Saturday, September 24, 2005

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What's the end game on Iran?

It looks like the IAEA will pass a resolution on Iran -- what happens after that is unclear. Here's the gist from the New York Times' Mark LandlerRaising the stakes in the West's confrontation with Iran, Britain formally proposed Friday that the Iranian government be reported to the United Nations Security Council for its failure to comply with treaties governing its nuclear program.

But in a sign of the deepening rift over Iran on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Britain submitted the weaker of two draft resolutions, which leaves open the timing of such a report to the Council.

After a rancorous debate over when to vote on the measure, the 35-member board agreed to reconvene on Saturday. Diplomats here said they expected it to be passed by a solid majority, though Russia, China, and several other countries have signaled they were likely to oppose it. [NOTE: John Ward Anderson reports in the Washington Post that the minority might try to deny a quorum vote today--DD]

The resolution, drafted by Britain, France and Germany, and endorsed by the United States, said there was an "absence of confidence that Iran's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes."

Under the circumstances, the resolution said, the issue should be taken up by the Security Council....

Russia's likely opposition, as well as China's, sets up a confrontation on the Security Council, where both hold permanent seats.

The European nations' aggressive move reflects their frustration with Iran, which announced last month it would abandon an earlier pledge to suspend its conversion and enrichment of uranium. Iran had agreed to halt such activity while it tried to negotiate a settlement with Britain, France and Germany.

The goal of reporting Iran to the Security Council is not to impose sanctions, said diplomats involved in the negotiations.

"Our goal is not to punish Iran, but to put further pressure on Iran," said a Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. "We have no intention of sanctioning Iran; we recognize that sanctioning Iran would hurt Russia and China."....

Iranian officials did not speak during Friday's board meeting, but diplomats here said they showed two unsigned letters to some board members. In one, the Iranian government said that if the resolution were passed, Iran would resume uranium enrichment at a plant in Natanz.

In the second, Iran said it would withdraw from a set of agreements with the atomic energy agency that provide for more intrusive inspections....

The agency's board has passed seven resolutions on Iran since June 2003, all unanimously, which chided Iran for its concealment and urged it to grant inspectors unfettered access.

By early this month, when the agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, issued his latest report, patience was running thin.

Departing from the agency's usual tone of studied neutrality, the report said, "In view of the fact that the agency is not in a position to clarify some important outstanding issues after two and a half years of intensive inspection and investigation, Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue."

Still, officials at the agency viewed this resolution with chagrin. The debate over the vote on the measure was as vitriolic as some here could recall, and they said it could harm efforts to seek consensus on Iran.

Mr. ElBaradei is said to be reluctant to report Iran to the Security Council now, according to officials familiar with his position, who said the director general believes the Europeans and the Americans do not have a strategy for managing the issue before the council. (emphasis added)

Count me in with ElBaradei here. I think I know what the endgame is for this, but it's not clear to me if the risk is worth the reward.

If sanctions are off the table, and force is clearly out of the question, what is left for the Security Council to do? Presumably, passing some kind of resolution that upbraids Iran and threatens more punitive action down the road. Except, given Russia and China's opposition, it's far from clear the Security Council would even agree to that. So, one of two things will happen -- either the U.N. Security Council will look fractured, or they'll pass a toothless resolution. Either way, the Iranians have made clear what they will do if the issue goes to the Security Council.

So what's the benefit of going to the UN? If the consensus is that Iran is actually further away from developing a nuke than we previously thought, why make them accelerate their timetable?

I'm not saying that a move to the Security Council won't make sense at some point. But given the oil market at present, Iran has more economic leverage than they might in the future.

Readers are invited to submit their endgames in this latest standoff.

posted by Dan on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM


Part of the problem of having a foreign policy hijacked by PNAC lunatics is that its really really hard to change course. In fact, they counted on this being the case in the invasion of Iraq. Why not invade Syria and Iran since we are already there?

Amazingly these folks are still out there peddling these notions and ignoring the hemmoraghing of lives and money in Iraq.

Whatever we choose to do with Iran, our leadership better think long and hard about the consequences of:

1) Several unsuccesful airstrikes.
2) Occupation with ground forces.

posted by: Augustus on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

I think I understand why China isn't especially concerned to retard Iran's efforts to get the bomb. They need Iran's oil, they're some distance away, they're not likely to mind how Iran exploits its immunity to attack.
But why is Russia so unconcerned? They have oil of their own, Iran is a neighbor, Iran might (I would guess) have interests in the neighborhood that clash with Russia's. Why isn't it in the Russian national interest to deter Iran from acquiring the bomb?

posted by: Puzzled on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

The end game is Iran gets nuclear weapons, Scott Sagan freaks out, the blogosphere goes ballistic, Ken Waltz tells us not to worry and (as usual) is proved correct.

The world didn't implode when Indo-Pak took on a nuclear dimension and it won't when Iran fields its first nuclear ballistic missile.

The nice thing about having nuclear weapons is they make you a target for the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Israel -- which has a nice way of bringing into relief the potential costs of silly behavior.

The biggest risk we run is that Israel will do something stupid, like another Osirak run.

posted by: Hemlock for Gadflies on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

So the Russians are smart--they see they have immediate economic interests in trade with Iran, and they see that UNSC resolutions at this point can actually only hasten Iran's acquisition of the bomb?
And the Americans are really stupid--they don't see where their own interests lie, they want to look tough whatever actual effect their doing so has?
Wow--what a crew we have at the helm of the ship of state.

posted by: Less puzzled on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

I rather suspect that 'how close to the bomb' per se is not really the issue. I'm fairly certain that Iran already has the bomb casings ready (given that Pakistan has been peddling nuke desgins in the black market, I'm sure some found their way to Iran; ironic considering the Pakistani info is probably of Chinese origin) - all they need is the enriched uranium. They've probably been at the refining for a while now and what I'd like to know is how much weapons grade uranium they have. And what is the US going to do about it (if anything?).

posted by: Kai Wren on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

Of the three members of the axis of evil, the most threatening, the ones closest to actually developing weapons and with the greatest capacity for going to war were Iran and North Korea. Invading Iraq was, I gather, supposed to put the fear of God into the other two. North Korea has (maybe) caved in for other reasons, but Iran, far from having been forced to think twice about acquiring nuclear weapons has a) been given greater incentive to acquire some deterrent against the great Satan and b) given its immense leverage among the Shia of Iraq has been handed great leverage against us. They are betting that, if push comes to shove, the Europeans wouldn't know how and the Americans are not in a position to shove anyone, especially Iran. They are right, aren't they?

posted by: Ken on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

An approach to the UN was necessary for institutional reasons, but the only real leverage the Americans and Europeans have on Iran is outside that forum. If they are ever able to settle the Iranian nuclear problem it will be through an agreement with the US and Europe on one side and Iran on the other. China and Russia will not be in the room.

And if they are not able to settle this, and Iran does acquire nuclear weapons, the odds of one of them going off will be pretty good.

posted by: Zathras on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

China and India are already economically dependent on direct oil & gas exports from Iran. India is in the final stages of "agreeing to build" a gas pipeline overland through Afghanistan and Pakistan to connect the two economies.

I'm not sure what the end game is, but it must go through Beijing and New Delhi. The UNSC is a distraction, seeing as how powers with no influence are on it while one of the key players (India) is not.

The only end game I see is a repeat of the Cold War, but with more players on our side. Iran (as long as it exports hydrocarbons) is more economically stable than the USSR, seeing as how its economy is not 100% socialist. Our best bet is that since India and China are now inextricably tied to the Globalized economy they will apply pressure to extract neighborly behavior from the mullahs.

The down side is of course that Iran has a free hand to pursue any line of activity which doesn't trigger a massive American response. That's a lot of low-level mischief, up to and including their meddling in Iraq.

I think this equilibrium is rather stable. Its main threat must be from within Iran, not without. An Iranian Yeltsin may appear, fomenting a massive "one fell swoop" reform, but also perhaps not. The Chinese and Indians want energy stability. So do we, really. A slower and more gradual reform, as we're seeing in China, might actually be preferable.

posted by: Brock on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

Is the end-game merely to look busy? To look to your home base as if you are doing something effective?

Iran's pursuit of the bomb appears to be completely rational to me and every evasive emission of smoke and play of mirrors is exactly what I would expect any western government to do in the same circumstances. If Iran is a rational actor then isn't a bit of theatre the right thing for home consumption? When they finally detonate their first test we will at least be able to say that we did everything we reasonably could.

Please, somebody tell me I'm wrong.

posted by: YellowCake on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

Is the end-game merely to look busy? To look to your home base as if you are doing something effective?

Iran's pursuit of the bomb appears to be completely rational to me and every evasive emission of smoke and play of mirrors is exactly what I would expect any western government to do in the same circumstances. If Iran is a rational actor then isn't a bit of theatre the right thing for home consumption? When they finally detonate their first test we will at least be able to say that we did everything we reasonably could.

Please, somebody tell me I'm wrong.

posted by: YellowCake on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

It's pretty clear right now that formal UN sanctions, at least ones that have more than a cosmetic impact, are a non-starter. China and Russia simply won't allow it. If the EU's truly serious about keeping Iran from going nuclear, they'll threaten to place sanctions unilaterally, perhaps while trying to draw Japan and a couple of other major Iranian trading partners into the process.

Considering how vulnerable the mullahs feel to economic pressure (and I have to think that the last election accentuated this fear), this strategy could work. Just don't count on anything much happening via the UNSC.

posted by: Eric on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

Iran gets the bomb.

John Bolton demands a UN Resolution that allows military action against Iran.

China vetoes it. John Bolton chases China's UN Ambassador down the hall and slips nasty notes under his door.

Bush announces that unless Iran gives up its nukes, the US will have "no choice" but to respond militarily. The GOP and RW cheer him on, and accuse opponents of treason and cowardice.

Iran reaches strategic accord with China: political alliance in return for oil.

China tells US that military action against Iran will have "grave consequences."

The GOP and RW go nuts, and talk about taking on China along with Iran. Get rid of Iran *and* the US's main creditor, whoopee!

The prospect of a really, really big war - and possibly nuking Iran or China or both - arouses all those nifty atavistic instincts Rove has been so good at manipulating. Concerns about the deficit, the corruption, the hurricanes, and everything else vanish at the prospect of Asserting US Might Once and For All. Even the failed war in Iraq is used as a pretext for justifying a global, probably nuclear, war as the GOP tells us the only reason we've failed in Iraq is because we weren't tough enough.

The GOP sweeps the 2006 elections.

US jets bomb Iran.

China calls in the debt and puts its military on alert.

Bush says "Bring it on!" and tells his generals to get ready for a massive airstrike on China.

Cheney dies of a heart attack. Bush dies in a mysterious bicycle accident. Dennis Hastert takes the Oath of Office.

President Hastert appears on national TV, flanked by the Joint Chiefs, to announce in shaky tones "I'm in charge here. And the first thing I'm gonna do is"

"Call off the war," one of the Generals hisses.

"Yeah. That's it. I'm calling off the war."

US jets return to their bases.

China rescinds its debt-call. Then it announces that it's annexing Taiwan. The US does nothing.

China enters into a formal hegemonic alliance with India, South Korea, Vietnam, and Australasia. Asia's economy, already the fastest-growing in the world, is now matched by Asia's political influence. Even Japan joins the New Asian Alliance, despite the enmity between itself and China.

The Age of the West ends, and the Age of the East begins.

posted by: CaseyL on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

It is amazing that none of you people even considered that the real "Iran nuclear problem" is that the USA keeps accusing Iran of building nuclear weapons when there is absolutely no evidence that this is the case. For that matter, Iran has said time and time again that they consider nuclear weapons as UNISLAMIC. Haven't we been through this bull before? the USA making idiotic statements about another country's nuclear program? And, the sad part is that everyone is going to accuse me of being blind or dumb, but they have no proof on their side. Only that they believe the chronic liers in the USG, and that Iran hid their nuclear programs in the past. there was an excellent article in the Harvard International Review a few months ago about Iran, but unfortunately it didn't get much play:

Oh, and, let me add, Iran has ever right in the world to have a peaceful and full nuclear cycle.

posted by: for god's sake on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

And, unlike most other people, Ritter was 100% correct about Iraq. So i think his analysis is important here. and this was written just before the IAEA passed its resolution
The Iran trap
By Scott Ritter

In the complicated world of international diplomacy surrounding the issue of Iran's nuclear programme, there is but one thing that the United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the so-called EU-3 (Germany, France and Great Britain) and Iran can all agree upon.

And that is: Iran has resumed operations of facilities designed to convert uranium into a product usable in enrichment processes. From that point forward consensus on just about anything begins to fall apart.

Iran's resumption of its uranium conversion programme seems to have brought to an end a negotiating process begun in November 2004 between the EU-3 and Iran, at which time Iran agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment-related activities in exchange for the EU-3's agreement to broker a deal that would provide inducements for Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment program.

With the EU-3 initiative now dead in the water, it appears that the next logical step in the diplomatic process is for the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council, where the US, backed by the EU-3, have threatened to push for economic sanctions. The IAEA board meets in Vienna, Austria on 19 September to discuss this matter.

The EU-3 countries are uniform in their criticism of Iran's diplomatic slap in the face, but in fact neither the EU-3 nor the IAEA have a legal leg to stand on.

Iran, as a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT), asserts its "inalienable right" under Article IV of the NPT to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes".

Such rights are conditional, however, but Iran strongly believes that it has complied with Articles I and II of the NPT, where it agrees not to manufacture or acquire nuclear weapons, and Article III, where it accepts full safeguards, including on-site inspections.

Iran has yet to be declared to be in formal breach of any of these obligations, which raises the basic question: What is it the EU-3 wish to accomplish vis-a-vis their diplomatic intervention?

The real purpose of the EU-3 intervention - to prevent the United States from using Iran's nuclear ambition as an excuse for military intervention - is never discussed in public.

The EU-3 would rather continue to participate in fraudulent diplomacy rather than confront the hard truth - that it is the US, and not Iran, that is operating outside international law when it comes to the issue of Iran's nuclear programme.

In doing so, the EU-3, and to a lesser extent the IAEA, have fallen into a trap deliberately set by the Bush administration designed to use the EU-3 diplomatic initiative as a springboard for war with Iran.

The heart of the EU-3's position regarding Iran's nuclear programme is the matter of nuclear enrichment, which the EU-3 outright oppose. This, of course, is an extension of the American position (as well as that of America's shadow ally, Israel).

Legally, this is an unsupportable position under the NPT, but one which has been pursued based upon two fundamental points.

The first is Iran's history of deception regarding its nuclear programme, in which Iran hid critical aspects of this effort from the international community.

Iran now claims to have come into compliance with its NPT obligations, by having declared the totality of its efforts, something neither the EU-3 and the IAEA, nor the US and Israel can refute factually.

Indeed, the recent disclosure by the IAEA that the hard 'evidence' it possessed to sustain the charge that Iran was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons programme (the existence of traces of highly enriched uranium on Iranian centrifuges) was flawed.

The fact that the uranium came from Pakistan, not Iran, has undercut any case the EU-3 might have had in pursuing its confrontational stance with Iran.

In the face of this development, the EU-3 - Britain, Germany and France - need to ask themselves a very fundamental question: What is their true policy objective being pursued vis-a-vis Iran?

The answer appears to be little more than serving as a front for American complaints against the Iranian nuclear programme.

Given this, the EU-3 must next confront the real policy of the US when it comes to Iran - regime change. As was the case with Iraq, Europe has failed to confront the Bush administration's policy of regime change.

Instead, the EU-3 has allowed their seemingly unified European foreign-policy position regarding Iran to be hijacked by a neoconservative cabal in Washington, DC, as a stepping stone to war.

Europe would like to believe that the diplomatic initiative undertaken by the EU-3 last November represents a nominal Plan A, which avoids direct confrontation between the US and Iran through use of the European intermediary.

The EU-3 comfort themselves with the knowledge that any failure of their initiative pushes the world not to the brink of war, but rather toward a Plan B, intervention by the Security Council of the United Nations, which would seek to compel Iran back into line with the threat of economic sanctions.

A failure by the Security Council to achieve change on the part of Iran would then, and only then, pave the way for Plan C, American military intervention.

European diplomats concede that there is little likelihood that the Security Council will impose sanctions on Iran, given the intransigence on the part of Russia and China.

However, they have lulled themselves into a false sense of complacency by noting that given the situation in Iraq, and now in the US in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the US military is so overstretched that any talk of the Bush administration implementing a Plan C is out of the question.

What the Europeans - and the member nations of the EU-3 in particular - fail to recognise is that the Bush administration's plan for Iran does not consist of three separate plans, but rather one plan composed of three phases leading to the inevitability of armed conflict with Iran and the termination of the theocratic regime of the mullahs currently residing in Tehran.

These three phases - the collapse of the EU-3 intervention leading to a referral of the Iran matter to the Security Council, the inability of the Security Council to agree upon the imposition of economic sanctions against Iran, and the US confronting the Security Council over its alleged inability to protect American national security interests - lead inevitably toward military confrontation.

As with Iraq earlier, the US has embraced a position which requires Iran to prove the negative (ie, demonstrate that it does not have a nuclear weapons program) as opposed to the US and the IAEA proving that one does in fact exist.

The criteria put forward by the Bush administration for Iran to comply - no-notice inspections of any site at any time - are an affront to a sovereign nation that has yet to be shown to be in violation of any of its legal obligations.

The fact that the US used a similar programme of no-notice weapons inspections as a front for espionage against Iraq in support of its regime-change policy against Saddam Hussein has not escaped the attention of the Iranians, who have flat-out rejected any such extra-legal requirements on its part.

The US, and to a lesser extent the IAEA and the EU-3, have taken Iran's intransigence as a clear sign that Iran has something to hide.

Once again, as was the case with Iraq, the US has put process over substance, and unless the EU-3 bloc, the American effort to have the Iranian case transferred to the Security Council, the end result will be war.

The Iran trap has been well baited by the Bush administration, so much so that a Europe already burned once by American duplicity regarding Iraq, and a war-weary American public, fail to recognise what is actually transpiring.

The bait for this trap is, of course, diplomacy, first in the form of the EU-3 intervention, and that having failed, in the form of Security Council actions.

Polls taken in April 2005 showed that most Americans (63% to 37%) believed the Bush administration should take military action to stop Iran from developing or trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme.

It is completely irrelevant that Iran has yet to be shown to have a nuclear weapons programme (in fact the overwhelming amount of data available points to the exact opposite conclusion).

Today, in September 2005, many Americans might be loath to immediately embrace a direct path towards war with Iran. However, according to recent polls, most Americans support referring the matter of Iran to the Security Council for the purpose of imposing sanctions.

If the Security Council, because of Russian and Chinese opposition, refuses to support sanctions, the American people will be confronted by the Bush administration with the choice to either appear weak before the UN, or to take matters into our own hands (ie, unilateral military action) in the name of national defence.

The outcome in this case is certain - war.

Since the result of any referral of the Iran issue to the Security Council is all but guaranteed, the push by the EU-3 to have the IAEA refer Iran to the Security Council, while rooted in the language of diplomacy, is really nothing less than an act of war.

The only chance the world has of avoiding a second disastrous US military adventure in the Middle East is for the EU-3 to step back from its policy of doing the bidding of the US, and to confront not only Iran on the matter of its nuclear programme, but also the larger issue of American policies of regional transformation that represent the greatest threat to Middle East security and stability today.
Scott Ritter is former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, 1991-1998 Author of Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy, published by IB Tauris (London) and Nation Books (USA) in October 2005.

posted by: an article on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

> The Age of the West ends, and the Age of
> the East begins.

I suspect that was intended to be at least 50% sarcasm/parody, but it is the best prediction we have seen in this thread.


posted by: Cranky Observer on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

"It looks like the IAEA will pass a resolution on Iran -- what happens after that is unclear."

Same thing that happens with North Korea. Absolutely nothing. The NPT isn't worth the paper it is printed on because a huge majority of the heavy-weight countries who signed off on it have never wanted to spend any time or effort enforcing it.

I have to agree with yellowcake. Especially in Europe, the most important thing is to look like you are doing something. If Iran eventually gets a nuclear bomb at the end of your process, you can always blame the US for being heavy handed and scaring the mullahs--because certainly they wouldn't have pursued nuclear weapons otherwise. Unless a nuke goes off in Europe, European ministers can always pretend to be doing something useful.

And that doesn't even get to Russia and China, neither or which even tries to look like they are willing to take action against nuclear proliferation.

Diplomats have pretty much made diplomatic solutions to nuclear ambitions impossible. Unfortunately they don't seem to realize that makes war much more likely.

posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

im not so sure casting a veto is cost free for Russia and China, not if the EU3 and the US are united.

posted by: liberalhawk on 09.24.05 at 12:37 PM [permalink]

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