Monday, 8 April 2013

Iranian-Western Relations Part 4


The final full piece on Iran; reviewing perhaps the only hope for eliminating the spectre of WMDs from the Middle East: diplomacy.

Given the apparent repeated failure of the talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent 5 on the Security Council plus Germany) at Kazakhstan recently (, this option would seem to be a proven failure. However the Western media have failed to give the full story on diplomatic efforts. There are two avenues in particular which should be pursued urgently.

Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone

The first is the possibility of a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in the Middle East; a treaty, governed by the UN, which would place obligations upon all states in the region to forgo any current nuclear weapons, or nuclear-ambitions, and submit to a wide-ranging regime of inspections and verification, either through the IAEA, Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol, or a new body set up to monitor compliance. Such verification wouldn’t be 100% accurate but it would be pretty close- the capacities of institutions like the IAEA are generally respected. Such zones already exist in Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia and Latin America (, and have so far been more or less successful.

Efforts to achieve such a zone in the Middle East have been on-going for decades, headed historically by Egypt in particular. Patricia Lewis recently wrote an article in International Affairs documenting the history of such efforts. It is recorded how ‘In 1974… Iran and Egypt formally tabled a joint UN General Assembly resolution calling for the establishment of an NWFZ in the Middle East. The resolution was adopted by a majority of 138 votes, with only Israel and Burma abstaining’ ( Furthermore, a 1995 resolution passed at the NPT Review Conference calling ‘upon all States in the Middle East to take practical steps… aimed at making progress towards… the establishment of an effectively verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, chemical and biological, and their delivery systems, and to refrain from taking any measures that preclude the achievement of this objective’, and was accepted and voted for by all relevant states, including the US. Subsequent efforts culminated in an agreement to hold a conference on the establishment of a zone in Helsinki in December 2012.

Several months before the conference Iran announced it would attend (Jerusalem Post- Shortly after that announcement, the US cancelled the conference, a decision slammed by Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA as a ‘flagrant violation of the NPT’ ( The suspected reason for Washington’s sudden cancelation is Israel’s refusal to attend. Israel has a policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, refusing to admit or deny its possession of nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed by all respected observers to be the only state in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons. Given that this was a chance for an international effort to eliminate a danger to humanity in one of the most volatile regions in the world, one would have expected the United States to seize the opportunity with both hands. Instead, even the possibility of such an achievement was blocked. In a statement, the State Department claimed that ‘the United States will continue to work with our partners to support an outcome in which states in the region approach this issue on the basis of mutual respect and understanding’ (, reminding me of a talk by Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow in which he called for negotiations to be undertaken with respect for Iran’s history and desire to be accepted into the international community (; precisely the opposite of how diplomacy has been conducted so far. We have come a long way from the times when British diplomats wrote how ‘we English have hundreds of years of experience on how to treat the natives’ in Iran; but an air of superiority and arrogance remains in the US’ approach to negotiations. Take for instance one of their bargaining chips: a promise not to pursue ‘regime change’ in Iran in return for certain Iranian concessions. I wonder how the US would respond if Iran gave a vague promise not to pursue ‘regime change’ in the US in return for giving up certain aspects of its nuclear programme. When the precursor to negotiations is vast cyber-attacks and threats of an attack (even the very threat is actually against international law), it is unsurprising that negotiation often fail to get anywhere. It increases distrust and willingness to defy the opponent who comes across as an arrogant, aggressive bully.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find a single article on the conference for a nuclear-free Middle East in the mainstream British or American media. Such silence is stunning when the threats of nuclear proliferation are considered. Such a conference may come to nothing, but unless we at least try we can never know.

The Brazil-Turkey Deal

There are other avenues, and diplomacy has worked to some extent. Iran have recently diverted ‘a third of their enriched uranium fuel rods to medical research’ (Foreign Affairs-, and Iran has been ‘careful to stay well below the 240kg mark’ of 20% enriched uranium which would be necessary for a bomb (Economist- Furthermore, in 2009 the Obama administration approached Brazil asking them to broker a deal whereby Iran would ship out around 1,200kg of 5% enriched uranium, in return for a research reactor and 20% enriched uranium fuel rods usable for medical reactors only. Iran initially opposed the idea, but by 2010 Brazil and Turkey managed to get signatures on paper to achieve such an end (see here- and here- However the US and UK then did a complete U-turn, refusing to back the deal ( which they had tried to foment previously. A common refrain has become that ‘the US doesn’t know how to take yes for an answer’. After Iran gave way to diplomacy, potentially opening up avenues for further agreements, the US humiliated the Iranian concession by destroying the deal.

This record of botched diplomacy could show one of many things. It could just be an unfortunate consequence of the challenges and complexities of international diplomacy, or it could be the result of a lack of respect for Iran and a certain arrogance on the part of Western powers. It may even betray a lack of sincerity on the part of the US to actually engage in serious negotiations. There is part of the US establishment that still hasn’t forgiven Iran for freeing itself from US dominance in 1979, and wants to re-establish control. Iran is one of the most important countries in one of the most important regions in the world, and the imperial mentality of the US is such that there is still a lingering feeling that they have a right to own Iran. In order to do that you need a war and regime change, something which has long been desired by the more hard-right elements of the US establishment.

There is certainly a wish on the part of the US to stop Iran getting weapons (although this certainly has more to do with the fact that a nuclear Iran would endanger US and Israeli power in the region rather than any concern for nuclear proliferation- Ehud Barak was quoted in Foreign Affairs as saying that the reason a nuclear Iran is so feared is that it would ‘undermine Israel's strategic monopoly in the Middle East’-, but the mentality of the US state is one culturally prone towards war and violence rather than diplomacy. There are also more sinister motives underlying their aggressiveness towards Iran. The US is the world’s only empire, and ever since the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup the US has tried to dominate and control Iran in its interests. Disobedience to The Empire is often considered the greatest crime; one Iran is unlikely to be forgiven for whatever it does, short of complete submission to the iron will of the United States of America.

A short summation of the 4-part series will follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment