Friday, August 11, 2006

Iran: Heading for U.N. Sanctions(Q&A)

Iran: Heading for U.N. Sanctions!(Q&A)

Ali Asghar Kazemi
August 10, 2006


Less than three weeks remain from the deadline
set by the U.N. Security Council (August 31, 2006) for Iran to comply with its demand under Chapter VII of the Charter to halt all nuclear enrichment activities. Iranian decision-makers have already rejected the resolution as unjust and with no legal basis, since, they claim their nuclear undertaking is peaceful and within the rights accorded to states members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty NPT. Iran has declared that it would not answer to the 5+1 incentive proposal until August 22, 2006.

Below is a brief analysis (in form of Q&A) regarding the Islamic government perception and option with respect to the nuclear issue and the plausible outcome of the crisis in the coming weeks and months.

Q: Why Iran’s nuclear case finally ended up to the UN Security Council after so many years of talks and negotiations?

A: When the new conservative hard-line government came into office a year ago, few people expected much change to take place in Iran’s nuclear strategy, since it was supposed to be under the strict prerogative of the supreme leader. In those days, the previous negotiating team had made some progress in paving the way for confidence building with EU and had succeeded to prevent the case be submitted to the Security Council. Although negotiations were slow and time-consuming, there was no reason to believe that the new president would suddenly change position and start his anti-Israeli campaign while accusing the old negotiating team to sell-out Iran’s vital interests to the “enemies of Islam.”

Q: This seems to be a radical change in Iran’s approach to the nuclear question! What was the rationale behind this sudden twist?

A: To be quite frank, nobody knows or at least I do not know for sure how this thing happened in the middle of negotiating and confidence building process which requires utmost caution and vigilance to avoid unnecessary provocation and misunderstanding. Of course, there are a lot of speculations about the new president’s controversial attitude which I don’t intend to repeat them here. I can simply assess that the position he took merely reflected the perception of a faction of the regime with predominant military and intelligence background, who believed that Iran should not give any concession to the West which would satisfy the evil intentions of the United States. Since, in their view, the Americans will continue to further push their demands on other issues namely: human rights; support of radical movements, etc. which would either transform Iran’s political setting devoid of its Islamic substance and identity or to change the regime altogether to a secular state.

Q: What the hard-line government did actually in order to support the contentions you are making here?

A: The new hard-liners initiated a number of actions which one way or another had direct bearing upon Iran’s nuclear strategy as well as foreign policy. First of all, they made a thorough reshuffling in Iran’s National Security Council and a new team with not much diplomatic experience was appointed to continue negotiations. The second important action was the breaking of the IAEA seals of Isfahan nuclear site and the resumption of the suspended enrichment activities under the Paris Accord of 2004 with EU3 foreign ministers.

The most recent disputable action was the so-called full access to nuclear fuel enrichment which was declared on April 11, 2006. This happened at a critical time amid the nuclear crisis, while the world was counting down the time limit set by the U.N. Security Council to the Islamic government to halt all its nuclear activities. On that day, the controversial hard-line president solemnly announced Iran’s enrichment capability on industrial scale and declared the date as a “national day of pride and prestige.”

Q: This seems to be a real provocation? Who should be blamed for it? What was the West’s reaction?

A: I am not in a position to point to any particular person since the nuclear business is a matter of high-politics and no one individual should be blamed for whatever decision. But the fact is that on the day the new president took office, the UCF (Uranium Conversion Facilities) at the Isfahan Site resumed activities and the IAEA seals were removed. This was despite numerous warnings from various sources including the IAEA. The atomic agency urged Iran not to resume nuclear fuel cycle until an international inspection apparatus is set up for the purpose of supervision of any eventual activities.

The European Union and the United States threatened to send the case to the UN Security Council for eventual sanctions. The EU3 foreign ministers warned Iran in a letter against resumption of enrichment activities and requested an emergency meeting of the IAEA’s 35 members of the Board of Governors. Despite some divergence among Governing Council at the beginning, especially the Non-Aligned Members who objected the tone of a draft prepared by the EU3, finally a rather harsh resolution was adopted unanimously against Iran.

Q: When was the last IAEA resolution referring Iran to the Security Council?

A: The IAEA Board of Governors finally adopted a resolution on February 4, 2006 to report the long awaited Iran’s nuclear activities to the U.N. Security Council. The resolution urged Iran to extend "indispensable and overdue" co-operation to the IAEA and help it "clarify possible activities which could have a military dimension". But it decided to put off any action until the report of the agency’s Director General is submitted at the next IAEA meeting on 6 March 2006.

Q: What was Iran’s reaction to the IAEA resolution?

A: Iran reacted with indignation to the resolution and claiming that there are serious legal problems with it, declared that it is unacceptable and therefore it does not feel obligated to implement it. Furthermore, Iranian officials considered the text as improper because it would bar it from enriching uranium and other related activities that it is allowed to pursue under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran argued that all it wants to do is to enjoy the right under the NPT; the right which has been denied to it for more than two decades. Immediately after the adoption of the resolution, Iran announced that it would resume all voluntary suspended operations on uranium enrichment.

Q: What about the Security Council resolution and the so-called “incentive package”?

A: The outcome of the new rounds of dialogue with the West was the possibility of American participation in the dialogue along with other permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany. The incentive package was intended to encourage Iran to stop all doubtful nuclear activities or otherwise be reported to the Security Council for eventual sanctions under Article 41 of the UN Charter. Iran’s acceptance of the offer would redirect the nuclear dossier to the IAEA, but, given that it failed to respond in reasonable time, the 5+1 states decided in their Paris meeting on July 12, 2006 to put it again on the agenda of the Council. The last resolution is in fact the product of this consensus.

Q: What happens if Iran finally does not comply with the UN Resolution?

A: All depends on the Islamic government decision and action. If it chooses to defy the Security Council demand under any pretext, then we should expect some provisional measures to become operative under Article 40 of the Charter. This is somehow a last chance given to the parties concerned to comply with the Council’s demand before going to Article 41 for sanctions. It is very likely that Russia and China would resist to any immediate sanctions and therefore we should expect some face saving solutions to be found for all parties involved to get around the problem. In the meantime may be some kind of breakthrough would be found without necessarily involving sanctions.

Q: What happens if finally no solution which satisfies the interest of all parties is found? What are the plausible outcome and consequences of the crisis?

A: If no peaceful solution is found then we should have no doubt that Article 41 could become operative but not automatically. This means that we still need the affirmative votes of all permanent members of the Council. This component of the process is very important and depends on how far Iran can rely on Russia and China.

On the other hand, on practical grounds, Iranian leaders do not seem to worry much about an eventual embargo or economic sanctions, though this surely will cause lots of trouble and inconvenience to the overall nation. But, those who eventually wish that the people would revolt against the Islamic regime in case of an economic blockade should remember that ever since the revolution, this country has been subject to all kinds of sanctions both during Iraq-Iran war and after, and no such thing has ever happened. On the contrary, Iranians have shown that they have a tendency to consolidate during the hard times.

Q: Finally how the crisis should be managed in order to avoid a confrontation?

A: In order to contain this crisis from escalating to a real hostile confrontation, it is absolutely necessary that all parties should behave responsively, rationally and with restraint in order to avoid crossing the threshold of mutual tolerance. The Middle East is already in turmoil and we need not a new conflict to emerge out of the current nuclear crisis.

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