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Once more unto the breach

By Scott Ritter

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has just released a report concerning Iran's nuclear programme, in which it notes that Iran has failed to comply with the UN security council's demands to cease its nuclear enrichment programmes. The IAEA report finds that Iran has, in defiance of the security council, in fact carried out a successful test to enrich uranium to the low levels needed in the production of nuclear energy. The IAEA also found that Iran had failed to provide a level of cooperation and transparency necessary for the IAEA to exclude the possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapons programme being carried out under the guise of civilian nuclear energy activities.

While the IAEA's report has underscored Iran's disturbing disregard for responding to the concerns of both the IAEA and the UN security council, it does not certify Iran as a clear and present danger, requiring a strong and immediate response from the international community. And yet the IAEA report has generated rhetoric from both the United States and Europe that seems well beyond that which the content of the report seems to merit. The British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, has joined US officials in condemning the Iranian government for its failure to halt its nuclear enrichment efforts, and has called for the UN security council to "increase the pressure on Iran". Many officials in Europe have echoed the UK position, believing, it seems, that such action represents a manifestation of President George Bush's stated objective of resolving the Iranian matter "diplomatically and peacefully".

Just how naive can Europe be? While public sentiment against the US-led invasion (and ongoing occupation) of Iraq remains high, manifesting itself in the reduction of the original "coalition of the willing" to pathetic levels, Europe ("old" and "new") continues to behave as if the current conflict with Iraq and the potential of future conflict with Iran remain two separate and distinct issues.

It is shocking to see European officials, skilled in the heavily nuanced world of EU diplomacy, accept without question the sophomoric equivocation by the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice that "Iran is not Iraq". This phrase has been used repeatedly by Rice to deflect any query as to whether or not there are any parallels between the current US "diplomatic" stance on Iran and the "diplomacy" undertaken in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, which has widely been acknowledged as representing little more than a smokescreen behind which the Bush administration prepared for a war already decided upon.

Iran may not be Iraq, but these two nations are inextricably linked through the Machiavellian machinations of a US national security strategy that not only embraces the legitimacy of pre-emptive war, but also the notion of America's inherent right to pursue a policy of "regional transformation" in the Middle East, a policy that has as its core operational thematic pre-emptive military action to remove the regimes of so-called "failed" and "rogue" states. In the 2006 version of this national security strategy, Iran is named 16 times as the leading threat to the national security of the United States. I would hope every European diplomat has read this document, and takes its contents to heart. The national security strategy of the United States, circa 2006, can leave no doubt as to what the true intent of the Bush administration is regarding Iran: regime change. The current "crisis" regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions represents nothing more than an emotionally-charged facilitator for war.

Europe continues to act as if the American policy objective of regime change is nothing more than the irresponsible blathering of rightwing media pundits. The self-delusion that encompasses this way of thinking holds that Europe's stance vis-รก-vis Iran serves more as a brake toward conflict, than the accelerant it actually is. As such, the European nations taking the lead on the Iranian issue - the UK, France and Germany - will meet on May 2 in Paris with representatives from Russia, China and the United States as a precursor for a meeting of the security council on May 3. The United States has already made clear its intent to introduce a draft resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter, elevating Iran's obstinacy to the level of a clear and present danger to international peace and security, and paving the way for the imposition of stringent economic sanctions against Iran. The United States will be lobbying quite hard for such a resolution, and is looking to a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Paris group in New York on May 9 as the time and place for bringing this issue to a head.

While such measures appear on the surface to represent sound, measured diplomatic responses, the reality is that once the United States introduces a Chapter VII resolution, even in draft form, war with Iran is all but assured. Russia and China, both permanent members of the security council with veto powers, have made clear their collective objection to any Chapter VII action against Iran. However, by endorsing the transfer of the Iranian issue from the International Atomic Energy Agency to the security council, as well as the original security council "warning" against Iran, both Russia and China have played into the hands of US policy-makers, who have and will continue to use these actions as a clear endorsement of their position that Iran and its nuclear programme represents a threat to international security.

If the Russians and Chinese balk over the imposition of Chapter VII-linked measures against Iran, as they have indicated they will, then the Bush administration will simply declare that the security council has become impotent and irrelevant in dealing with threats that it has itself declared to exist, and, as such, the United States, not wanting to have its own national security interests so hijacked, will have no choice but to move forward void of any security council endorsement or authorisation. This model of action directly parallels that undertaken by the US and UK regarding Iraq, and has been strongly alluded to in recent statements made by Vice-President Cheney, the US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, and Rice.

The United States has positioned itself masterfully in this regard. But the sense of urgency being pushed by the Bush administration does not match the reality painted by its own director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, who recently testified before the US Congress that Iran was, at best, 10 years away from having a nuclear weapons capability. As such, there is no need for the security council to pursue this matter under the guise of a Chapter VII resolution. In fact, there is no need for the security council to be engaged on this issue at all, at least at this time.

The one real hope of side-stepping this mad rush towards war with Iran lays in a statement made by the Iranian government, offering to deal openly and transparently with the concerns listed in the IAEA's report within a matter of weeks, if the Iranian nuclear issue is transferred away from the security council and back to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The best thing the Europeans could do at this time would be to join ranks with the Russians and Chinese to take up the Iranian offer, defusing a very tense and dangerous situation that, as it currently stands, seems to be spinning close toward yet another needless war in the Middle East.



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