David Morrison / Labour & Trade Union Review – 2006-10-20 09:56:12
“Our assessment is that there is no imminent threat [from Iran], if you want to call it — there is no clear and present danger, you know. We — we still have lots of time to investigate that. We still have lots of time to negotiate with Iran in the international community.”
— Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA Director General, Monterey, California, 30 May 2006
LONDON (October 8, 2006) — By 31 July 2006, Israel’s military assault on Lebanon had been going on for almost three weeks. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians had been killed and Lebanonís civilian infrastructure had suffered billions of dollars worth of damage. The previous day a large number of civilians, many of them children, had been killed in Qana.
From 12 July 2006, when the Israeli assault began, the US and the UK stopped the Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire. They did so because they wanted the hostilities to continue — because they supported the Israeli action, hoping that it would damage Hezbollah and, by so doing, weaken the influence of Iran and Syria, the supporters of Hezbollah, in the Middle East. They were in a position to do so, because they have vetoes on the Security Council.
But, on 31 July 2006, having remained silent for three weeks about Israelís ongoing assault on Lebanon as the death toll rose, the Security Council declared Iran, not Israel, a threat to peace — because of its nuclear activities — and passed a Chapter VII resolution (number 1696  ) against it. Resolution 1696 demanded, inter alia, that:
“Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development” (Paragraph 2) and threatened economic sanctions against Iran if it failed to do so by 31 August 2006, expressing the Security Councilís intention
“in the event that Iran has not by that date complied with this resolution, then to adopt appropriate measures under Article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to persuade Iran to comply with this resolution and the requirements of the IAEA” (Paragraph 8).
The resolution was passed by 14 votes to 1, the only dissenter being Qatar which opposed the resolution being brought before the Council “at a time when our region is inflamed”, saying “our Council has waited longer to act on much more burning issues.”Indeed.
The Iranian ambassador to the UN, Javad Zarif, was allowed to address the Security Council, but only after the vote was taken. His remarks were very relevant. Here is what he said about the rush to indict Iran and the failure to take any action against Israel:
“Compare this rush to the fact that some of the very same Powers have for the past three weeks prevented any action — not even a 72-hour humanitarian truce — by the Security Council on the urgent situation in Lebanon, which has been officially and publicly interpreted by the aggressors as a green light to continue their onslaught, unfortunately including the recent carnage in Qana. Security Council members can be the judge of how much credibility this leaves for the Council. Millions of people around the world have already passed their judgement.”
Could there be a clearer example of the privileged position enjoyed by Israel compared with Iran, thanks to being under the protection of the US veto in the Security Council?
Israel has at one time or another invaded every one of its neighbours, many times in the case of Lebanon, contrary to Article 2.4 of the UN Charter. It has even annexed parts of its neighboursí territory, for instance, the Golan Heights belonging to Syria. Yet the Security Council has never declared Israel to be a threat to peace and passed a Chapter VII resolution against it.
Iran, on the other hand, hasnít attacked any of its neighbours in living memory. Unlike Israel, it has signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and its nuclear facilities are under IAEA supervision, as required by the NPT. It is universally agreed that Iran has no nuclear weapons and the IAEA has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons programme. It is universally agreed that it would take it years to develop nuclear weapons — if it decided to do so.
(By contrast, Israel has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and it has developed nuclear weapons, and the means of delivering them. Today, it may have as many as 200 warheads. Its nuclear activities are entirely hidden from the outside world, without any IAEA supervision whatsoever, so public knowledge about its nuclear activities is limited. Yet, strangely, the West is forever accusing Iran, but not Israel, of engaging in clandestine nuclear activities.)
The IAEA has found no evidence that Iran is in breach of its NPT obligations not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. So what possible basis is there for the Security Council to declare it a threat to peace?
Proposals by P5 & Germany
The recent background to this is as follows. On 6 June 2006, Javier Solana, the EUís High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy, presented Iran with proposals on nuclear matters and a range of other issues, on behalf of the 5 permanent members of the Security Council (the so-called P5) and Germany.
The text of the proposals, which are entitled Elements of a long-term agreement, was published in Security Council document S/2006/521 dated 13 July 2006.
The P5 and Germany undertook to enter into negotiations with Iran on these proposals, providing Iran met certain pre-conditions, which are set out in the proposals themselves. This would have meant the US talking directly to Iran on a wide range of issues for the first time since the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979.
Chief amongst the pre-conditions is the familiar demand that Iran
“Suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities to be verified by IAEA, as requested by the IAEA Board of Governors and the Security Council, and commit to continue this during these negotiations.”
In return, the proposers say that they would “agree to suspend discussion of Iranís nuclear programme in the Security Council upon the resumption of negotiations”, which would rule out the Council applying economic sanctions to Iran during the negotiations.
In August 2005, the so-called EU3 (the UK, France and Germany) made proposals to Iran on nuclear and other issues  . In the previous 9 months while negotiations with the EU3 were going on, Iran had voluntarily suspended its uranium processing and enrichment activities.
The EU3 proposals required Iran to make this suspension permanent and to shut down all the facilities it had established for processing uranium ore into reactor fuel (Paragraphs 34), albeit with a review after 10 years. Iran was required to get its reactor fuel from abroad and return spent fuel to the original foreign supplier (Paragraphs 36(d)).
Had the EU3 proposals been implemented, any nuclear power generation in Iran would have been dependent on a supply of fuel from abroad (which could be cut off at any time), even though Iran has a domestic supply of uranium ore and had made considerable progress towards building the facilities necessary to manufacture fuel from this indigenous ore. Understandably, therefore, Iran rejected the EU3 proposals out of hand — and resumed its uranium processing and enrichment activities.
The new proposals from the P5 and Germany are more equivocal: they do not say, in so many words, that Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium on its own soil. They do suggest, in a section entitled Fuel Guarantees, Iranís
“Participation as a partner in an international facility in Russia to provide enrichment services for a reliable supply of fuel to Iranís nuclear reactors. Subject to negotiations, such a facility could enrich all uranium hexafluoride (UF6) produced [at Isfahan] in Iran.”
In other words, Iran would be allowed to operate its existing facilities for processing uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride, but the latter would be exported to Russia for enrichment rather than being enriched in the facilities that Iran is constructing at Natanz. This implies that Iran would be forbidden to have facilities to enrich uranium hexafluoride at Natanz, but the proposals do not specifically say so.
So, while the proposals “reaffirm Iranís right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes”, they seem to rule out for the indefinite future Iran engaging in uranium enrichment on its own soil. The suspension of uranium enrichment, which the proposals say is “to create the right conditions for negotiations”, appears to be a non-negotiable element of the long-term agreement that Iran is being invited to negotiate.
Review of Moratorium
A section in the proposals entitled Review of moratorium allows for the possibility that Iran might one day be permitted to enrich uranium on its own soil. It says:
“The long-term agreement would Ö contain a clause for review of the agreement in all its aspects, to follow:
• Confirmation by IAEA that all outstanding issues and concerns reported by it, including those activities which could have a military nuclear dimension, have been resolved;
• Confirmation that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or materials in Iran and that international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranís civil nuclear programme has been restored.”
It is possible to envisage the IAEA resolving the first point. However, barring a change of regime in Tehran to one doing the bidding of the US, is there the slightest chance that the US will agree that “international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iranís civil nuclear programme has been restored”? And if the US doesnít agree, then its veto in the Security Council would ensure that there would be no review, let alone a change of stance to permit Iran to enrich uranium on its own soil.
These proposals were presented to Iran by Javier Solana on 6 June 2006. Iran did not reject them out of hand but continued to discuss them with Solana in subsequent weeks, and announced that it would make a formal response on 22 August 2006. But, the proposers refused to wait for this and brought a Chapter VII resolution to the Security Council on 31 July 2006, demanding that Iran suspend enrichment by 31 August 2006 and threatening sanctions if it didnít.
Iran responded on 22 August 2006, as promised. What purports to be an English translation of the response is available on the website of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) Economic Sanctions
Since 22 August 2006, negotiations have gone on between Javier Solana and Iran about its response. These negotiations continued, with the consent of the US, even after the Security Council deadline for the suspension of Iranís enrichment activities on 31 August 2006 (which Iran ignored). Economic sanctions have not been applied by the Security Council, despite the threat to do so in resolution 1696.
At the time of writing (8 October 2006), the US, supported as usual by the UK, is pressing for a Security Council resolution applying economic sanctions, but Russia and China are resisting their application, despite having signed up to them in resolution 1696.
Iran a Threat to Peace
Chapter VII of the UN Charter, under which resolution 1696 was passed, is entitled Action with Respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression and is made up of Articles 39 to 51. As its title implies, this chapter lays down the rules that the Security Council is supposed to follow when “threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, or acts of aggression” exist.
But on what basis does the Security Council decide that a “threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” exists or has taken place? The answer is on any basis it likes ñ Article 39 of the Charter simply states:
“The Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
(Article 41 provides for the imposition of economic sanctions and Article 42 for military action, if economic sanctions fail to deliver the desired outcome).
Though resolution 1696 isnít specific, it seems that Iranís crime lies in the “threat to the peace” category (rather than in having committed a “breach of the peace” or an “act of aggression”). The preamble of the resolution states that the Security Council is:
“Concerned by the proliferation risks presented by the Iranian nuclear programme, mindful of its primary responsibility under the Charter of the United Nations for the maintenance of international peace and security”,
which seems to be saying that Iranís crime is being a “threat to the peace” because of its nuclear programme.
Iran Is No Imminent Threat
On 30 May 2006, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA Director General, gave a wide-ranging interview at the Monterey Institute for International Studies in California. Here is part of what he said about Iranís nuclear activities:
“… we know that Iran has developed a knowledge of the so-called fuel cycle, how to enrich uranium, but that is not synonymous with saying that this is a weapon program. A lot of countries are enriching uranium for peaceful programs without necessarily using it for weaponry.
“Iran has developed that program and started to develop that program in the mid ë80s, you know, during the war with Iraq. Whether they developed that program with the intention of converting it later on into a weapon program or not, thatís a question of intention, which is very difficult to assess. We have not seen a linkage, necessarily, between their program or activities and a parallel weapons program.
“We havenít also seen any production of nuclear material in Iran today. All what we have seen in Iran is experiments with gram quantities, milligram quantities. To develop a weapon, as you know, you need significant quantities of highly enriched uranium, highly enriched uranium or plutonium. That we have not seen — we have not seen in Iran.
“Our assessment is that there is no imminent threat, if you want to call it — there is no clear and present danger, you know. We — we still have lots of time to investigate that. We still have lots of time to negotiate with Iran in the international community.” [my emphasis]
This is the view of the man charged with monitoring Iranís nuclear activities and determining whether Iran is in breach of its NPT obligations not to acquire or develop nuclear weapons. On 30 May 2006, he offered the opinion that there was “no imminent threat” from Iranís nuclear activities. Two months later, the Security Council declared Iran to be a threat to peace and passed a Chapter VII resolution against it.
Unable to Conclude …
Earlier, on 30 March 2006, Dr ElBaradei told Reuters: “Nobody has the right to punish Iran for enrichment. We have not seen nuclear material diverted to a nuclear weapon ….”
This reflected what he wrote in his formal reports to the IAEA Board, which stated this repeatedly. Thus, for example, his report of 27 February 2006 stated:
“As indicated to the Board in November 2004, and again in September 2005, all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for” (paragraph 53).
However, as he had done on other occasions, he went on to say:
“Although the Agency has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the Agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran [my emphasis].”
Proving that something does not exist is no easy task, even if the IAEA is dedicated to doing so (which cannot be guaranteed in this case, since the most powerful states in the world are not going to welcome an IAEA conclusion that “there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran”).
Of course, being unable to prove that something does not exist doesnít mean that it does. However, insofar as the Security Council has a case against Iran with regard to its nuclear activities, it is contained in this statement by Dr ElBaradei. It is referred to in the preamble to resolution 1696, where the Security Council notes “with serious concern that … the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.”
Reading this, you would never guess that, of the 183 “non-nuclear weapon” states signed up to the NPT, the IAEA was “unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities” in 159 of them in 2005 (see the IAEA’s Safeguards Statement for 2005 published in June 2006).
Ironically, of the 10 current non-permanent members of the Security Council (Argentina, Congo, Denmark, Ghana, Greece, Japan, Peru, Qatar, Slovakia and Tanzania) only 3 (Ghana, Japan and Peru) had been given a completely clean bill of health by the IAEA for 2005. The other 7 (and Germany, which sponsored resolution 1696 along with the US/UK) share with Iran the distinction that the IAEA was not in a position to say in 2005 that there are “no undeclared nuclear materials or activities” within their boundaries.
Nevertheless, all of them (apart from Qatar) were prepared to vote with the P5 to declare Iran “a threat to peace”, because the IAEA was not in a position to say that there are “no undeclared nuclear materials or activities” in Iran.
(The P5 are in the privileged position of being signatories to the NPT as “nuclear-weapon” states and are therefore not required to declare any of their nuclear activities, either civil or military, or to open any of their nuclear facilities to IAEA inspection.)
It is true that, in the vast majority of the 159 states that werenít given a completely clean bill of health by the IAEA in 2005, there is a vanishingly small probability that clandestine nuclear activities, either civil or military, are going on. There is a possibility that Iran (and a few other states out of these 159) has nuclear facilities that havenít been declared to the IAEA, perhaps even facilities with a military purpose.
But that is not the point: the Security Council should not convict nations, and declare them to be “a threat to peace”, on the basis of a possibility, but on the basis of facts, in this case facts established by the IAEA, the international body responsible for policing nuclear activities. And, as of 31 July 2006, when the Security Council declared Iran to be “a threat to peace”, the facts as ascertained by the IAEA did not indicate that Iranís nuclear activities were for anything other than peaceful purposes, so much so that two months earlier Dr ElBaradei offered the opinion that there was “no imminent threat” from Iran.
NPT Amended for Iran
Strangely, in its preamble, resolution 1696 recognises that signatories to the NPT have a right “to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination”. This is written into Article IV(1) of the NPT, which says:
“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.”
So, under the NPT, Iran has an “inalienable right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. For the Security Council to demand in a mandatory Chapter VII resolution that Iran cease enrichment is tantamount to amending the NPT in respect of Iran, and Iran alone, to take away its rights under the NPT, without its consent. In effect, Article IV(1) of the NPT has now become:
“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty except Iran 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.”
The Security Council should be in the business of upholding international treaties. But, in this case, it has in effect amended the international treaty on nuclear non-proliferation to make an exception to the disadvantage of one state, Iran. It is an extraordinary precedent to set.