Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disinformation flies as US raises Iran bar

Disinformation flies as US raises Iran bar

By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

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A
new report on Iran by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is about to be released and US "pre-emptive" diplomacy, aimed at preventing an IAEA "clean bill of health" that could derail Washington's effort for a new round of UN sanctions on Iran, is at full throttle - with the timely help of disinformation.

Setting the bar unusually high, the US envoy at the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, has warned that unless Iran "confesses" about its "past work on weapons designs and weaponization and the role of the Iranian military", international efforts to resolve the nuclear standoff will be "doomed".

Washington's brand new benchmark comes in the wake of a spate of US media reports that the US has "shared new
intelligence" with the IAEA that corroborates American allegations of past Iranian nuclear proliferation activities. According to the New York Times, the US decided to "turn over intelligence data" and allow the IAEA privileged access for "divulging confidential information" by reversing "longstanding refusal to show the data, citing the need to protect intelligence sources". [1]

A widely published report by Associated Press cites diplomats as saying that the material forwarded to the IAEA over the past two weeks expands on previous information from the Americans. [2]

But, we learn, the new information pertains to data from the same "stolen laptop" that was the source of the previous information, which was termed unreliable at the time by, among others, David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) in Washington. (For more on the laptop story see the author’s The IAEA and the new world order, Asia Times Online, February 3, 2006.)

Meanwhile, in response to this author’s request for clarification regarding this matter, a source close to the IAEA has called the US media reports "misleading". The source said: "Without going into the intelligence we may or may not have received, I can say that in my view, these news reports were misleading. The [IAEA] report [on Iran] is due to come out Friday or Monday and then things will become clearer for everyone."

Standing firm
The IAEA must insulate itself from the disinformation campaign against Iran that has by all indications gone into a higher gear as we draw closer to the upcoming meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors, and it must ignore the intensifying American lobbying efforts and those of its junior partners such as France (at a recent meeting of France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and the IAEA chief, Mohammad ElBaradei, the IAEA was urged to "stay firm" on Iran).

More important, the IAEA must stay firm on the rules of game and consider the fact that any overstepping of its bounds - eg, by pressuring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program in spite of Iran’s legal rights and its nuclear transparency - will definitely backfire against the agency and, indeed, the entire non-proliferation regime.

After all, Iran has the solid backing of a bulk of international community, namely the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which covers some 118 member states. Recently, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee, met NAM representatives and urged them to continue with their crucial support for Iran’s right to nuclear technology. Ambassador Khazaee has also written a letter to the UN Secretary General about the recent US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, reiterating Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions and urging the UN not to yield to US pressure that could harm the UN’s legitimacy.

South Africa, a key NAM member, has already played a pivotal role in making sure that the UN Security Council does not take any action against Iran before the new IAEA report on Iran.

From Iran’s vantage point, the resolution of so-called "outstanding questions" as a result of a "work plan" with the IAEA, which has full scope to monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities and which has stressed on numerous occasions the absence of any evidence of military diversion, means that there is no justification for any UN sanctions or continued UN Security Council involvement with Iran’s nuclear dossier.

This week, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy organization, traveled to Vienna to provide further explanation about Iran’s nuclear activities and to dispel the new suspicions about past activities raised by the US.

Undoubtedly, Washington's new intransigent strategy has its own limitations. There is only so much emphasis that can be placed on alleged past activities, when the real concern is and should be Iran’s present and future nuclear activities.

By placing the bar artificially high, on the other hand, the US may spoil the steady progress in Iran-IAEA cooperation and, indeed, set the process back if the IAEA heeds the present US pressure tactics and refuses to issue a clean bill of health (or something approximating it) for Iran.

The existence of merely minor or technical questions cannot possibly be the basis for declaring Iran in breach of its Non-Proliferation Treaty obligations, which is what the UN Security Council has done, going well beyond the IAEA’s own findings.

What lies ahead then? Iran has categorically stated that it will reject any UN pressure to stop the enrichment program and given Iran’s rapid technological progress with its P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, a fait accompli according to the IAEA chief, the US’s rigid insistence on "zero centrifuges" is unrealistic and in dire need of a revised, new approach that would conceivably place the focus on nuclear transparency and the full implementation of the IAEA safeguard measures. [3]

But with Schulte sending the wrong signal, the Iran nuclear crisis will likely become more aggravated in the coming months if (1) the US and its allies succeed in forcing a more circumspect IAEA report that does injustice to Iran, and (2) Iran fulfills its threat to scale back its work with the IAEA if the agency permits the powers that be to manipulate its findings on Iran. Such a negative leap backward is not in anyone’s interest.

Notes
[1] David Sanger and Elaine Sciolino, U.S. to Produce Data on Iran’s Nuclear Program, New York Times.

[2] George Jahn, US Intel Links Iran With Nuclear Bomb Bid, Associated Press.

[3] For more on this, see the author’s Realism, not idealism: Keeping Iran’s nuclear potential latent, Harvard International Review

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

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