In These New Times

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Iran sanctions as good as ‘used tissue’

Posted by seumasach on June 10, 2010

Kaveh Afrasiabi

Asia Times

11th June, 2010

The nuclear standoff on Iran is bound to deepen, aggravated by new United Nations sanctions on the Islamic republic and the United States digging in its heels against an alternative diplomatic plan that was designed to defuse tensions.

The United Nations resolution for a fourth round of sanctions, voted in by the Security Council on Wednesday, calls for the inspection of vessels suspected of carrying materials, setting the stage for military incidents at sea between Iran and the US Navy. With Brazil and Turkey, the architects of a nuclear-swap deal with Iran, voting against it, the resolution also removes any pretence of unified global support for coercive diplomacy on Iran.

“The sanctions you pass should be thrown into the trash bin like a used tissue,” Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said immediately after the vote, according to the state-run Iranian Students News Agency. “The realm of politics has become one of deception.”

The Security Council, in a resolution supported by all five of the veto-wielding permanent members (the US, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China) was passed 12-2, with Lebanon abstaining, despite strong US lobbying. Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Gabon, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria and Uganda all backed sanctions. But the members failed to give the US what it needed most in diplomatic terms: a unanimous vote.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva accused the Security Council of acting out of “obstinacy” in accepting the US-drafted sanctions, “instead of bringing Iran to the table”, the official Agencia Brasil news agency quoted Lula as saying. The Security Council had “thrown away a historic opportunity to negotiate calmly over the Iranian nuclear program”.

Warning of an unwanted spiral reminiscent of the fiasco that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 over its alleged weapons of mass destruction, Brazil’s representative in the council was pointedly critical of the West’s disregard for the opportunity for a breakthrough provided last month by the Tehran declaration between Iran, Turkey and Brazil regarding a swap of fuel for Iran’s medical reactor in the Iranian capital. The agreement to transfer some of Iran’s nuclear fuel to Ankara was not acceptable to the US, despite its similarity to a plan to transfer fuel to Russia and France, which Washington had earlier endorsed and Iran rejected.
Turkey was also adamant about the wisdom of giving diplomacy a chance through the fuel-swap deal. The US and its allies say Iran is trying to produce nuclear weapons, while Tehran says its nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes.

Articulating the US’s position, Susan Rice, the US permanent representative to the UN, dismissed the relevance of the swap deal to the “fundamental issues” of the Iran nuclear program, this while letters by the US, France and Russia in response to Iran’s acceptance of the nuclear fuel swap deal reflected a serious change of approach compared to last October, when an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) draft proposal was accepted by these powers without preconditions. Their new position now focuses on Iran stopping all enrichment activities before any swap of nuclear fuel can take place.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki denounced the UN decision as a “leap backward” and elaborated that “on the diplomatic chess set, we had coordinated our move based on confidence-building, reflected in the Tehran declaration”.

China said on Thursday the punishment did not mean the door to a diplomatic solution was closed and called for renewed efforts at negotiations.

“China always holds that the correct way to address the Iranian nuclear issue is through dialogue, negotiation and other diplomatic means to seek a solution that satisfies the concerns of all parties,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement. “The fact that the UN Security Council passed the resolution does not mean the door to diplomatic efforts is closed.”
Ahmadinejad was due to arrive in China on Thursday to tour the World Expo in Shanghai. He was not expected to hold talks with Chinese leaders.

In a rare rebuke for China, one of the Islamic republic’s major trading partners, Tehran hit out at Beijing for finally backing the sanctions.

“China is gradually losing its respectable position in the Islamic world and by the time it wakes up, it will be too late,” Iran’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi told ISNA news agency. “There was a time when China branded the US as a paper tiger. I wonder what we can call China for agreeing to this resolution.”

Beijing and Moscow – which both wield Security Council vetoes – only came into line after months of bargaining in which they watered down the resolution to protect their energy and economic interests in Iran.

In remarks from the White House, President Barack Obama described the Security Council resolution as “the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government”.

“It sends an unmistakable message about the international community’s commitment to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons,” Obama said. “So, there’s no double standards at play here,” he added, trying to implicitly respond to longstanding charges that Israel is not held to the same standards as Iran.

“We’ve made it clear, time and again,” said Obama, “that we respect Iran’s right, like all countries, to access peaceful nuclear energy.”

That’s a right embedded in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he declared. The Iranians, however, have pointed out that Israel is not a signatory to the NPT, but Iran is. And Iran has also consistently taken the position it is developing nuclear energy, not nuclear weapons.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, was critical of the continued double standards on nuclear disarmament.

“It’s not too convincing to claim to support the goal of a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East while winking and nodding at Israel’s sizeable nuclear arsenal,” he told Inter Press Service. “The region should be de-nuclearized. That is our best hope for halting proliferation and stabilizing the spiral of existential threats, real or imagined.”

The selective invocations of the NPT, he pointed out, go only so far before many people notice the hypocrisies involved. “Do as we say, not as we do has never been a very convincing stance”.

Alaedin Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s commission on foreign policy and national security, described the US-led march to new sanctions and disregard for Tehran’s acceptance of the fuel swap agreement as “illogical and unacceptable”, and warned of stern reactions from Iran.

“Iran is of course very concerned about these new sanctions and if this is followed by a rejection of the Tehran declaration, the government may stop all cooperation with the IAEA altogether,” said a Tehran political analyst at a think-tank, adding that the failure of the UN nuclear watchdog to heed its technical responsibility to assist Iran with the Tehran medical reactor was likely to be perceived as “the straw that breaks the camel’s back” in Tehran. ”People will ask why bother with the IAEA when the IAEA is hostage to the political whims of western capitals?”

The IAEA continues to insist on being given access to verify “the absence of any undeclared nuclear material or activities”, to paraphrase the agency’s chief Yukiya Amano. This is tantamount to unique, heightened standards of inspection, rationalized by Amano explicitly labeling Iran as a “special case”.

The IAEA’s verification is an “onerous demand”, according to Iran’s envoy to the agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who at the recent NPT review conference in New York, pointed out that some 4,000 inspector days of inspection at Iran’s facilities did not produce any evidence of the diversion of nuclear material for military purposes.

Self-fulfilling prophecy
The new round of sanctions puts emphasis on banning the transfer of conventional armaments to Iran, although full implementation by the international community is doubtful – given the wealth of loopholes and availability of arms through the lucrative black market. It would also exacerbate Iran’s national security, especially in the Persian Gulf region where Iran’s Arab neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are advantaged by the West’s sale of cutting-edge military technology including sophisticated fighter jets.

In the long run, an Iranian perceived imbalance in a regional arms race may actually spur rather than retard any nuclear proliferation tendency, thus serving as yet another example of self-fulfilling prophecy whereby in the name of countering Iran’s proliferation, Western nations indirectly nurture it through coercive and punitive policies.

In the short run, however, given the absence of “crippling sanctions”, the incremental heat of the Security Council’s resolution will be bearable by Iran, thanks to its ability to withstand sanctions for more than 30 years and a savvy regional diplomacy that has produced close friends and allies in the region and beyond.

In fact, given that UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the Tehran declaration as a “step forward”, the negative response by the US on the fuel swap is likely to exacerbate North-South tensions within the UN community.

Many Third World diplomats are convinced Iran is being punished for daring to stand up to Uncle Sam, with an African diplomat telling the author at the recent NPT conference that in his opinion and the opinion of many of his African colleagues, Iran was “setting a unique example” of how to act independently in the international arena. The question the diplomat posed was whether or not Iran has been paying “too big a price” for this?

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran’s Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For his Wikipedia entry, click here. His latest book, Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) is now available

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