Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 February 2006
Issue No. 781
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

This is not according to law

While almost assured to be referred to the Security Council for punitive measures, Iran still has right on its side, writes Mustafa El-Labbad

The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors resolution ordering the referral of the Iranian nuclear file to the UN Security Council opens the door wide to the placement of sanctions on Tehran for the first time in the history of the Islamic republic. The resolution passed by 27 votes of a total of 35. This result is an indicator of current regional and international balances as well as future majorities in the Security Council.

The acquiescence of Russia and China -- both traditional allies of Iran -- to the draft resolution's demands and their approval of it is a virtual lifting of the international cover that has shielded Tehran in its confrontations with Washington via the IAEA. Only three states objected to the resolution: Syria, which is tied to a regional alliance with Tehran, and Cuba and Venezuela, both of which are engaged in reciprocal relations of hostility with Washington. And only five states refrained from voting: South Africa, Belarus, Indonesia, Algeria and Libya. Even neighbouring states such as Egypt, Yemen and India voted in favour of referral. The resolution needed only a passing majority (18 out of 35 votes). The high percentage of votes in favour can be read like a thermometer measuring the degree of international pressure being placed on Iran.

While the text of the resolution did not make reference to possible sanctions against Iran, its spirit, which reveals an escalation in comparison to which other resolutions pale, opens the door wide to sanctions. The same text guarantees that the Iranian nuclear file will be subject to non-stop screening, thus barring Iran from tying the IAEA's demands to a limited time period and cutting away at the margins of manoeuvre in its hands. The resolution's text does not include an explicit "time limit" but rather automatically transfers the Iranian nuclear file to the Security Council at the next meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors at the beginning of March. Should Iran not comply with the demands of the resolution, the "limit" will be up. It can thus be said that Washington has succeeded, through diplomatic and media pressure and mobilisation, in reaching the furthest reach of its demands -- automatically transferring the file to the Security Council -- without need for a further vote by the IAEA.

The formulation of the IAEA's demands is evidence of Iran's diplomatic crisis. Its legal position is much stronger, however, and to get around this problem Washington and its allies have been intent on inverting any logic that the accused be regarded innocent until proven guilty and that accusations must be backed up with evidence. For Iran to prove its innocence, it must comply with debilitating demands, although the text doesn't indicate it, being formulated with a great deal of baseness and very little sensitivity. The Board of Governors set four basic demands on Tehran ahead of automatic transferral to the Security Council. The first of these is "full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and processing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the agency". This means that it is forbidden for Iran to possess any form of nuclear knowledge or technology. The demand retracts Iran's legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, a right of all nations that is provided for by the IAEA's charter. The second part of this demand infers the IAEA placing its hand on Iran and its nuclear installations in order to "verify" something that in actuality has no legal classification. Nor does its time frame or geographic limits.

The IAEA's second demand calls on Iran to "reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water," which means barring Iran from using any technology with dual use. The third demand is that Iran change its legal obligations and "ratify promptly and implement in full the Additional Protocol [of the IAEA's safeguards regime]," and "pending ratification, continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol." It is well known that the United States itself has not signed the IAEA Additional Protocol that allows unannounced inspections of nuclear installations, something that in Iran's case will be intensive if Tehran bows down to this demand.

The final and most important demand is to "implement the transparency measures ... which extend beyond the former requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military- owned workshops ... " This final clause renders null Iran's sovereignty over its military sites and opens them to the IAEA and its inspectors. To a large extent, this resembles demands imposed on Iraq following its occupation of Kuwait and its being accused of possessing weapons of mass destruction, which, three years after Iraq's occupation, we are still waiting for evidence of.

It appears that this resolution, in word and spirit, aims at only one possible outcome: forcing Iran's hand into rejecting it, followed by a swift transferral of the Iranian file to the Security Council. Iran is holding fast to its rights provided by international charters and to its regional ambitions as witnessed by its political and strategic presence stretching from its western borders to northern Israel, passing through the Iraqi government, the Syrian regime, Hizbullah in Lebanon and Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Palestine. It will thus not accept these conditions. Despite question marks raised over the nature of the Iranian regime, Iran's insistence on possessing nuclear technology is a national endeavour that enjoys consensus among all political currents, from conservatives to reformists and inclusive of wide sectors of the Iranian people. And as to regional ambitions, they would not appear but for the desolation of the Middle East in absence of an "Arab policy". This is not something Iran can be blamed for.

There is no law that justifies the issuance of this resolution. Iran has not violated international law, and has not occupied another country like Iraq did Kuwait. The spirit of the resolution deals with Iran as though it has been vanquished in a military conflict, its defeat being substantiated with unfair conditions. Iran's so-called crime is that it has not relinquished its nuclear ambitions, and that it has exploited a regional vacuum opened up, largely, by the misadventures of the current American administration. What is being demanded of Iran clearly goes beyond its nuclear file and reaches the point of changing its political system under the pretext of inspecting its nuclear installations. The Board of Governors' resolution is nothing other than a final episode before handing Tehran over to the Security Council and placing sanctions upon it. If its political system remains unshaken, then thought might be given to military strikes against a "state to be punished on the basis of international resolutions".

Washington succeeded in imposing its will on signatories to the resolution; those who learned one thing from the Iraq debacle -- riding the American bandwagon guarantees profit and influence. But Iran today is not Iraq 2003. Its regional cards qualify it to deflect international demands on it throughout the region, stretching from its western borders, passing through Iraq and Syria, and reaching southern Lebanon. In this sense, the region and its peoples, and not just Iran and its people, will pay the price of Bush's catalogue of errors in the Middle East. It is true that Iran has never in its history seen an international line-up set against it as it is seeing now. But it is also true that its regional influence is stronger now than it was in the era of Qurush the Great, more than 2,500 years ago. Supporting the oppressed is a humanitarian duty regardless of nationality, colour, race and creed. The administration of President Bush, which turns a blind eye to Israel's actions, cannot, despite military prowess, erase the protections of international law nor pose as anything but the oppressor.

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