Targetting Tehran


In January 2002 President George W Bush proclaimed the existence of an ‘Axis of Evil’ – made up of Iraq, Iran and North Korea – which was striving to acquire weapons of mass destruction to be used against the United States and its friends. In the same speech, justifications for the invasion of Iraq were advanced. In the now-famous sixteen words, Bush claimed he knew that Saddam Hussein had recently attempted to acquire uranium in Africa for his nuclear weapons program.

That the information about Iraq was false and was known to be false at the time has now been thoroughly established. In Washington one of the many fallouts from this fabrication has been the illegal outing by the White House of the identity of a CIA analyst and the jailing of a New York Times journalist for refusing to identify her sources on this story.

In London, the whole sorry affair included the death of Dr David Kelly, a senior British defence intelligence advisor, and the leaking of the Downing Street memorandum proving that Prime Minister Blair had been warned in advance that the Americans were fabricating reasons for the war in Iraq.

Thanks to Scratch

Thanks to Scratch

Shortly before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohammed El Baradei, reported that his inspectors could find no evidence for any claims of an ongoing Iraqi nuclear weapons program. That El Baradei’s stance was taken very seriously by the Bush Administration became crystal clear when John Bolton – then Deputy Secretary of State, now Bush’s new Ambassador to the United Nations – sought, unsuccessfully, to remove El Baradei from his job.

In more recent months, particularly following the elimination of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq from the ‘Axis of Evil’, there has been a steady growth in agitation from Washington against Iran and its nuclear program.

A dangerous point was reached ten days ago when, in a contrived interview with an Israeli newspaper, Bush confirmed that the use of force against Iran was an option that was under contemplation in Washington.

This hard-nosed approach, aired to an Israeli audience, can be seen as mere posturing: Bush preaching to the choir – refusing to rule out any option – in order to maintain Iranian attention. But what if he was speaking the plain truth? Namely, that Washington is in fact considering military action at least against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Whether or not that is the case, it is dangerous and irresponsible for the US President and Commander in Chief to speak this way.

A fundamental reality should be embraced when there is any such talk, loose or otherwise, about an attack upon Iran. The Islamic Republic is a serious country and nothing would galvanise it more thoroughly than to be attacked by the United States. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 2003 had become an absolutely un-serious country, as the absence of resistance by Saddam’s armed forces to the invasion demonstrated. But beyond the resistance of Iran, the reaction of the whole world against such military action by the United States defies adequate prediction.

In serious circumstances, it is important to try to be clear about the basic facts.

First, Iran is a member of the IAEA and the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In these circumstances, it has every right to conduct all aspects of nuclear energy, nuclear science and a nuclear industrial program. This includes the right to enrich uranium and to produce plutonium, both of which are among the steps necessary to create nuclear weapons. Its major obligation is never to do that. It must neither create nuclear weapons nor assist any other party to create or acquire them.

During the current phase of hostility to Iran, the US Administration has repeatedly misrepresented these facts. Instead, it has stated that Iran may not conduct activities such as enrichment, in addition to claiming that its intelligence sources have confirmed that Iran is conducting a clandestine nuclear weapons development program.

Iran has repeatedly stated that it is not pursuing such a program, but insisted on its rights to pursue all other aspects of nuclear science and technology. It has invited the IAEA to resume full monitoring of its activities.

Two years ago, monitoring did find traces of enriched weapons-grade uranium in Iran. A report to be handed to the IAEA early next month is expected to find that those traces came from contaminated equipment imported from Pakistan, which has successfully pursued a bomb-making program. What is not clear is whether the US Administration will accept the findings of this report.

Expectations of the Administration’s stance should be low. In February 2004 President Bush made a major statement on the dangers of the proliferation of nuclear weapons. That statement was shockingly deficient in two ways. It made no reference to the established international obligation of nuclear weapons states to reduce and progressively eliminate their own nuclear weapons. This is a key requirement of the NPT.

Bush also thoroughly misrepresented the purpose of the NPT and the IAEA, claiming that they were set up to control and restrict the uses to which nuclear materials are put. His representation of these arrangements completely overlooked the notion of sharing technology for development and other economically and socially positive purposes, both of which are basic to NPT and IAEA. Without these cooperative arrangements, the whole non-proliferation regime would not exist.

Three months ago the five-yearly review of the operation of the NPT took place in New York. The United States refused to allow that review to be conducted in any substantive way. Put simply, it scuppered it.

Bush’s February 2004 speech and the US repudiation of the basic obligations and pledges under NPT is the greatest danger the world now faces in the field of proliferation of nuclear weapons. If anything will ensure that those weapons will continue to spread, it is the policies of the current United States Administration.

Its decision to build new nuclear weapons is an absolute contradiction to the NPT regime. Turning a blind eye to the nuclear arsenal of Israel and accommodating the nuclear weapons status of India and Pakistan are deeply discriminatory stances which also directly attack the NPT regime. But, perhaps above all, its attempt to make permanent a world of nuclear ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ will cause profound hostility, and ultimately fail.

It is not clear whether Tehran has an independent nuclear weapons agenda in the same way, for example, that Israel does. But what is clear is that if the US persists with its present policy towards Iran, based on intelligence failures – or worse, fabrications – such as those that led to the invasion of Iraq, then the outcome will inevitably be an Iranian nuclear weapons program, a major war, or both.

For almost forty years, prior to the election of the Howard Government, Australia pursued nuclear non proliferation objectives vigorously, independently and undistorted by what would now be called the requirements of our alliance relationship with the United States. The current evidence is that the Howard Government has broken with that tradition, and is likely instead to side with the Bush Administration on Iran as it has on so many other issues. If it persists in this stance, in the nuclear non proliferation field, it will do Australia great and enduring harm.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.