civilians in Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) sixty years ago.  The savagery of the attack, the human suffering it caused, the scale of the civilian loss of life turning individuals, old and young, into ashes in a split second, and maiming indefinitely those who survived should never be removed from our memory. It is the most absurd manifestation of irony that the single state who caused this single nuclear catastrophe in a twin attack on our earth now has assumed the role of the prime preacher in the nuclear field while ever expanding its nuclear weapons capability.”  (Extract from a statement by Iran to the IAEA Board, 9 August 2005)



On 6 February 2006, just after the IAEA Board “reported” Iran to the Security Council for its nuclear activities, Robert Joseph, US Under-Secretary for State for Arms Control and International Security, briefed the press on the US reaction [1]. 


Joseph was asked by an Egyptian journalist, called Khaleed Dawoud, if he would call upon Israel to open up its nuclear facilities to inspection, as well as Iran.  Joseph replied:


In terms of Israel, I mean, this is really about Iran. This is about Iran violating its commitments under the Nonproliferation Treaty. This is about Iran violating its safeguards commitments with the IAEA. Clearly, we all need to work to achieve the global objectives that we have with regard to nonproliferation and stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction and that includes a Middle East that would be free of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivery.”


Dawoud came back and asked:


“Are you saying, sir, Israel is not in violation of its obligations under the NPT?”


to which Joseph replied:


Israel is not a member of NPT, so it's not violating.”


There is a lesson there for Iran.  It is: leave the NPT, since if you’re not a member of it, you can’t violate it.  Iran is being hauled over the coals for allegedly “violating its safeguards commitments with the IAEA”.  Israel isn’t a member of the NPT and therefore hasn’t got any “safeguards commitments with the IAEA” to violate.  It’s free to build whatever nuclear facilities it likes within its own borders, without let or hindrance from “the international community”.


It has exercised this freedom, not just to develop civil nuclear facilities, but to arm itself with nuclear weapons, perhaps as many as 200 devices.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that it’s got missiles armed with these devices targeted on every state in the Middle East, including Iran.  And “the international community”, which is apparently so concerned that Iran might develop nuclear weapons, has never said boo to Israel about the actual nuclear weapons it has aimed at Iran.


Withdraw from the NPT

Article IX of the NPT [2] allows a state to withdraw from the NPT.  It says:


“Each Party shall in exercising its national sovereignty have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country. It shall give notice of such withdrawal to all other Parties to the Treaty and to the United Nations Security Council three months in advance. Such notice shall include a statement of the extraordinary events it regards as having jeopardized its supreme interests.”


Iran signed the NPT in 1968, when the Shah was head of state.  There could hardly be a better example of “extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty” which “have jeopardized the supreme interests of” Iran than to have become a target for nuclear weapons by Israel.  Iran could not be blamed for withdrawing from the NPT and throwing the IAEA out – and thereby becoming, like Israel, free from any international obligations to refrain from any kind of nuclear activities, civil or military.


Of course, Iran may not be free in practice, since the US/UK and/or Israel may seek to prevent it having any kind of nuclear programme – by military means.  That would be aggression contrary to the UN Charter, of course, but “the international community” would no doubt turn a blind eye to it, as it has to the many US/UK acts of aggression against Iraq.


Why did Iran not withdraw?

I have always wondered why Iran didn’t withdraw from the NPT after the Islamic revolution, when Iran’s relations with the outside world changed dramatically and withdrawal from the NPT would not have come as a surprise to anybody.  However, I have recently come across a document that Iran submitted to the IAEA on 12 September 2005 [3], in which it addresses this question.  In a section entitled Non-proliferation policy after victory of Islamic Revolution in Iran (p 6), it says:


“After the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the late Supreme Leader and the Founder of Islamic Revolution [Ayatollah Khomeini] deplored nuclear weapons in different occasions in his public addresses.


“If Iran had the intention to work for nuclear weapons, it should have withdrawn from NPT then. The justified time for withdrawal was immediately after the victory of the revolution, since an overall critical review of all multilateral or bilateral agreements and treaties concluded during last regime, was logical and digestible for the international community. Iran decided to sustain its membership and compliance with NPT safeguards and the IAEA Statute.


“During the last 26 years the Islamic Republic of Iran has spared no effort in cooperating with the Agency as far as its commitments under the NPT is concerned. Iran is the only Member State which voluntarily invited, in late 80s, the IAEA safeguards inspectors, headed by the DDG [Deputy Director General], to visit all sites and facilities at their discretion, even those locations not declarable under the Safeguards Agreement. In addition Iran is implementing the Additional Protocol since December 2003, as if it has been ratified [see below].”


On 9 August 2005, Iran made a statement to the IAEA Board (see, for example, here [4]), which said that the present Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons.  The statement begins with the following apposite remarks:


“We meet when the world is remembering the atomic bombings of the civilians in Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) sixty years ago.  The savagery of the attack, the human suffering it caused, the scale of the civilian loss of life turning individuals, old and young, into ashes in a split second, and maiming indefinitely those who survived should never be removed from our memory.  It is the most absurd manifestation of irony that the single state who caused this single nuclear catastrophe in a twin attack on our earth now has assumed the role of the prime preacher in the nuclear field while ever expanding its nuclear weapons capability.”


The statement goes on:


“The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons.


“President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office just recently, in his inaugural address reiterated that his government is against weapons of mass destruction and will only pursue nuclear activities in the peaceful domain.


“The leadership of Iran has pledged at the highest level that Iran will remain a non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT and has placed the entire scope of its nuclear activities under IAEA safeguards and additional protocol, in addition to undertaking voluntary transparency measures with the agency that have even gone beyond the requirements of the agency's safeguard system.”


How much credibility can be given to these statements?  I don’t know.  I do know that the IAEA has yet to find any evidence that its present nuclear activities are for anything other than peaceful purposes.  It also makes sense that, if the new Islamic Republic had wanted to develop nuclear weapons, then it would have withdrawn from the NPT in 1979.  It could have done so legitimately under Article IX, since Israel had nuclear weapons by then. 


Middle East nuclear free zone

The IAEA Board resolution that “reported” Iran to the Security Council includes the following in its preamble:


“Recognising that a solution to the Iranian issue would contribute to global nonproliferation efforts and to realising the objective of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, including their means of delivery”


This empty gesture was apparently included at the suggestion of Egypt and secured Egypt’s vote for the resolution.  The US was reluctant to accept it (lest Israel be offended) but gave in under pressure from European states (see BBC report here [5]).  As ever, Egypt was content with an empty gesture about Israel’s nuclear weapons and the European states were happy to make one.


A similar empty gesture was contained in Security Council resolution 687, passed in April 1991, which was the first resolution calling for the disarmament of Iraq.  This noted that the actions required of Iraq in the resolution


“represent steps towards the goal of establishing in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery”


And at the 25-year review conference of NPT signatories in 1995 (when the NPT was renewed indefinitely), the US, UK and Russia proposed a resolution calling for a nuclear free zone in the Middle East [6], in which as “nuclear-weapon” states they promised:


“… to exert their utmost efforts with a view to ensuring the early establishment by regional parties of a Middle East zone free of nuclear and all other weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems”


Inexplicably, their “utmost efforts” over the intervening decade have yet to bear fruit – unless one counts the disarming of Iraq of “weapons of mass destruction” it didn’t possess.  It is probably unrealistic to expect that, now that the US/UK has completed this easy task, they will turn their attention to the harder task of disarming Israel of the “weapons of mass destruction” it certainly does possess.  More likely, they will concentrate on disarming Iran of “weapons of mass destruction” it doesn’t possess. 


“Steps” required of Iran

Now, let’s examine the IAEA Board resolution, passed on 4 February 2006, which “reported” Iran to the Security Council [7].  The key element of the resolution is in paragraph 2, where the IAEA Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, was requested by the Board


to report to the Security Council of the United Nations that these steps are required of Iran by the Board and to report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions, as adopted, relating to this issue” (paragraph 2)


However, paragraph 8 of the resolution deferred the reporting to the Security Council until after the March Board meeting (starting on 6 March 2006), at which ElBaradei is scheduled to make another report to the Board on Iran’s nuclear activities.


The “steps” required of Iran by the Board are defined in paragraph 1 of the resolution.  They include the re-suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development and the reconsideration of plans to build a heavy water research reactor.  Needless to say, none of this activity that Iran is required to suspend or abandon is contrary to its obligations as a signatory to the NPT.


Another step required of Iran is that it ratifies an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA.  Iran signed an Additional Protocol on 18 December 2003, but it has yet to be ratified by the Majlis (the Iranian Parliament).  In failing to ratify an Additional Protocol it has signed, Iran is in good company: the US signed one on 12 June 1998, but the US Congress has sat on it since it received from President Bush in May 2002.  The resolution acknowledges that Iran has been acting in accordance with the Additional Protocol, even though it hasn’t ratified it, and requests that it continue to do so.  It should be noted that adhering to an Additional Protocol is a voluntary matter, which is not required by the NPT.


(The basic Safeguards Agreement between a state and the IAEA is concerned primarily with accounting for nuclear materials and, under it, a state is only required to declare nuclear facilities to the IAEA 180 days before introducing nuclear material into them.  Much of Iran’s past nuclear activities, which are now pejoratively described as “clandestine”, didn’t have to be declared to the IAEA under its Safeguards Agreement.  The Additional Protocol is designed to allow the IAEA to get a full picture of a state’s nuclear activities by providing the agency with authority to visit any facility, declared or not, and to visit unannounced.)


Another step required of Iran is that it gives the IAEA additional access beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, including “such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations”.  Demands for unlimited access of this kind from the IAEA are unprecedented.  Needless to say, Iran is not obliged by the NPT to accede to any of them.


None of the “steps” required of Iran by the IAEA are required by the NPT.  Iran isn’t in breach of any of its obligations under the NPT and should not have been “reported” to the Security Council.


How significant?

It remains to be seen how significant the passing of this resolution is.  On the one hand, the fact that Russia and China (and India, which is not a signatory to the NPT) have gone along with the West on this would appear to be a setback for Iran.  On the other hand, there has been a determination on all sides to play down the significance of the resolution and to emphasise that the matter is still really in the hands of the IAEA, and probably will be after the formal “reporting” to the Security Council after the March Board meeting.


It may be significant that, whereas the US used to talk about “referring” Iran to the Security Council, which carries with it the implication that the matter is being transferred out of the IAEA’s hands, it now talks about “reporting” Iran to the Security Council.


Thus, for example, in giving the US reaction to the passing of the resolution, Robert Joseph said in his formal statement [1]:


“… I'd emphasize that this is not the end of diplomacy; this is moving diplomacy to the next level. It is a very important step in doing that. But the IAEA will continue to play a very important role. And in fact, one of the purposes of moving this to the Security Council, a body that has additional authorities and additional tools, is to give the IAEA a greater, you know, a greater chance for succeeding.”


Joseph didn’t mention sanctions in his statement and, when asked what sanctions the US was thinking of proposing to the Security Council, he said that it was “premature to talk about sanctions”.  Of course, this position may be determined by the fact that opposition from Russia and China makes the imposition of sanction by the Security Council impossible at the moment.


US shifts policy

Another significant part of Joseph’s statement was the following:


… this is not about denying Iran its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, its rights to pursue peaceful nuclear energy. This is about stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, and there is no right under the treaty that provides for enrichment if the purpose of that enrichment is for a nuclear weapons program.”


This is the clearest statement I have seen from a US spokesman that the US now accepts Iran’s right under the NPT to have a nuclear power programme.  Remember Article IV(1) of the NPT states:


“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”


This is very significant shift in US policy from the days when the US bitterly opposed Russia supplying Iran with nuclear reactors and enriched uranium fuel for its Bushehr power station.  The US has moved a considerable distance towards acknowledging Iran’s rights under Article IV of the NPT.


What is more, as I have described in US backs down on Iran’s nuclear power programme [8], the US has now accepted the Russian proposals to import uranium hexafluoride produced by Iran from domestically mined uranium ore and produce from it enriched uranium fuel for Iran’s power stations, with spent fuel being returned to Russia for reprocessing.  This means that the US is prepared to accept Iran mastering the uranium fuel cycle up to the production of uranium hexafluoride, something that was banned in the EU proposals of August 2005.


Not very long ago, the US was attempting to prevent Iran having any nuclear power programme, while Iran was maintaining its Article IV rights to a nuclear power programme fuelled by domestically mined and domestically enriched uranium.  Now, the only difference between them is that the US insists that Iran’s domestically mined uranium be sent to Russia for enrichment, with spent fuel being returned to Russia for reprocessing.


This extraordinary shift in US policy towards Iran has gone unreported in the British media, even though it must have played a major part in the US getting international support for its policy in the IAEA Board, particularly from states that have little or no civil nuclear facilities and therefore have an interest in seeing that Article IV rights of states are upheld.


Robert Joseph’s statement that “there is no right under the treaty that provides for enrichment if the purpose of that enrichment is for a nuclear weapons program” could be interpreted as leaving open the possibility that, in certain circumstances, the US would be prepared to see enrichment on Iranian soil providing it was guaranteed not to be “for a nuclear weapons program” – in which case the US would have backed down completely.


Iran has not rejected the Russian option out of hand.  An Iranian delegation was in Moscow on 20 February 2006 to talk about it, though the talks seen to have been inconclusive.  Another meeting is scheduled.  Meanwhile, Iran has continued with the small scale enrichment activities of the kind it restarted in early January.


It is unclear whether, since the passing of the resolution, Iran has reduced its co-operation with the IAEA, by refusing to fulfil its obligations under the Additional Protocol.  A bill passed by the Majlis in November 2005 [9] certainly urged the Iranian government to suspend the voluntary implementation of the Protocol in the event of Iran being referred to the Security Council.


US options limited

The US has not shifted ground on Iran because it has developed a sudden, and uncharacteristic, respect for international treaties and, in particular, for Iran’s rights under the NPT.  It has shifted ground out of weakness, chiefly arising out of its involvement in Iraq.  Its options in attempting to bend Iran to its will are limited, so it has had to lower its sights.


Economic sanctions against Iran are of doubtful value, even if Russia and China were willing to go along with them in the Security Council.  If they were to include oil, the chief effect of them would be to drive the price of oil through the roof and annoy American car drivers in election year.  If they didn’t include oil, they wouldn’t put significant pressure on Iran.


As for military action, a full scale military invasion is out of the question because the US hasn’t got the forces to undertake what would be a much more difficult task than invading Iraq.  As a wise man in the White House has said, Iran is not Iraq.  In any case, what would be the object of military action?  To install a regime that is more likely to do US bidding?  After the experience of Iraq, the US is definitely not going to attempt that.  To destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities and withdraw?  That could be done without a full-scale invasion, perhaps without invading at all, but simply by action from the air.


Of course, military action of any kind against Iran (by the US or Israel) is almost certain to have severe repercussions on the ground in Iraq, and further afield.  The capability of Iran to stir up their fellow Shias in Iraq against the US is probably exaggerated, but the aphorism that “the war in Iraq is over and Iran won” is not wholly inaccurate.


The possibility of repercussions against US troops in Iraq in the event of UN military action against Iran is being widely discussed in the American media.  For instance, The Washington Post carried a story on 24 Jabuary 2006, entitled Iraqi Shiite Cleric Pledges to Defend Iran: Sadr, With Powerful Militia, Vows to Respond to Attack by West on Neighbor [10].  This reported on a visit by Moqtada al Sadr to Tehran, which was one of his several stopping off points on his way home from Mecca.  During the visit to Tehran, according to The Washington Post, al Sadr said:


“If neighboring Islamic countries, including Iran [and Syria?], become the target of attacks, we will support them. The Mahdi Army is beyond the Iraqi army.  It was established to defend Islam.”


Ironically, if the US withdrew from Iraq, it would have a little more freedom of action in dealing with Iran.


US support for democracy

The US administration’s big idea for dealing with Iran at the moment is to “support democracy” there with lots of US dollars (increased from $10 million to $85 million this year), presumably with a view to the election of a regime more inclined to bend the knee to the US.  As yet, the Administration hasn’t come up with a colour and logo for the revolution, but no doubt highly paid consultants are working on it as I write.


The big idea was launched on 15 February 2006 by Secretary of State Rice at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Here’s what she had to say [11]:


“I want to thank the Congress for giving us $10 million to support the cause of freedom and human rights in Iran this year.  We will use this money to develop support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists.


“We also plan to request $75 million in supplemental funding for the year 2006 to support democracy in Iran.  That money would enable us to increase our support for democracy and improve our radio broadcasting, begin satellite television broadcasts, increase the contacts between our peoples through expanded fellowships and scholarships for Iranian students, and to bolster our public diplomacy efforts.


“In addition, I will be notifying that we plan to reprogram funds in 2007 to support the democratic aspirations of the Iranian people.”


If you want to know the details, the State Department has produced a helpful fact sheet entitled Reaching Out to the People of Iran [12].


This smacks of desperation on the part of the administration.  Does it not remember that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad owes his position to the fact that he got in excess of 17 million votes in an election on 24 June 2005, compared to just over 10 million for his opponent, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whom the West hoped (and expected) would win?  President Ahmadinejad got nearly 62% of the votes cast compared with just under 36% for his opponent in a poll in which 60% of those eligible to vote did so.  Iran has a population of almost 70 million and universal suffrage from the age of 15.


Like Hamas in Palestine, President Ahmadinejad owes his position to an undeniably democratic election, albeit one that gave the wrong result, and is therefore a priori invalid, in the eyes of the West.


Furthermore, whatever political differences existed between the President and his opponent in the presidential election, they appear to be of a mind now on the principle that Iran should have its rights under the NPT, including uranium enrichment – and the signs are that the Iranian people are of a similar mind.


Past arguments

I’ve just come across an article by Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post on 27 March 2005, entitled Past Arguments Don't Square With Current Iran Policy [13].  This describes US nuclear policy towards Iran in the 1970s when the Shah was in power, a policy that was very different to today’s, but ironically pursued by some of the individuals in the current administration.


Here’s a flavour of it:


“Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran’s nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, ‘They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy’.


Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.


“Ford’s team endorsed Iranian plans to build a massive nuclear energy industry, but also worked hard to complete a multibillion-dollar deal that would have given Tehran control of large quantities of plutonium and enriched uranium – the two pathways to a nuclear bomb. Either can be shaped into the core of a nuclear warhead, and obtaining one or the other is generally considered the most significant obstacle to would-be weapons builders.


Iran, a US ally then, had deep pockets and close ties to Washington. US companies, including Westinghouse and General Electric, scrambled to do business there.


“‘I don't think the issue of proliferation came up’, Henry A. Kissinger, who was Ford’s Secretary of State, said in an interview for this article.


“The US offer, details of which appear in declassified documents reviewed by The Washington Post, did not include the uranium enrichment capabilities Iran is seeking today. But the United States tried to accommodate Iranian demands for plutonium reprocessing, which produces the key ingredient of a bomb.


“After balking initially, President Gerald R. Ford signed a directive in 1976 offering Tehran the chance to buy and operate a US-built reprocessing facility for extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel. The deal was for a complete ‘nuclear fuel cycle’ – reactors powered by and regenerating fissile materials on a self-sustaining basis.”


But, as Dafna Linzer says, Iran was an ally of the US then.



David Morrison

25 February 2006

Labour & Trade Union Review