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POLITICS: Iranian President in Nuclear Theatrics

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2007 (IPS) - When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad completed his three-day political theatrics in New York, drawing large crowds and angry demonstrators, he left the United Nations with a defiant warning: Iran will not be cowed by any new sanctions either by the United States or the European Union.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (second from right) talks to reporters at UN Headquarters on Sep. 25, 2007.  Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (second from right) talks to reporters at UN Headquarters on Sep. 25, 2007. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

He said that “certain powers” hostile to Iran for the past 30 years, including the United States which he refused to name, have turned “a legal issue into a loud, controversial political issue.”

“From our point of view, our nuclear file is closed,” he told reporters at a crowded U.N. news conference Tuesday.

No so fast, says John Burroughs, executive director of the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy.

“Contrary to what Ahmadinejad claims, the Iran nuclear file is not now closed,” he added.

“But the kernel of truth in his statement is that there is real potential for reaching agreement with Iran on monitoring and limiting its nuclear programme,” Burroughs told IPS.

Since 2003, when its history of reporting violations was revealed, Iran appears to have met reporting requirements.

In a report last month, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated that his agency “is able to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”

Burroughs said that while the IAEA cannot now confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear materials and activities – as experience with countries such as Japan shows – it is a challenging determination that takes considerable time and requires enhanced inspections not now accepted by Iran.

“The IAEA and Iran have reached agreement on a work plan to clear up outstanding questions about Iran’s past nuclear activities,” he said.

To encourage this process, he added, it would be wise for the U.N. Security Council to defer a decision on strengthening sanctions.

Tehran has repeatedly indicated its openness to operation of limited enrichment facilities in Iran under heightened IAEA monitoring and with foreign participation. Iran’s leaders do not appear to have made the decision to acquire nuclear weapons, Burroughs added.

Responding to a question, the Iranian president told the U.N. news conference that Iran had “cooperated fully” with the IAEA in its investigations of the country’s nuclear programme- and therefore “the legal matter is now closed.”

Ahmadinejad said he will not, at the same time, bow to any pressure to replace Iran’s civilian nuclear programme with renewable energies such as wind and solar power.

He said nuclear energy was not only less costly and cleaner but that it was also being developed by the same countries that had called on Iran to halt its nuclear development.

In a widely-broadcast interview on a U.S. television network Sunday, he said Iran was not interested in developing a nuclear weapon because it has been proved that the “nuclear bomb is of no use” in today’s political and military context.

If nuclear warheads were of importance, they would have prevented the downfall of the Soviet Union. But they didn’t.

“If it was useful, it would have resolved the problems of the Americans in Iraq,” he said, arguing that the nuclear weapon had lost its persuasive powers in today’s world.

During an address at New York’s Columbia University, which drew hundreds of protestors, he said the world’s five major nuclear powers – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – are strengthening their nuclear arsenals, instead of eliminating them.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, said that Article Six of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is quite explicit regarding the responsibility of the five existing nuclear powers to make a good faith effort at “complete and verifiable disarmament”.

The failure of these longstanding nuclear powers to do so places all five permanent members of the Security Council in material breach of the treaty, he added.

“While this does not excuse Iran’s failure to fully comply with the IAEA, it does raise legitimate questions regarding these double-standards by the major powers which is far more threatening to the integrity of the NPT and the cause of non-proliferation than is President Ahmadinejad’s obstinacy,” Zunes told IPS.

Burroughs of the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that Iran is prepared to have constructive talks with all parties.

He said the United States should take Ahmadinejad at his word and negotiate on the range of issues dividing the two countries, including the U.S. occupation of Iraq; Iran’s alleged involvement in supporting Iraqi insurgents and alleged U.S. involvement in supporting unrest in Iran; U.S. support of regime change in Iran; and Iran’s nuclear programme.

“There should be no precondition for commencement of negotiations,” Burroughs told IPS.

The administration of President George W. Bush, he said, has so far refused to discuss nuclear matters until Iran suspends enrichment, but this amounts to saying “we will not talk until you concede the main issue at stake.”

Burroughs also said that both the United States and Iran need to respect international law if the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is going to be successfully resolved.

Iran is obligated to comply with the Security Council resolutions requiring suspension of enrichment activities and heavy water-related projects.

Doing so, he pointed out, would facilitate negotiations and, by the terms of the resolutions, lift the application of sanctions.

In accordance with IAEA Board requests, Iran should also implement the Additional Protocol to build confidence.

“The United States must cease implied threats of military action against Iran, which are contrary to the U.N. Charter prohibition of the threat or use of force against another state,” Burroughs said.

And to more credibly insist on Iranian compliance with its obligations, the United States must meet its own.

The Bush administration must stop violating a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty-related commitment by holding out the option of a nuclear attack on Iran and other countries not possessing nuclear weapons, Burroughs said.

“The United States and other nuclear weapon states also need to get moving on their treaty obligation to negotiate the verified reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals,” he declared.

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