In a decision that lays the basis for sanctions and future military
action against Iran, the governing council of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) caved in to US pressure and voted on Saturday to report Tehran
to the UN Security Council.
The Bush administration, which has been pushing since 2003 for Iran to be referred
to the UN Security Council for punitive action over its nuclear programs, immediately
applauded the vote. President Bush declared that the decision was “a clear
message... that the world will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.”
Speaking in a similar vein in Germany, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
deliberately inflamed tensions, by branding Iran “the world’s leading
state sponsor of terrorism.” “The world does not want, and must
work together to prevent, a nuclear Iran,” he added.
To state the obvious, “the world” did not have any say
in the matter. Tens of millions of people around the globe, who opposed and
continue to oppose the illegal US-led occupation of Iraq, are no doubt looking
on in apprehension as Washington once again seizes on unproven allegations concerning
“weapons of mass destruction” to threaten economic sanctions and
possibly military action against Iran.
The key decision was not taken at the IAEA meeting in Vienna on Saturday but
rather at a gathering a week ago in London of the five permanent UN Security
Council members—the US, Britain, France, Russia and China—plus Germany.
At that meeting, all agreed to support a resolution to “report”
Iran to the UN Security if it failed to suspend all uranium enrichment activities
and fully cooperate with IAEA inspections.
The meeting marked the first time that Russia and China have supported a UN
Security Council discussion on Iran’s nuclear programs. While no consensus
was reached on measures to be taken, Moscow and Beijing effectively agreed in
principle to action against Iran. The only US concession was to delay any formal
UN debate on Iran for a month, giving the two countries a little time to try
to bully or cajole Tehran into acceding to US demands.
As in the case of Iraq, Washington’s bellicose stance against Iran is
not primarily about its alleged nuclear weapons program. The Bush administration’s
actions are guided by its ambitions to establish US economic and strategic dominance
in the resource-rich region. Significantly, the only major power with nothing
to lose if the UN Security Council were to impose economic sanctions on Iran
is the US, which has maintained an economic blockade of the country since the
fall of Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
For the past two years, the EU-3—Britain, Germany and France—has
attempted to steer a course between Washington and Tehran, by encouraging Iran
to give up its uranium enrichment programs in return for a pact offering economic,
technical and security benefits. When negotiations collapsed last year, the
European powers, forced to choose between a potential confrontation with Washington
and their substantial economic interests in Iran, fell in behind the US.
However reluctantly, Russia and China have now followed suit. Moscow stands
to lose heavily on arms sales and contracts to build nuclear reactors in Iran.
Beijing, which has invested heavily in Iran’s oil industry, obtains 14
percent of its oil needs from Iran and was expected to shortly become Iran’s
largest trading partner. Neither country has agreed to economic sanctions against
Iran, but voting for UN Security Council involvement has inevitably brought
such punitive measures one step closer.
Having pressured the EU, Russia and China into line, it was relatively straightforward
for Washington to obtain a majority on the 35-member IAEA governing council.
The emergency session began last Thursday but a vote was delayed until Saturday
in order to ensure that the final majority was as large as possible—27
to 3 with five abstentions. While close US allies such as Australia, Japan and
Singapore could be counted on, others had to be bullied.
The behind-the-scenes wrangling only highlights the cynicism and hypocrisy
that surrounds the international condemnation of Iran. India, for instance,
has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and has a nuclear
arsenal, yet Washington is in the process of signing an agreement with New Delhi
to enhance nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
To pressure India, the US ambassador to New Delhi, David Mulford, last month
publicly warned that the India-US nuclear pact would “die” in the
US Congress if India did not support the US against Iran. While his comment
unleashed a storm of protest in India and a formal retraction from the US, it
undoubtedly reflected what was taking place behind-the-scenes. In any event,
India dutifully voted with the majority.
Another glaring example of US double dealing is the case of Washington’s
close ally Israel, which, like India, has refused to sign the NPT and has nuclear
weapons but faces no international campaign of condemnation. Egypt and other
members of the so-called Non-Aligned Movement timidly appealed to the IAEA meeting
to include a call for “nuclear-free Middle East” in the final resolution.
When the US finally conceded a less direct reference to “a Middle East
free of weapons of mass destruction,” Egypt also voted with Washington.
One can only guess at the inducements or threats that were used to ensure the
vote of small countries such as Yemen, Sri Lanka and Ghana. Only three countries
voted against the resolution—Cuba, Syria and Venezuela. They were promptly
branded “the gang of three” by US Undersecretary of State Nicholas
Burns—a clear warning that the US intends to exact future retribution
for this vote as well as the other “crimes” of which they are already
Iran immediately condemned the IAEA vote. Javad Vaidi, head of the Iranian
delegation, declared that the “resolution is politically motivated since
it is not based on any legal or technical grounds”. Tehran has repeatedly
declared that its nuclear programs are for peaceful purposes and that its research
into uranium enrichment is designed to provide fuel for its ambitious plans
for nuclear power. Iranian leaders have insisted on their legal right under
the NPT to operate all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Following the vote, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the country’s
nuclear commission to restart its uranium enrichment program and declared that
Iran would no longer cooperate with snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities.
At a press conference last Friday, he denounced the attempts of a few nuclear
powers to “dictate their policies... from a domineering position, assuming
that the Middle Ages’ relations are still valid.”
Ahmadinejad’s nationalist demagogy has nothing to do with a genuine struggle
against imperialism. Rather, confronted with a deepening social crisis at home,
the Islamist regime in Tehran is seeking to shore up a base of support by whipping
up patriotic hysteria while pressuring the major powers for a more advantageous
economic and strategic relationship. While the exact status of Iran’s
nuclear programs is unclear, there is no doubt that sections of the ruling theocracy
advocate acquiring nuclear weapons to enhance Iran’s position as a regional
power and as a deterrent to US aggression.
While opposing US aggression against Iran, the World Socialist Web Site does
not in any way support the reactionary theocratic regime in Tehran or any effort
on its part to build nuclear weapons. Far from acting as a deterrent, a handful
of crude nuclear weapons would only act as a further spur to a military attack
by Washington. The Bush administration has time and again declared that “all
options are on the table” and its close ally, Israel, has threatened to
destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
responded to the IAEA vote with the menacing warning that Iran would pay “a
very heavy price” for resuming uranium enrichment.
The danger of imperialist aggression cannot be combatted through the construction
of nuclear weapons by countries like Iran and North Korea and threats to wipe
out millions of innocent working people. Such threats play directly into the
hands of Washington and cut directly across the necessary political struggle
to unify workers around the world in an offensive against war and imperialist
oppression based on socialist policies. Needless to say, the regime in Tehran
is organically hostile to any such campaign.
The IAEA vote on Saturday does not automatically mean that the UN Security
Council will impose economic sanctions on Iran next month. Russia, China and
the European powers are all anxious to avert a confrontation that will have
disastrous consequences for their economic position in Iran and the broader
Middle East. As a way out, Moscow has offered to establish a joint uranium enrichment
facility on Russian soil with Iranian involvement—a proposal that Tehran
has ruled out following the IAEA vote. Although a temporary compromise is possible,
the Iranian regime is acutely aware that any backdown threatens to produce a
political backlash from the very right-wing nationalist layers it has been stirring
An editorial today in the London-based Financial Times was pessimistic about
the chances for averting a confrontation and thus salvaging European economic
fortunes in Iran. “There is probably, at best, no more than a one-in-five
chance of the standoff between Iran and the international community being resolved
without conflict.” It noted that Iran was unlikely to back down, pointing
out: “The ruling mullahs are widely despised by their people, but Iranians
across the political spectrum support their country’s right to both technology
and deterrence—making the nuclear controversy a God-given issue around
which to rally the nation.”
The newspaper then held out the faint hope that Iran would accept the Russian
proposal for a joint uranium enrichment facility. “In exchange for full
nuclear transparency, Iran could expect some sort of US security guarantee (not
to invade say) and international underwriting of regional security arrangements
binding Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia into cooperation,”
In other words, a solution depends above all not only on a retreat by Iran
and cooperation from its traditional rivals in the Middle East, such as Saudi
Arabia, but above all on the willingness of the Bush administration to magnanimously
give Iran an unqualified security guarantee and to acknowledge Tehran as a regional
power. As the editorial concluded: “It is but a slim chance.”