Inter Press Service » Nuclear Energy – Nuclear Weapons Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 22 Aug 2014 21:08:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Militarism Should be Suppressed Like Hanging and Flogging Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:42:34 +0000 mairead-maguire

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that, in the face of growing militarism, civil society should take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

I once asked Dan Berrigan, the great American anti-war activist, for some advice to me in my life as a peace activist. He replied “Pray and Resist”.But I would like to ask how serious we are about resistance? What is our vision? And how does resistance fit into this? What do we need to resist? How can we resist effectively? And what methods are allowed? In resisting, what are our aims and objectives?

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

I would like to propose that the world’s peace movement adopt a vision of the total abolition of militarism. Such a vision would empower us to know where we are going. It would inspire and energise each of us to pursue our different projects, be it the fight against the arms trade, nuclear abolition, non-killing/non-violence, the culture of peace, the abolition of arms and drone warfare, human rights and environmental rights.

We will know, as we work towards this vision of a demilitarised, disarmed world, that we are part of an ever-growing new ‘consciousness’ of men and women, choosing to uphold human life, the right to individual conscience, loving our enemies, human rights and international law, and solving our problems without killing each other.

Why resist militarism? We are witnessing the growing militarism of Europe, and its role as a driving force for armaments, and its dangerous path, under the leadership of the United States/NATO towards a new ‘cold war’ and military aggression.

The European Union and many of its countries, which used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflicts, particularly allegedly peaceful countries like Norway and Sweden, are now among the most important U.S./NATO war assets.“The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war”

The European Union is a threat to the survival of neutrality, as countries are being asked to join NATO, and forced to end their neutrality and choose (unnecessarily) between West and East.

Many nations have been drawn into complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on, Germany, the third largest exporter of military hardware in the world, continues to increase its military budget and is complicit with NATO, facilitating U.S. bases, from which drones leave to carry out illegal extrajudicial killings on the order of the U.S. president, in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Germany has also provided Israel with its nuclear submarine and continues to be complicit under the Geneva Convention in Israeli war crimes against Gaza and in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

We need to abolish NATO and increase our task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, through non-violent and civil resistance.

The means of resistance are very important. As a pacifist deeply committed to non-killing/non-violence as a way to bring about social/cultural/political change, I believe that we need to use means consistent with the end, and it is wrong to use violence.

Our message that militarism and war do not solve our problem of violence challenges us to use new ways and that is why we need to teach the science of peace at every level of society.

We are all aware there are forces at work which are determined to continue their agenda of the militarisation of our societies and there are governments/corporate/media attempts to make violence and war acceptable.

The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

We can take hope from the fact that most people want peace not war. However, we are facing a civilisation problem. We are facing a political/ideological challenge with the growth of what president Ike Eisenhower warned the U.S. people against ­– the military/industrial complex. He warned that it would destroy the United States.

We know now that a small group made up of the world’s military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite – whose agenda is profit, arms, war and
valuable resources – now holds power and has a stronghold on our elected governments. We see this in the gun and Israeli lobbies, among others, which hold great power over U.S. politics.

We have witnessed this in ongoing wars, invasions, occupations and proxy war, all allegedly in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention and democracy’. However, in reality, they are causing great suffering, especially to the poor, through their policies of arms, war, domination and control of other countries and their resources.

Unmasking this agenda of war and demanding the implementation of human rights and international law is the work of the peace movement. We can turn away from this path of destruction by spelling out a clear vision of what kind of a world we want to live in, demanding an end to the military-industrial complex, and insisting that our governments adopt policies of peace.

We, the Peace Movement, are the alternative to militarism and war, and because we want a different world, we must be part of building it. We must not be satisfied with improvements to and reform of militarism but rather offer an alternative.

Militarism is an aberration and a system of dysfunction. Militarism should be outdated and disappear – like hanging and flogging! (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Happy Birthday “UNO-City” – UN’s Vienna Headquarters Marks 35th Anniversary Fri, 08 Aug 2014 15:18:47 +0000 Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

Credit: United Nations Information Service Vienna

By Martin Nesirky and Linda Petrick
VIENNA, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Austrians call it “UNO-City”. The United Nations calls it the Vienna International Centre (VIC). Both names give a hint of the scale and scope of the U.N’s headquarters in the Austrian capital, but not the full story.

As the VIC marks its 35th anniversary, it is worth reflecting on the U.N. family’s work here and its crucial role as one of the U.N.’s four global headquarters.Increasingly, sustainable development is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna.

The VIC’s three Y-shaped, interlinked buildings are certainly a product of their time. There is a retro 1970s feel to the orange-coloured lifts and to some of the corridors.

Yet the VIC has of course been modernised over the years to host a broad range of major events and more than 4,000 staff working at 14 bodies on topics ranging from nuclear safety to outer space affairs and from combatting drugs and crime to promoting sustainable industrial development and energy.

Six years ago Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean ambassador to Vienna, opened an additional state-of-the-art conference building that he said further underscored Austria’s commitment to multilateralism, a commitment that highlights the country’s neutrality and geopolitical location.

When it comes to news, many people link Vienna with the International Atomic Energy Agency. Yet while it has often made headlines because of Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) or Fukushima, the Agency’s work covers much more – including supporting the peaceful uses of nuclear technology in health and agriculture.

Other parts of the U.N. family in Vienna make headlines in their own way.

The Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation promotes the treaty that bans all nuclear explosions and is establishing global verification to ensure no such blast goes undetected. Indeed, its monitoring picks up not just nuclear explosions such as those most recently conducted by the DPRK but also earthquakes like the one that caused a tsunami to hit Japan in 2011.

Atoms apart, the United Nations in Vienna is well known for its work tackling drugs and crime, including through a network of field offices and through its flagship World Drug Report. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also plays a vital role in promoting security and justice for all.

Increasingly, sustainable development – a top priority for the Secretary-General and Member States – is a thread running through the work of all U.N. bodies, including those in Vienna. The United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, whose presence in Austria predates the VIC by more than a decade, is a good example, along with UNODC.

Far newer but weaving that same vital thread is the Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Its headquarters are just outside the VIC in an adjacent emerging office and residential district but it is a dynamically growing organisation that is very much a part of the U.N. constellation.

The U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs is also heavily geared to playing its part in sustainable development as it promotes international cooperation in the exploration and peaceful uses of outer space.

Smaller offices include the U.N. Postal Administration, the Interim Secretariat of the Carpathian Convention (United Nations Environment Programme), the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Office for Disarmament Affairs Vienna Office, the U.N. Register of Damage Caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law, the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation and the International Narcotics Control Board.

They may not always grab media attention but their targeted technical work has a concrete impact in their respective fields.

The United Nations Information Service Vienna helps to coordinate public information work by those U.N. bodies based in Austria, and is a good starting point for those wanting to know more. It also serves as an information centre for the public, media, civil society and academia in Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia, and provides guided tours at the VIC.

In case anyone wonders, the international bodies based at the VIC split the running costs and pay Austria an annual rent of seven euro cents – it used to be one Austrian Schilling. Needless to say, Vienna is enriched by hosting the United Nations – and other international bodies such as the Organisation of Petroleum-Exporting Countries, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

Certainly for the United Nations family, Vienna offers a tremendous venue for technical work, mediation and decision-making that contribute to the global goals of peace and security, sustainable development and human rights. And it is all done in what the Director-General for the U.N. Office at Vienna, Yury Fedotov, likes to call the Vienna Spirit – a spirit of pulling together to decide and then take action.

Next Friday, Aug. 15, a joint-U.N.-Austrian celebration will take place to commemorate the 35th anniversary, which falls on Aug. 23.

Martin Nesirky is Acting Director, United Nations Information Service Vienna.

Edited by : Kitty Stapp


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Atom Bomb Anniversary Spotlights Persistent Nuclear Threat Thu, 07 Aug 2014 04:00:23 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

The atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Credit: Freedom II Andres_Imahinasyon/CC-BY-2.0

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Aug 7 2014 (IPS)

It has been 69 years, but the memory is fresh in the minds of 190,000 survivors and their descendants. It has been 69 years but a formal apology has yet to be issued. It has been 69 years – and the likelihood of it happening all over again is still a frightening reality.

As foreign dignitaries descended on Japan to mark the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing Wednesday, the message from officials in the city of Hiroshima was one of urgent appeal to governments to seriously consider the enormous threat to humanity and the planet of another nuclear attack.

Survivors, known here as hibakusha, who have worked tirelessly since August 1945 to ban nuclear weapons worldwide, urged diplomats – including ambassadors from four of the nine nuclear weapons states (United States, Israel, Pakistan and India) – to heed the words of the 2014 Peace Declaration.

Representing the anguished wishes of aging survivors and peace activists, the declaration calls on policy makers to visit the bomb-scarred cities to witness first-hand the lasting devastation caused when the U.S. dropped its uranium bomb (Little Boy) on Hiroshima and its plutonium bomb (Fat Man) on Nagasaki three days later.

The Center for Arms Control and Non Proliferation reported earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.
Some 45,000 people observed a minute of silence Wednesday in a peace park close to the epicenter of the bomb, which killed an estimated 140,000 people in Hiroshima before the second bomb claimed a further 70,000 lives in Nagasaki.

The tragic events came as Japan was negotiating its surrender in World War II (1939-45).

The presence of so many survivors, whose average age is estimated to be 79 years, provided stark evidence of the debilitating physical and psychological wounds inflicted on those fateful days, with many hibakusha and their next of kin struggling to live with the results of intense and prolonged radiation exposure.

In a tribute to their suffering, the Hiroshima Peace Declaration states, “We will steadfastly promote the new movement stressing the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and seeking to outlaw them.

“We will help strengthen international public demand for the start of negotiations on a nuclear weapons convention with the goal of total abolition by 2020,” the declaration added.

But the likelihood of this dream becoming a reality is dim, with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington reporting earlier this year that the nine nuclear weapons states possessed a combined total of 17,105 nuclear weapons as of April 2014.

The United States, the only state to deploy these weapons against another country, has steadfastly held out on issuing an official apology, claiming instead that its decision to carry out the bombing was a “necessary evil” to end World War II.

This argument is now deeply entrenched in global geopolitics, with states like Israel – not yet a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – vehemently protecting its arsenal as essential for national security in the face of protracted political tensions in the region.

Following Israel’s military offensive in Gaza, which resulted in 1,800 civilian casualties in the Palestinian enclave before a ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect Tuesday, some in the Arab community insist that Israel represents the biggest security threat to the region, and not vice versa.

China, a nuclear state with an inventory of 250 warheads and currently embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan, was conspicuously absent from the proceedings.

With run-ins between East Asian nations in the disputed South China Sea becoming increasingly confrontational, peace activists here feel an urgent need to address tensions between nuclear weapons powers, including North Korea.

Professor Jacob Roberts at the Hiroshima Peace Research Institute told IPS, “The call is to ban nuclear weapons that kill and cause immense suffering of humans. By possessing these weapons, nuclear states represent criminal actions.”

He said the anti-nuclear movement is intensely focused on holding states with nuclear weapons accountable for not abiding by the 1968 NPT.

He cited the example of the Mar. 1 annual Remembrance Day held in the Pacific Ocean nation of the Marshall Islands, which suffered devastating radiation contamination from Operation Castle, a series of high-yield nuclear tests carried out by the U.S. Joint Task Force on the Bikini Atoll beginning in March 1954.

Thousands fell victim to radiation sickness as a result of the test, which is estimated to have been 1,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima blast.

In total, the U.S. tested 67 bombs on the territory between 1946 and 1962 against the backdrop of the Cold War-era nuclear weapons race with Russia.

In a bid to challenge the narrative of national security, the Marshall Islands filed lawsuits this April at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and separately in U.S. Federal District Court, against the nine nuclear weapon states for failing to dismantle their arsenals.

The lawsuits invoke Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which contains a binding obligation for five nuclear-armed nations (the U.S., UK, France, China and Russia) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

As in Hiroshima, the United States has not apologized to the Marshall Islands but only expressed “sadness” for causing damage. A former senator from the Marshall Islands, Abacca Anjain Maddison, told IPS, “The U.S. continues to view the disaster as ‘sacrificing a few for the security of many’.”

The U.S. is not the only government to come under fire. Hiromichi Umebayashi, director of the Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA) at Nagasaki University, is a leading advocate for a nuclear-free zone in East Asia and a bitter critic of the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is alleged to be currently pushing the argument that nukes are necessary for national security.

Umebayashi is spearheading a campaign to stop Japan’s latest decision to work closely with the United States, under a nuclear umbrella, on strengthening the country’s national defence capacities.

“North Korea’s nuclear threat in East Asia is used by the Japanese government to push for more military activities. As the only nation to be atom bombed, Japan is making a huge mistake,” the activist told IPS.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Iran, One Year Under Rouhani Mon, 04 Aug 2014 13:36:18 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey Rouhani greets a crowd in Lorestan Province on Jun. 18, 2014. Credit: Iranian President's Office

Rouhani greets a crowd in Lorestan Province on Jun. 18, 2014. Credit: Iranian President's Office

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

When Hassan Rouhani was declared Iran’s president last year, large crowds gathered in the streets of Tehran to celebrate his surprise victory. But while hope for a better life persists, Iranians continue to face harsh realities.

“I think Rouhani has done a very good job,” Hassan Niroomand, the 62-year-old director of a steel company in Tehran, told IPS.“There are certain factions within the regime that are not comfortable with the way things are moving forward and are trying to make it as hard possible for Rouhani to achieve his goals.” -- Ali Reza Eshraghi

“He does not have all the power, but he has taken advantage of what he can control and I am hopeful,” said Niroomand, citing Rouhani’s handling of the nuclear negotiations, his universal health insurance initiative, and his leadership style.

“He knows how to deal with extremists who are trying to make Iran another Afghanistan,” he added.

Not all Iranians share Niroomand’s positive assessment.

“Everyone says he is better than [former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad], but I don’t see a difference,” said Fariba Hosseini, a 39-year-old part-time student who is currently unemployed.

“Prices are still high and girls are being bothered again about their veils,” she said, referring to Iran’s morality police who have taken to the streets in the sweltering summer heat to ensure women comply with clothing regulations.

“I don’t think life will get better,” she said.

Rouhani, a centrist cleric and former advisor to the Supreme Leader who was inaugurated one year ago today, promised to improve the economy, solve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, and de-securitise the political environment.

Had his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif failed to achieve the historic interim nuclear accord with world powers in November 2013, and had negotiations toward a final deal broken down, many more Iranians might share Hosseini’s pessimistic view.

But while Iran’s economy continues to limp due to previous governmental policies and sanctions, slight improvements have kept people looking forward to the future.

“Rouhani and his team’s efforts to reduce sanctions on Iran through the nuclear talks has so far prevented the further cutting of Iranian crude oil production and exports,” said Sara Vakhshouri, an energy expert and former advisor to the National Iranian Oil Company.

“The [sanctions relief] has not had an immediate significant effect on the economy, but it has certainly had a positive psychological impact on the people,” she said.

Iran’s oil exports, which fund nearly half of government expenditures, were slashed by more than half in 2012 following the imposition of stringent U.S. and EU sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and banking sector.

Iran’s currency, the rial, went into freefall, dropping by more than 50 percent in October 2012.

But since November’s interim deal, which halts Iran’s nuclear programme from further expansion in exchange for moderate sanctions relief, the rial has strengthened and inflation is down by more than half from over 40 percent a year ago, due in part to improved governmental policies.

The temporary sanctions relief on Iran’s petrochemical exports and the unfreezing of some of Iran’s assets abroad have also positively impacted the economy, according to Vakshouri, who noted that Rouhani has changed investment regulations to attract more international investors.

But potential investors will maintain their distance until the energy-rich country’s release from the strangulating sanctions becomes certain.

Meanwhile, international human rights organisations have decried the rise in executions since Rouhani took office, while the sentencing of journalists and activists who were apprehended during the Ahmadinejad era for political reasons continue under Rouhani’s watch.

Domestic news media has become more openly critical of the government, but a number of reformist-minded journalists have been detained in recent months.

Iran’s Culture Minister Ali Jannati made headlines last year when he said Iran’s ban on social networks including Facebook and Twitter should be lifted, but while he and Rouhani have publicly criticised the Islamic Republic’s control over people’s personal lives, leading conservative factions retain their hold on Iranian society.

The shocking Jul. 21 arrest of a Washington Post reporter, Jason Rezaian, with his wife, Yeganeh Salehi, also a reporter, has led many to speculate that domestic political infighting has resulted in the 38-year-old Iranian-American being used as a pawn.

The location of Rezaian, an Iranian resident, remains unknown despite outcry in the U.S. from the State Department and multiple rights-focused organisations.

Iran does not recognise dual citizenship and no charges have been announced.

Analysts have argued that Rezaian could have been detained to embarrass Rouhani ahead of the resumption of talks in September.

“There are certain factions within the regime that are not comfortable with the way things are moving forward and are trying to make it as hard possible for Rouhani to achieve his goals,” said Ali Reza Eshraghi, a former editor of several Iranian reformist dailies.

“Jannati summed the situation up well when he said that the only thing that has changed in Iran is the executive branch,” Eshraghi, the Iran project manager at the U.S.-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told IPS.

Yet Eshraghi points out that while Rouhani may have no control over the judicial and legislative branches, he has proven adept at closed-door negotiations.

“Rouhani and his team have a modernising agenda, but they are not pursing it through radical statements or intense pressure on their political opponents. He is quietly negotiating and making pacts,” he said.

While Eshraghi sees the election as having energised activists to pressure Rouhani to force change despite his inability to do so, he also believes average Iranians remain patient.

“People have modest expectations, they are realistic about Rouhani’s ability to achieve his goals,” he said.

It remains to be seen how long Iranian patience will last, especially if the Rouhani government fails to secure a nuclear deal resulting in substantial sanctions relief.

Thus far Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has maintained his distaste and lack of trust of the U.S., has voiced support for Iran’s negotiating team. But while Iran seeks a final deal on the international stage, the domestic negotiating front appears to be getting tougher.

“Jason was trying to colorise the very black and white frame that Western mainstream news media has used for Iran,” said Eshraghi.

“His arrest ironically indicates that there are certain factions inside the country who are very happy with that framing.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Zarif and Kerry Signal Momentum on Nuclear Pact Thu, 17 Jul 2014 17:18:48 +0000 Gareth Porter By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the Jul. 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.

Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.

The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on Jul. 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.

“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.

Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.

The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”

“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

John Kerry addresses reporters in Vienna on July 15. Credit: U.S. State Department

Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.

Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.

In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”

By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.

As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.

The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.

But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.

Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.

Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”

Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”

The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.

Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.

Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a Jul. 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.

In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.

Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists Jul. 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s Jul. 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.

That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.

In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.

Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.

That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.

Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.

The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision reach compromise on the two key issues is made.

When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the Jul. 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Khamenei Remarks Show Both Sides Maneuvre on Enrichment Sat, 12 Jul 2014 15:44:15 +0000 Gareth Porter Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. Credit: GFDL creative commons

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei’s comments on the nuclear talks Monday provided an unusual glimpse of diplomatic maneuvering by the U.S.-led coalition of five nuclear powers and Germany on the issue of enrichment capability to be allowed in a comprehensive agreement.

But his remarks also suggested that Iran was responding with its own diplomatic maneuvre on the issue. Both sides appear to have put forward demands that they knew were non-starters with the intention of moderating their demands substantially in return for major concessions from the other side.Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

Khamenei described the United States and the P5+1 as demanding initially that Iran’s annual enrichment capability be cut to the equivalent of as few as 500 to 1,000 centrifuges – as little as 2.6 percent percent of its present level of 19,000 centrifuges.

But he also suggested they were now aiming at getting Iran to accept a capability equivalent to the annual production of 10,000 centrifuges on the condition that it would be the final level for the duration of the agreement.

“They seek to make Iran accept 10,000 SWUs, which means the products of 10,000 centrifuges of older type that we already have,” said Khamenei in a speech to an audience that included President Hassan Rouhani. The P5+1 had “started with 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU”, he said, referring to demands advanced by the P5+1 in the negotiations last month.

The Iranian leader’s assertion about the coalition’s position last month is consistent with a statement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Jun. 14 that “the West wants to slash the number of centrifuges” that Iran would be allowed to maintain to “several hundred”.

Secretary of State John Kerry had said in April that the U.S. intention was to demand very deep cuts in Iran’s enrichment capability, arguing it was necessary to lengthen the time it would take Iran to turn its uranium enriched to 3.5 percent into enough weapons grade uranium for a single bomb to six to 12 months.

What he did not acknowledge publicly, however, is that such cuts were not necessary to achieve such a lengthening of the “breakout” timeline, because it could be also be accomplished by the reduction of Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium and measures to avoid the accumulation of a new stockpile.

Iran pledged as part of the interim agreement to begin the process of converting its UF6, the gaseous form of low enriched uranium, into oxide powder, which would not be available for further enrichment without reversing the process. It is now ready to begun operating a new facility specifically devoted to that conversion, according to Reuters.

Khamenei was suggesting that that the U.S. is now ready to accept a 10,000 SWU limit in return for Iran’s agreeing to forsake the further increases that Iran has been insisting will be necessary.

10,000 SWU would coincide with Iran’s current production capability, based on the 10,000 primitive first generation centrifuges that have been operational. Another 9,000 centrifuges have been installed but have never operated, apparently with the intention of using them as bargaining chips.

In what appears to have been a response to the diplomatic maneuvre by the P5+1, Khamenei announced a new Iranian demand for an increase after 2021 to a level that is nearly twice as high as what independent experts have estimated is necessary to support the Bushehr reactor.

Khamenei identified the level of enrichment capability that Iran’s atomic energy organisation would eventually require as “190,000 SWU”.

A group of Princeton University specialists estimated in a recent article on Iran’s enrichment needs that it would require about 100,000 SWU to produce enough low enriched uranium to provide fuel for the Bushehr reactor – the basis for Iran’s demand for an increase.

Khamenei also made a point of saying that the need was more than five years out, seeming to leave open the possibility that Iran would agree to hold off on adding the additional enrichment capacity he said was needed. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country,” Khamenei said.

The head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, who commented on the issue to various news outlets in Iran Wednesday, also employed a formula that avoided closing the door to negotiations on the question of when Iran would have to begin building more centrifuges. He told the Young Journalists’ Club that 190,000 SWU “is our real need, the most basic need, in an eight-year outlook.”

Salehi’s reference to eight years is related to the fact that the contract with Russia to supply nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor expires in 2021. Iranian officials have said Iran intends to take over the fabrication of fuel for Bushehr at that time, which would require much higher levels of enrichment capability.

Khamenei’s remarks suggest that Iran has adopted its own maneuvre aimed at positioning Iran to negotiate for a much smaller increase after a period of years in which Iran would hold at roughly the present level of operational enrichment capability.

An unnamed U.S. official who briefed reporters Jul. 3 said that the capability for “industrial scale enrichment” – i.e., the capability to provide fuel for Bushehr — “isn’t anything that’s under consideration.”

But the same official also said, “What choices they make after they get to normalcy — that is after a long duration of an agreement, when they will be treated as any other non-nuclear weapons state under the NPT – will of course be their choice.”

The official’s reference to Iran’s freedom to undertake enrichment once the agreement expires raises the question whether the negotiation of the termination date for the agreement could be the vehicle for reaching a compromise on the issue.

U.S. officials have not said anything publicly about the issue of the duration of the agreement. However, Robert Einhorn, whose long paper for the Brookings Institution published Mar. 31 was widely regarded as reflecting Obama administration thinking, said the United States wanted the comprehensive agreement to last “about twenty years”.

Iranian statements appear to rule out agreeing to any duration of more than five to eight years.

Another way to bridge the large gap between the two sides in the final days of the negotiation, however, may be to agree on a provision for review and adjustment of the level of enrichment capacity allowable under the agreement that would come shortly before the expiration of the Russian contract in 2021. Einhorn suggested such a review process for different provisions of the agreement.

Reviewing the longer-term level of Iranian enrichment after several years would allow Iran to demonstrate that it has not pursued a “breakout” capability by drawing down its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium and not allowing a new stockpile to accumulate. That is what Iran’s proposal is aimed at doing, as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told IPS in an interview last month.

Especially if the trend toward U.S. and Iran interests in relation to jihadist forces in the Middle East continues to develop during that period, a future administration might be far more willing to ease the present political restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in the final years of the agreement.

Whether the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) will continue to hold sway over Congress would remain a crucial question governing the politics of the issue, however.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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U.S. Demand for Deep Centrifuge Cut Is a Diplomatic Ploy Tue, 01 Jul 2014 01:24:23 +0000 Gareth Porter P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

P5+1 foreign ministers after negotiations about Iran's nuclear capabilities concluded on Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva. Credit: U.S. Dept of State/CC by 2.0

By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Jul 1 2014 (IPS)

With only a few weeks remaining before the Jul. 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.

But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.

The Obama administration has been aware from the beginning of the talks that the “breakout” period could be lengthened to nearly a year without requiring the removal of most of the 10,000 centrifuges that have been used over the past two and a half years.

U.S. officials were well aware that reducing the amount of low enriched uranium and oxide powder now stockpiled by Iran to close to zero and avoiding any future accumulation would have the same effect – and that Iran was willing to accept such restrictions.

David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for Safeguards, warned in a Jun. 3 article against a deal that would allow Iran to have more than 4,000 centrifuges in return for reducing its stocks of UF6 and oxide powder (UO2).

But they acknowledged that, if the Iranian LEU stockpile were reduced from the present level of 8,475 kg to 1,000 kilogrammes, the breakout time for 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges would be six months. And if the stockpile were reduced to zero, the breakout time would increase to close to a year, according to one of the graphs accompanying the article.

Experts from the Department of Energy as well as from the intelligence community certainly briefed policymakers on the fact that lengthening the breakout timeline to between six and 12 months could be achieved through reducing either centrifuges or the stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), according to Steve Fetter, who was assistant director at large for the White House Office of Science and Technology from 2009-12.

Eliminating the existing LEU stockpile and avoiding any further accumulation is the intent of an Iranian proposal formally handed over to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Istanbul last month. Under that proposal, which Zarif revealed in an interview with IPS in Tehran Jun. 3, Iran would convert all UF6 to Uranium oxide powder (U02) and then convert the U02 to fuel plates for Bushehr.

Iran has expressed the desire to fabricate fuel plates for Bushehr itself, but has not yet mastered the technology. The proposal would therefore involve shipping either UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent or the U02 to Russia for conversion into fuel plates until the expiration of the contract with Russia for fuel fabrication for Bushehr expires in 2021.

In the interim agreement, Iran committed to begin converting UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent to oxide powder as soon as its line for such conversion became operational. The Enriched U02 Powder Plant began operating in May, but the time required to reduce the existing stockpile to zero will depend on the capacity of the plant, which has not been announced.

Zarif told IPS he had unveiled the basic idea underlying the Iranian proposal in his PowerPoint presentation to European officials in Geneva in mid-October.

When Secretary of State John Kerry declared in April that he would demand a major increase in the existing “breakout” period to somewhere between to six and 12 months, therefore, he had good reason to believe that Washington could achieve that objective without cutting Iran’s centrifuges to a few thousand.

An agreement to freeze the existing level of 10,000 operating centrifuges while reducing the LEU stockpile to zero could place the 9,000 centrifuges that have never been operated in storage under IAEA seal. Those used centrifuges include 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges that are estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1 model.

Iran’s policy of introducing thousands of centrifuges into the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities that were never used was aimed at accumulating negotiating chips for eventual negotiations on its nuclear programme.

In late August 2012, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that Iran was being “very strategic” by “creating tremendous [enrichment] capacity,” but “not using it.” In doing so, the official said, Iran was acquiring “leverage” – obviously referring to future negotiations.

During the round of negotiations in Vienna in June, however, the draft tabled by the P5+1 apparently called for cuts going well beyond what U.S. officials knew would be acceptable to Iran. U.S. officials told the New York Times that the objective was now to lengthen the “breakout period” to more than a year – thus going beyond what Kerry had suggested in April.

The draft may have included an even more extreme demand from the French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in mid-June that the West wants to cut the number of centrifuges to “several hundred”.

After the June round of negotiations, Zarif denounced the draft as containing “excessive demands” which Iran would not accept.

But those demands appear to be a negotiating ploy in which the U.S. would give up the demand for deep short-term reductions centrifuges in the coming years in return for Iranian concessions on the level of enrichment capability to be allowed in the later stage of the agreement.

The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provided that the future enrichment programme would depend on Iran’s “practical needs”. Iran interprets that term to include the need to be self-reliant in providing reactor fuel for Bushehr, whereas the Obama administration argues that Iran can and should rely on Russia or other foreign suppliers.

Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements Iran had negotiated with French and German firms in the 1980s and with Russia in 2005, however, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.

The “practical need” criterion suggests that Iran would have to provide concrete evidence of its need and ability to provide the fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor when the current contract with Russia expires in 2021.

Postponing the negotiations over that issue until a date much closer to 2021 would offer a period of a few years to negotiate an agreement on a regional fuel consortium for the Middle East that would be acceptable to both sides, as has been proposed by a group of Princeton University scientists and scholars.

Perhaps even more important, such a postponement would allow for increasing trust through the successful implementation of the agreement covering the next few years.

Explaining the Princeton group’s plan at a briefing in Washington, D.C. last week, nuclear scientist Frank N. von Hippel, who was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology in the Bill Clinton administration, said, “We would have five years to cool down this impasse.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

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Q&A: “Fukushima Accident Still Ongoing After Three Years” Fri, 20 Jun 2014 14:29:51 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz

Fabíola Ortiz interviews MYCLE SCHNEIDER, nuclear energy consultant

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jun 20 2014 (IPS)

It has been three years since the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan. But the consequences are still ongoing due to continuous leaks of radioactivity into the environment, says independent nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider.

In 1997 Schneider won the Right Livelihood Award, considered the Alternative Nobel Prize, for alerting the world about the risks posed by the use of plutonium. He was appointed a member of the International Panel on Fissile Materials (IPFM), based at Princeton University, in 2007.

According to the scientist, the trend nowadays is towards fewer and fewer nuclear power plants operating worldwide. Instead of a renaissance, he says, the world is facing a decline in the use of this source of energy.

In this interview with IPS, Schneider also commented on the initiative Brazil and Argentina are developing as part of their mutual cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. In his opinion, it has the potential to be adapted in critical regions like the Middle East.

Q: What is the global situation of nuclear power as a source of energy?

A: The situation of the commercial use of nuclear energy is quite different from public perception. If one looks at the number of nuclear reactors operating in the world, the peak with the highest number of machines operating was back in 2002, twelve years ago. There were 444 nuclear reactors at that time.

Independent nuclear  energy consultant Mycle Schneider says nuclear power is actually in decline. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Independent nuclear energy consultant Mycle Schneider says nuclear power is actually in decline. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Now we’re standing at around 400. Officially there are 48 reactors operating in Japan but none of these is generating electricity. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to list all of these reactors as in operation.

So in reality, there is a significant decline. In Europe the peak was already in 1988, 25 years ago, where 177 reactors were operating at that time and now there are only 131 left – 46 units less.

We are not in the context of a so-called renaissance; we are facing a decline. The share of nuclear power in electricity generation worldwide peaked in 1993, 20 years ago. It was 17 percent then and is around 10 percent today. The trend is clearly towards a decrease in operating nuclear power plants.

Q: What are the lessons three years after the Fukushima accident?

A: Public opinion throughout the world was very much influenced by Fukushima. The use of this source of energy lost acceptance, in Asia much more than in other regions. In Europe as well with very large differences between countries, for example, in Switzerland enormously, in the UK a lot less, and in Germany the opposition was very much established. It changed a lot of things in countries like China and South Korea because those countries are much closer to Japan.

Society has operated nuclear power plants on a very simple equation: a very large danger potential multiplied with a very low probability of events equals acceptable risk. That equation blew up in Fukushima;people realised that low probability does not necessarily mean no event, zero risk.

The lesson, the most fundamental to be learned for society, is to reduce the danger potential in the first place. The energy contained in liquid natural gas tankers, for example, is just unbelievable: in terms of pure energy, it can be equivalent to over two times the Nagasaki bomb in one tanker. It is very unlikely that it will explode, but even if the risk was only 10 percent, the kind of damage that it could do is beyond imagination. And these bombs are all over the place.

Q: What did Fukushima represent regarding the safety of nuclear plants?

A: People think Fukushima was the worst case, but it was not. It can become much worse, it is not over. This accident is ongoing, it has been for three years. There are continuous leaks of radioactivity in the environment because the radioactive inventory is not stabilised.

It’s an unprecedented event in complexity, in size and in consequences. The biggest problem is that the methodology chosen by Tepco [the utility that operated the plant that melted down during the Mar. 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami] and the Japanese government appears inappropriate. We see that after three years the situation is very far from being stabilised.

The amount of radioactivity that has gone into water that was leaked into the basements is estimated to be roughly three times the amount of radioactivity released during the [1986] Chernobyl accident. This issue is vastly underestimated.

Q: Brazil and Argentina are developing a partnership of mutual cooperation in the nuclear field. How do you see this initiative?

A: Nuclear power in South America is insignificant for electricity generation and contributes only five percent in Argentina and three percent in Brazil.

The Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), that is focusing on non-proliferation issues, is technically difficult to assess from the outside, but it seems ABACC is staffed with 100 inspectors. That is a lot compared to the number of facilities to be inspected.

It is a very interesting initiative. We have discussed the possibilities of adapting this kind of approach to other regions, for example in the Middle East, which is one of the problematic regions.

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Deploying Morals Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Fri, 20 Jun 2014 05:01:05 +0000 Jassmyn Goh Panelists at the United Nations discuss the role of interfaith leaders in nuclear disarmament talks. Credit: Jassmyn Goh/IPS

Panelists at the United Nations discuss the role of interfaith leaders in nuclear disarmament talks. Credit: Jassmyn Goh/IPS

By Jassmyn Goh

With legislation, legality and policy at the forefront of governmental decisions on nuclear weapons, what seemingly gets neglected are our morals.

The controversial nature of the topic, combined with states’ inability to reach binding agreements on non-proliferation and disarmament, has prompted religious leaders to step in to fill the gap in civil society by educating their followers about the issue.

At a recent panel discussion at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, interfaith leaders sat down with members of the Global Security Institute (GSI) and the Philippines mission to the U.N. to discuss the moral compass that could guide progress on disarmament and deterrents.

In a jovial yet poignant statement, Libran Cabactulan, the Permanent Representative of the Philippines to the U.N., called the gathering a “last ditch” attempt to advance the issue, which appears to have reached a global stalemate.

“Religious voices can help set the moral compass for the community but they have thus far not exercised their moral persuasion in a sufficiently influential fashion." -- Jonathan Granoff, president of the Global Security Institute (GSI)
Cabactulan told IPS that governments have a tendency to use multilateral forums as platforms for discussing practicalities, principles and politics, rather than questions of right and wrong.

This is why, he said, religious and interfaith leaders have an important role to play.

During the panel discussion H.E. Archbishop Francis A. Chullikatt, from the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, urged religious leaders to join the dialogue for the sake of “future generations” because the issue of nuclear weapons concerns the very “future of humanity.”

“If we don’t prevail on this issue we have no future (because) by accident, design or madness the weapons are going to be used,” GSI President Jonathan Granoff told IPS.

There are some 17,265 nuclear weapons in the world today, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

If these weapons were to be used each explosion would be around eight to 100 times larger than the bombs used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

At least 2,000 of the roughly 4,400 deployed warheads are in a state of high operational alert.

The U.S. is responsible for 2,150 of the world’s deployed weapons, while Russia follows close behind with 1,800. France and the UK have 290 and 160 deployed weapons respectively.

Data for China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are harder to find, according to SIPRI.

According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, both Russia and the United States have recorded massive declines in their respective stockpiles over the years.

As of 2012, Russia had 4,650 active warheads compared to 45,000 in 1986, while the U.S. had trimmed its stocks from 31,000 in 1967 to 2,250 in 2012.

Still, the two superpowers remained far ahead of their counterparts in the P5 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council) including France, which has 300 active warheads, China (240) and Britain, which possess 225.

‘Limited’ role for civil society

GSI approached the Philippines mission as a partner largely due to Cabactulan’s leadership in the field as the 2010 Non-Proliferation Review Conference President. They collaborated with seven faith leaders along with the U.N High Representative for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), Angela Kane.

“We (UNODA) don’t [necessarily] target religious groups, but we have very strong partners in civil society and we really rely on them to be a multiplying factor,” Kane told IPS.

However, Kane noted that progress on the issue with the help of interfaith leaders was very limited.

“Progress is not dependent on you or I or religious leaders [but] on the member states making progress in these areas,” she said.

Granoff also said that although there had been many statements made by religious leaders about non-proliferation and disarmament their words have failed to gain much traction.

“Religious voices can help set the moral compass for the community but they have thus far not exercised their moral persuasion in a sufficiently influential fashion,” he said.

With 85 percent of the world’s people identifying with some form of organised religion, the potential for faith-based organisations to change public opinion is huge.

Granoff said he “would like to create a coalition of religious and interfaith leadership that would exercise their moral persuasion to their full capacity.”

“The United Religious Initiative and the Religions for Peace have a large footprint and engagement with many religious leaders and are seriously committed to the issue and I look forward to working with them,” he asserted.

With the next non-proliferation treaty (NPT) review conference to be held next year the ambassador expressed serious concern over the lack of movement from member states.

“Nobody seems to be interested, nothing is happening. In the latest PrepCom [the third Preparatory Committee meeting this year] they were not able to agree on practically anything,” he said.

“This worries me and everyone is saying that the NPT is done, done for disarmament and non-proliferation. I hope the NPT will not be thrown overboard because nothing happens, I say keep it and expand it.”

The treaty currently represents the only legal commitment made by nuclear weapon states to work towards disarmament, but progress has been painfully slow.

Kane also noted that funding for the process of disarmament is low. Within the U.N. system, UNODA is one of the smallest departments and was only allocated 0.45 percent of the world body’s 2014-2015 budget, despite the department’s crucial role in determining the future of humanity.

In contrast, member states shell out huge sums of money to maintain their nuclear arsenals. According to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), nuclear states spend nearly 300 million dollars a day on their nuclear forces.

The global advocacy coalition estimates that annual expenditure on nuclear weapons is close to 105 billion dollars, which works out to roughly 12 million dollars an hour.

Experts say the time is ripe for members of civil society, particularly faith leaders, to help turn the tide.

“I long to see a day when every pope, every sermon, [and every] synagogue around the world is trumpeting that these weapons of mass destruction are an instrument of the devil and an instrument of sin,” Cabactulan said.

“The clock is ticking and we do not know what is going to happen and maybe by a flick of a finger or a click of a mouse we [will] all [be] gone,” Cabactulan said.



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Zarif Reveals Iran’s Proposal for Ensuring Against “Breakout”* Fri, 13 Jun 2014 18:48:08 +0000 Gareth Porter Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Credit: CC by 2.0/BEHROUZ MEHRI/European External Action Service - EEAS

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Credit: CC by 2.0/BEHROUZ MEHRI/European External Action Service - EEAS

By Gareth Porter
TEHRAN, Jun 13 2014 (IPS)

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has revealed for the first time that Iran has made a detailed proposal to the P5+1 group of states aimed at ensuring that no stockpile of low-enriched uranium would be available for “breakout” through enrichment to weapons grade levels.

In an exclusive interview with IPS, Zarif described an Iranian plan, presented at the meetings with the P5+1 last month in Vienna, that would exclude weapons grade enrichment. “The parameters of the proposal would be set to continue Iran’s enrichment but to provide the necessary guarantees that it would not enrich to anything over five percent,” said Zarif.The proposal, which was later published by the Iranian government, included a series of “technical guarantees” against nuclear weapons proliferation.

The plan would involve the immediate conversion of each batch of low-enriched uranium to an oxide powder that would then be used to make fuel assemblies for Iran’s Bushehr reactor, according to Zarif.

Russia is currently converting oxide powder to fuel assemblies for Bushehr, but Zarif told IPS that by the time the contract with Russia expires in 2021, “we will certainly have the capability to convert the oxide to fuel rods domestically.”

The previously undisclosed Iranian plan is part of a broader negotiating stance that insists on the need for a large increase in the number of centrifuges it would have in the future – a demand that the United States and its negotiating partners have rejected.

Obama administration officials have made it clear that they are insisting on very steep reductions in the number of centrifuges, based on the argument that Iran cannot be allowed to have the capability to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade for a single nuclear bomb in less than six to 12 months.

Zarif said he could not discuss the details of the Iranian proposal, because it is “still being negotiated”.

But he described it as involving a complete cycle “from conversion to yellowcake, to UF6, to enriched uranium, back to oxide powder, and back to fuel rods,” all of which would be “designed specifically to meet the requirements of the Bushehr reactor.”

Zarif revealed that the Iranian plan for guaranteeing that Iran could not have a nuclear weapons capability is very similar to the proposal that Iran made to a meeting with the European three (U.K., France and Germany) in Paris in March 2005.

The proposal, which was later published by the Iranian government, included a series of “technical guarantees” against nuclear weapons proliferation. It describes one of those guarantees as “immediate conversion of all enriched uranium to fuel rods to preclude even the technical possibility of further enrichment.”

The U.S.-educated Zarif said he had developed that 2005 proposal himself when he was Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations, after he had consulted with a number of American nuclear scientists on ways to reassure the Europeans and the U.S. that Iran could not enrich enough uranium to weapons grade for a nuclear bomb.

“I asked them what would provide the necessary confidence,” said Zarif.  “They gave me a number of elements, which I put in a package and sent it to Tehran, and then took it to Paris.”

Zarif personally presented the proposal to the European foreign ministers and continued the negotiations with them, as he recalled in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post Sunday.

Frank N. Von Hippel, former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology and now a professor at Princeton University, confirmed in an e-mail that he had been part of a small group of American scientists and others who had met with Zarif to discuss the problem of how to provide assurances that Iran’s civil nuclear programme would not be used to support a nuclear weapons programme.

Von Hippel said his recollection was that the group had suggested “not building up a stockpile but rather shipping [the low-enriched uranium] to Russia to make fuel for the Bushehr reactor.”

Peter Jenkins, then the U.K. permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, participated in the Mar. 23, 2005 meeting at which the Iranian plan was presented.

“All of us were impressed by the proposal,” he recalled in a 2012 interview. The Europeans did not accept it as the basis for negotiation, however, because the George W. Bush administration had insisted that Iran not be allowed to have any enrichment whatsoever, according to European diplomats involved in that earlier phase of negotiations.

Zarif rejected the Obama administration’s position that Iran should obtain whatever reactor fuel it needs for Bushehr or any future reactors from Russia or other foreign sources rather than relying on its own enrichment capabilities. “People should not tell us you have to rely on us,” he said. “It is 30 years too late.”

He was referring to Iran’s experience with its reliance during the early 1980s on a French-based uranium enrichment consortium called Eurodif in which it had a financial stake acquired during the Shah’s regime that entitled Iran to 10 percent of the enriched uranium produced by the consortium.

After the Islamic Republic resumed the nuclear programme begun by the Shah, however, the French government prevented Eurodif from supplying any enriched uranium for nuclear fuel for the nuclear reactor at Bushehr in the early 1980s.

The U.S. State Department acknowledged in 1984 that it had not only ended its own nuclear cooperation with Iran but had “asked other nuclear suppliers not to engage in nuclear cooperation with Iran, especially while the Iran-Iraq war continues.”

The foreign minister ruled out the acceptance of the P5+1 proposal in the last round of negotiations, which reportedly would limit the number of Iranian centrifuges to a fraction of its present total of 19,000.

“We’re not going to redefine our practical needs,” he said, referring to the language in the Joint Plan of Action agreed to last November calling for agreement on an Iranian enrichment programme whose “parameters” would reflect Iran’s “practical needs”.

But the foreign minister indicated that Iran was “prepared within the scope of those practical needs to work on timing, to work on various technical details….”

Zarif criticised statements by former and present U.S. officials to the news media as well in the negotiations referring to demands that the number of Iranian centrifuges must be geared to the need to extend the time required for “breakout” to 6 to 12 months.

Some of the statements made to the press, including those by former State Department proliferation official Robert Einhorn, as well as some of those made in the negotiations “amount to posturing”, Zarif said, adding that they “amount to creating expectations that can never be met.”

“It will be much more productive if everyone involved refrains from shaping the debate in a way that [it] will be out of control,” said Zarif.

Zarif said the U.S. insistence on Iran’s ending of all enrichment at its Fordow facility, which is located in a tunnel under a mountain, is based on “the argument that you can’t have this facility, because otherwise we can’t bomb it.”

The implied assertion of the right to bomb Iranian facilities “strikes the wrong chord in the Iranian psyche and produces exactly the opposite reaction,” he said.

Zarif challenged the view reflected in Western news coverage that the Rouhani government is under strong political pressure to produce results in the talks that would remove the worst sanctions.

The last round of talks in Vienna, which were unsuccessful “has been the easiest time at home,” he said, and “the toughest time” for him as he had to explain “each positive result to a population that is extremely skeptical of the West’s intentions.” If he rejected a deal, Zarif said, he would receive a “hero’s welcome.”

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

* The fourth paragraph in the story moved on Jun. 13, 2014 has been corrected to reflect a further clarification by Zarif in an e-mail to IPS of Iran’s intention regarding the conversion of oxide powder to fuel assemblies. The ninth paragraph corrects one word in the quote from Zarif and adds updated information on Zarif’s role in personally presenting the 2005 proposal in Paris.

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Russian Manipulation of Reactor Fuel Belies U.S. Iran Argument Mon, 19 May 2014 23:20:22 +0000 Gareth Porter By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, May 19 2014 (IPS)

In the stalemated talks between the six powers and Iran over the future of the latter’s nuclear programme, the central issue is not so much the technical aspects of the problem but the history of the Middle Eastern country’s relations with foreign suppliers – and especially with the Russians.

The Barack Obama administration has dismissed Iran’s claim that it can’t rely on the Russians or other past suppliers of enriched uranium for its future needs. But the U.S. position ignores a great deal of historical evidence that bolsters the Iranian case that it would be naïve to rely on promises by Russia and others on which it has depended in the past for nuclear fuel.

Both Iran and the P5+1 are citing the phrase “practical needs”, which was used in the Joint Plan of Action agreed to last November, in support of their conflicting positions on the issue of how much enrichment capability Iran should have. Limits on the Iranian programme are supposed to be consistent with such “practical needs”, according to the agreement.

Iran has argued that its “practical needs” include the capability to enrich uranium to make reactor fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant as well as future nuclear reactors. Iranian officials have indicated that Iran must be self-sufficient in the future with regard to nuclear fuel for Bushehr, which Russia now provides. It announced in 2008 that another reactor at Darkhovin, which is to be indigenously constructed, had entered the design stage.

Former senior State Department official on proliferation issues Robert Einhorn has transmitted the thinking of the Obama administration about the negotiations in recent months. In a long paper published in late March, he wrote that Iran had “sometimes made the argument that they need to produce enriched uranium indigenously because foreign suppliers could cut off supplies for political or other reasons.”

The Iranians had “even suggested,” Einhorn wrote, “that they could not depend on Russia to be a reliable supplier of enriched fuel.” This Iranian assertion ignores Russia’s defiance of the U.S. and is allies in having built Bushehr and insisting on exempting its completion and fuelling from U.N. Security Council sanctions, according to Einhorn.

Einhorn omits, however, the well-documented history of blatant Russian violations of its contract with Iran on Bushehr – including the provision of nuclear fuel – and its effort to use Iranian dependence on Russian reactor fuel to squeeze Iran on its nuclear policy as well as to obtain political-military concessions from the United States.

Rose Gottemoeller, now Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, described the dynamics of that Russian policy when she was director of the Carnegie Moscow Center from early 2006 through late 2008. She recounted in a 2008 paper how the Russians began working intensively in 2002 to get Iran to end its uranium enrichment programme.

That brought Russia’s policy aim in regard to Iran’s nuclear programme into line with that of the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009).

Russia negotiated an agreement with Iran in February 2005 to supply enriched uranium fuel for the reactor and to take back all spent fuel. Later in 2005, Moscow offered Iran a joint uranium enrichment venture in Russia under which Iran would send uranium to Russia for enrichment and conversion into fuel elements for future reactors.

But Iran would not gain access to the fuel fabrication technology, which made it unacceptable to Tehran but was strongly supported by the Bush administration.

Bush administration officials then began to dangle the prospect of a bilateral agreement on nuclear cooperation – a “123 Agreement” – before Russia as a means of leveraging a shift in Russian policy toward cutting off nuclear fuel for Bushehr. The Russians agreed to negotiate such a deal, which was understood to be conditional on Russia’s cooperation on the Iran nuclear issue, with particular emphasis on fuel supplies for Bushehr.

The Russians were already using their leverage over Iran’s nuclear programme by slowing down the work as the project approached completion.

A U.S. diplomatic cable dated Jul. 6, 2006 and released by WikiLeaks reported that Russ Clark, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safety official who had spent time studying the Bushehr project, said in a conversation with a U.S. diplomat, “[H]e almost feels sorry for the Iranians because of the way the Russians are ‘jerking them around’.”

Clark said the Russians were “dragging their feet” about completing work on Bushehr and suggested it was for political reasons.

The IAEA official said it was obvious that the Russians were delaying the fuel shipments to Bushehr because of “political considerations,” calculating that, once they delivered the fuel, Russia would lose much of its leverage over Iran.

In late September 2006, the Russians changed the date on which they pledged to provide the reactor fuel to March 2007, in anticipation of completion of the reactor in September, in an agreement between the head of Russia’s state-run company Atomstroyexport, and the vice-president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

But in March 2007, the Russians announced that the fuel delivery would be delayed again, claiming Iran had fallen behind on its payments. Iran, however, heatedly denied that claim and accused Moscow of “politicising” the issue.

In fact, Russia, with U.S. encouragement, was “slow rolling out the supply of enriched uranium fuel,” according to Gottemoeller. Moscow was making clear privately, she wrote, that it was holding back on the fuel to pressure Iran on its enrichment policy.

Moscow finally began delivering reactor fuel to Bushehr in December 2007, apparently in response to the Bush administration’s plan to put anti-missile systems into the Czech Republic and Poland. That decision crossed what Moscow had established as a “red line”.

Obama’s election in November 2008, however, opened a new dynamic in U.S.-Russia cooperation on squeezing Iran’s nuclear programme. Within days of Obama’s cancellation of the Bush administration decision to establish anti-missile sites in Central Europe in September 2009, Russian officials leaked to the Moscow newspaper Kommersant that it was withholding its delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems for which it had already contracted with Iran.

Iran needed the missiles to deter U.S. and Israeli air attacks, so the threat to renege on the deal was again aimed at enhancing Russian leverage on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, while giving Moscow additional influence on U.S. Russian policy as well.

The Russian attempt to exploit Iran’s dependence on Moscow for its reactor fuel for political purposes was not the first time that Iran had learned the lesson that it could not rely on foreign sources of enriched uranium – even when they had legal commitments to provide the fuel for Iran’s nuclear reactor.

After the Islamic revolution against the Shah in 1979, all of the foreign suppliers on which Iran had expected to rely for nuclear fuel for Bushehr and its Tehran Research Reactor reneged on their commitments.

Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, sent an official communication to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on Mar. 1, 2010, stating that specific contracts with U.S., German, French and multinational companies for supply of nuclear fuel had been abruptly terminated under pressure from the U.S. government and its allies.

Soltanieh said they were “examples [of] the root cause of confidence deficit vis-à-vis some Western countries regarding the assurance of nuclear supply.”
The earlier experiences led Iran to decide around 1985 to seek its own indigenous enrichment capability, according to Iranian officials.

The experience with Russia, especially after 2002, hardened Iran’s determination to be self-reliant in nuclear fuel fabrication. The IAEA’s Clark told the U.S. diplomat in mid-2006 that, if the Russians did cut off their supply of fuel for Bushehr, the Iranians were prepared to make the fuel themselves.

It is not clear whether the Obama administration actually believes the official line that Iran should and must rely on Russia for nuclear fuel. But the history surrounding the issue suggests that Iran will not accept the solution on which the U.S. and its allies are now insisting.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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U.S. “Political” Breakout Demand Could Derail Nuclear Talks Thu, 15 May 2014 17:12:50 +0000 Gareth Porter By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, May 15 2014 (IPS)

As diplomats began drafting a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme and Western sanctions in Vienna Tuesday, U.S. officials were poised to demand a drastic cut in Iran’s enrichment capabilities that is widely expected to deadlock the negotiations.

Iran is almost certain to reject the basic concept that it should reduce the number of its centrifuges to a fraction of its present total, and the resulting collapse of the talks could lead to a much higher level of tensions between the United States and Iran.The Obama administration’s highly risky diplomatic gambit rests on the concept of “breakout time”, defined as the number of months it would take Iran to accumulate enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

The Barack Obama administration’s highly risky diplomatic gambit rests on the concept of “breakout time”, defined as the number of months it would take Iran to accumulate enough weapons grade uranium for a single nuclear weapon.

Both Secretary of State John Kerry and former U.S. proliferation official Robert Einhorn have explained the demand that Iran give up the vast majority of its centrifuges as necessary to increase Iran’s “breakout time” to at least six months, and perhaps even much longer.

Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control until June 2013, wrote in a report for the Brookings Institution that the number and type of centrifuges “will be limited to ensure that breakout times are…a minimum of 6 to 12 months at all times.”

In a separate article in The National Interest, Einhorn wrote that such a “breakout time” would entail a reduction from Iran’s present total of 19,000 centrifuges to “a few thousand first-generation centrifuges”.

Kerry suggested in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Apr. 8 that the administration would try to get a breakout time of more than one year but might settle for six to 12 months. He compared that with the two months he said was the current estimate of Iran’s breakout capabilities.

“Breakout” has been touted by hardline think tanks as a non-political technical measure of the threat to obtain the high-enriched uranium necessary for a bomb, but it is actually arbitrary and highly political.

Even proliferation specialists who support the demand to limit Iranian enrichment capabilities severely, however, including both Einhorn and Gary Samore, Obama’s former special assistant on weapons of mass destruction, believe that “breakout” is more about the politics surrounding the issue than the reality of the Iranian nuclear programme.

In an interview with IPS, Samore said the breakout concept can only measure the capability to obtain the necessary amount of high-enriched uranium from acknowledged facilities – those that are under inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It does not deal with a scenario involving secret facilities, he said, because it is only possible to estimate rates of enrichment in facilities with known quantities and types of centrifuges.

The use of the breakout concept is based on the premise that Iran would make a political decision to begin enriching uranium to weapons grade levels in its Natanz and Fordow plants as rapidly as possible. That would mean that Iran would have to expel the IAEA inspectors and announce to the world, in effect, its intention to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Samore, who left the Obama administration in January 2013 and is now the executive director for research at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Security, told IPS, “It’s extremely unlikely that Iran would actually take the risk for single bomb,” calling it “an implausible scenario.”

Samore is no dove on Iran’s nuclear issue. He is also president of United Against Nuclear Iran, an organisation that puts out hardline propaganda aimed at convincing the world that Iran is a threat trying to get nuclear weapons.

Another problem with the spectre of “breakout” is that, even if it took the risk of enriching the necessary weapons-grade uranium, Iran would still have to go through a series of steps to actually have a bomb that it could threaten to use.

A report released last week by the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted that calculations of breakout capability “are rough and purely theoretical estimates” and that they “omit inevitable technical hitches” and “an unpredictable and time-consuming weaponisation process.”

According to the testimony by director of the Defence Intelligence Agency. Lt. Gen. Ronald Burgess before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2010, that process, including integrating the weapon into a ballistic missile, would take three or four years.

The ICG report quoted a senior Iranian official as saying, “Serious people know that, even if Iran sought nuclear weapons, it will take years to manufacture one. What’s more, no state has ever invited opprobrium or a military strike just to produce a few kilograms of highly enriched uranium.”

In an interview, Jim Walsh of MIT’s Security Studies Programme was scathing about the “breakout” scenario the administration is using to justify its diplomatic stance. “The idea of Iran kicking out inspectors to rush to get one bomb is silly,” he told IPS.

Samore believed that Iran would be far more likely to try what he calls a “sneakout” – the use of secret facilities to enrich uranium to weapons grade — than a “breakout”.

But as is generally acknowledged by proliferation specialists, such a covert route to a nuclear weapons capability would take much longer than trying to do so openly. Furthermore, it is almost certain to be detected, as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in April 2013.

Despite his conviction that the breakout concept makes no sense as the basis for negotiations with Iran, Samore believes it will be “the test for any deal”, because it is the only way to measure it. “It’s a political fact of life,” Samore said. “It all gets boiled down to breakout time.”

The dominance that the breakout advocates have achieved in the lopsided Iran political discourse has given opponents of an agreement a new form of pressure on the Obama administration to make unrealistic demands in the negotiations.

Einhorn admitted at a panel at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington D.C. Tuesday that the decision on the length of breakout time and the level of centrifuges to be demanded “will come down to a political judgment”.

He clearly suggested, however, that the decision is primarily a response to political pressures from various unnamed parties and not a matter of finding a political compromise with Iran.

“Some say six months or less,” he said. “Others say you need a year. Some say a year and a half or two years.”

The former senior State Department official on proliferation issues insisted, moreover, that there was no possibility of accepting Iran’s explicit demand to be permitted to increase its enrichment capacity to as many as 30,000 centrifuges in order to support a nuclear power programme.

“That amount would bring breakout time down to weeks or days,” he said. “That’s breakout.”

He did not discuss the possibility of agreement on gradually phasing in additional centrifuges as the practical need for them is demonstrated by progress on a new nuclear reactor.

The tough talk by Einhorn, who has clearly been given the green light to describe administration thinking publicly, makes it much less likely that the administration will back away from a breakout demand in the face of firm Iranian resistance.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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Breaking the Rules Wed, 14 May 2014 17:17:29 +0000 John Feffer South Korea is now a rule-abiding participant in the global economy. If North Korea traded its nuclear weapons programme for a peace treaty, security guarantees, and economic development assistance, it might be able to accomplish the same trick. Credit: yeowatzup/cc by 2.0

South Korea is now a rule-abiding participant in the global economy. If North Korea traded its nuclear weapons programme for a peace treaty, security guarantees, and economic development assistance, it might be able to accomplish the same trick. Credit: yeowatzup/cc by 2.0

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, May 14 2014 (IPS)

Small underdeveloped countries, unless they suddenly discover oil or gold, are at a distinct disadvantage in the global arena. If they play by the rules, they will remain underdeveloped. Over the last half-century, very few countries have managed to jump from the Third World to the club of richest nations.

South Korea is one of the exceptions. It managed to jump over the development gap with luck, determination, and a willingness to break the rules. The luck was South Korea’s strategic location during the Vietnam War, which provided myriad business opportunities for companies that supported the U.S. military.For better or worse, both Koreas have recognised at some deep level that the rules of the game are rigged in favour of the already powerful.

The determination was the grit of an entire generation of people who sacrificed so much to send their children to university and thereby transformed a country of farmers into a nation of engineers, doctors, and lawyers.

The third factor, a willingness to break the rules, is the most controversial. The modernising authoritarian governments of the 1960s and 1970s were not content with the country’s comparative advantage at that time, which was to exporting raw materials.

Instead, the state directed strategic investments into sectors that produced goods that South Korea, if it were following the rules, would simply have imported from other countries. In this way, South Korea built up its iron, automobile, and shipbuilding sectors, and became a global leader. This commitment to the latest technologies laid the groundwork for future innovations in computers, software, and communications.

North Korea, in its own way, was following a similar path. It refused to take a subordinate position in the Soviet-dominated economic partnership known as Comecon. Instead, Pyongyang broke the rules of the Communist system by building up its own manufacturing capabilities.

Shut out of the capitalist global economy, however, North Korea hit a brick wall with its go-it-alone effort, and its economy began to decline after the 1970s.

But Pyongyang eventually discovered another way to break the rules and achieve something like parity with the most powerful countries in the world. Since its economy was declining relative to its southern neighbour, North Korea could no longer allocate enough money to maintain a conventional military that could serve as a deterrent.

So, it opted for the cheaper alternative: nuclear weapons. To do that, however, North Korea had to violate international rules and challenge the United States.

While other regimes that attempted something similar have failed—Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Muammar Qaddafi in Libya—the Kim dynasty appears to have succeeded with its strategy at least at one level. Although its economy remains marginal and the country labors under considerable sanctions, the political system has remained more or less intact into the third generation.

The rule-breaking spirit that unites North and South Korea has left them in very different circumstances. North Korea is a pariah state, and even its closest ally China treats the country with a measure of suspicion. South Korea, meanwhile, is profoundly integrated into the global economy and a web of security relationships.

The negative consequences of breaking the rules are apparent with North Korea. The regime has survived but at the expense of the people. The negative consequences of breaking the rules for South Korea require a bit more scrutiny.

For instance, South Korea’s ambition to catch up to the wealthier countries within a single generation required some cutting of corners, and those shortcuts sometimes proved fatal.

For many years, construction disasters were common in the country—such as the Wawoo apartment building in 1970s, the Seongsu bridge disaster in 1994, and the collapse of the Sampoong department store that killed more than 500 people and was the world’s deadliest building collapse at that point since the Roman era. All three disasters were caused by construction companies cutting corners.

The recent Sewol ferry tragedy reveals a similar inattention to rules, this time safety regulations. Accidents happen. But often what separates inconvenience from catastrophe is the amount of time and money invested in disaster preparedness. In the case of the Sewol sinking, the crew was clearly ill prepared for dealing with what was in fact a slow-motion disaster.

It’s important not to indict an entire society for the misdeeds of a few. In many respects, both North and South Korea are far more rule-bound societies than, for instance, the more freewheeling United States. But, for better or worse, both Koreas have recognised at some deep level that the rules of the game are rigged in favour of the already powerful.

The challenge is to figure out how to translate rule breaking into legitimate status rather than an outlaw reputation. In this sense, breaking the rules should be a ladder used to scale the heights before being kicked away. South Korea is now a rule-abiding participant in the global economy.

If North Korea traded its nuclear weapons programme for a peace treaty, security guarantees, and economic development assistance, it might be able to accomplish the same trick.

But the greatest challenge still looms. At a time when global inequalities are increasing, North and South Korea have to figure out how they can together break the rules and overcome the enormous economic, political, and social gap between the two countries. The rule, as established by West and East Germany, is that the more powerful absorbs the weaker, effectively canceling out the latter.

If the two Koreas manage to reunify the country in a more equitable fashion, one that honours the contributions and perspectives of ordinary North Koreans rather than simply forces them to behave exactly like South Koreans, then the countries will have transformed their mutual rule-breaking traditions into a new source of legitimacy for the peninsula as a whole.

John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

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Tough Road in Vienna to Iran Nuclear Deal Mon, 12 May 2014 22:27:30 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right), has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks. Credit: cc by 2.0

The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (right), has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, May 12 2014 (IPS)

Iran and world powers will resume negotiating a final deal on Tehran’s nuclear programme Tuesday in Vienna while experts warn the hardest work is about to begin.

Representatives from Iran and the U.S. indicated last month that the drafting of a final deal would begin during this round of talks scheduled for five days – the longest session since the extended talks that led to the interim “Joint Plan of Action” (JPOA) reached Nov. 24, 2013 in Geneva.“The U.S. and its partners in the P5+1 need to understand that Iran, too, needs to come out of these negotiations with its principles intact and something positive to show for the concessions it is being asked to make." -- Shaul Bakhash

“So far Iran has adhered to its undertaking, and it does seem that both sides are determined to see the negotiations through to success,” Shaul Bakhash, a leading scholar on Iran, told IPS.

“However, very tough negotiations lie ahead; and the fact remains that Iran will have to limit its nuclear programme in substantial and painful ways to satisfy the P5+1 [the U.S., U.K, France, China and Russia plus Germany] and to get sanctions lifted,” said the George Mason University professor.

While media reports have emphasised the Jul. 20 deadline for reaching a final deal under the terms of the JPOA, the agreement also allows for the negotiations to be extended by “mutual consent.”

“This is not a development that is landing in the laps of the negotiators,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear policy expert at the Washington DC-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“These negotiations began in a confidence-building mode by addressing low-hanging fruit and [the negotiators] did that because they know their biggest challenge is a lack of confidence and lack of trust,” he said.

“That means that as time moves along and the negotiations make more progress, the issues they address will become incrementally more difficult, and they’ve been prepared for that,” said Hibbs.

Since the JPOA went into effect on Jan.20, Iran has been scaling back and limiting parts of its nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. 

An Apr. 17 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran was complying with the JPOA, but Iran has complained that the lingering effects of the sanctions regime have prevented it from accessing the funds allotted to it under the accord.

Increasing domestic pressure

Attempts by members of the U.S. Congress to impose conditions that some experts likened to “sabotage” and “illusions” for a final deal following the Nov. 24 accord ultimately failed to produce binding legislation.

Those conditions included demands that Iran cease all uranium enrichment and dismantle its entire nuclear programme, two things Iran is allowed to have for purely peaceful purposes according to readings of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory.

But a successful attempt by the House to attach a “sense of congress” amendment onto the U.S. Annual Defence Bill on May 8 suggests that calls for more conditions for a final deal from Congress could increase as the talks intensify.

“You’ve seen Obama administration officials working very hard behind the scenes to disabuse Congress of any plans to impose additional sanctions that would get in the way of moving forward with Iran,” Hibbs told IPS.

“The real question is whether hardliners in the U.S. who are absolutely determined to prevent President Obama from having a success in this area would throw the baby out with the bathwater and jeopardise a substantial negotiated compromise because they oppose the president for political reasons,” he said.

“So there is pressure, but it’s pressure from the outside, not the inside,” added Hibbs, referring to determination on the part of Iran and the P5+1 to reach a final deal.

The Iranian team under President Hassan Rouhani, which is headed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, has also heard domestic criticism of their negotiating strategy ratcheted up in recent weeks.

“There has been criticism of the negotiating team from some members of parliament, commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, prominent members of the clergy and some right-wing newspapers,” noted Bakhash.

“These hard-liners suggest the negotiating team is giving too much away, and is not being tough enough,” he said.

On May 3, several hard-line Iranian politicians, clerics and commentators gathered at the former U.S. embassy in Tehran for a conference focusing on the talks entitled, “We’re concerned”.

The keynote speakers issued a joint statement arguing that a final deal should guarantee Iran’s rights as a NPT member to a peaceful nuclear programme, sanctions should be lifted according to a clear-cut timeline, and a final deal should be shown to the Iranian public and ratified by the Parliament before it’s finalised.

“The hardliners also seek to undermine Rouhani because they oppose much of his broader policy agenda: integration with the international community abroad; political liberalisation at home; greater freedom for the press; a decrease in the role of the state and an increase in the role of the private sector in the economy; and some curbs on the role of the security agencies and the Revolutionary Guards,” said Bakhash.

“However, it is also noteworthy that these criticisms have been kept relatively muted; or, at least, they have not been allowed to derail the negotiations. This is probably due to guarded support the Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given Iran’s negotiating team,” he added.

“Despite his own publicly expressed reservations and misgivings, he has allowed the negotiations to continue and to make progress,” he said.

“This suggests that he too wants a deal although his final terms may turn out to be unrealistic,” said Bakhash.

The make or break issues

According to Hibbs, the key issues that must be resolved for a final deal include:

  • how many centrifuges, which Iran uses to enrich uranium, can be operational;
  • the extent to which Iran will be able to do advanced research and development in sensitive technologies including centrifuges and lasers;
  • whether or not the powers and the IAEA can be satisfied that Iran’s programme is completely peaceful;
  • the terms of sanctions relief to Iran;
  • how long Iran must comply with the final agreement.

Hibbs said the length of an final agreement could be a major issue: “Some people in Iran have suggested a couple of years and those close to the administration have said 20 years.”

Another major sticking issue will be sanctions relief.

“The U.S and its partners in the P5+1 need to understand that Iran, too, needs to come out of these negotiations with its principles intact and something positive to show for the concessions it is being asked to make,” said Bakhash.

“Otherwise, the hardliners in Iran will jump on Rouhani and his negotiators for selling out Iran’s interests and gravely undermine the president,” he said.

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Eyewitness to Nuke Explosion Challenges World Powers Mon, 12 May 2014 21:54:08 +0000 Thalif Deen Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, triggering health and environmental problems which still plague the nation. Credit: Christopher Michel/cc by 2.0

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands, triggering health and environmental problems which still plague the nation. Credit: Christopher Michel/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen

When the Foreign Minister of Marshall Islands Tony de Brum addressed a nuclear review Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting at the United Nations last month, he asked whether anyone in the room had witnessed a nuclear explosion.

The question was met, not surprisingly, with resounding silence.

As a nine-year-old boy, the minister vividly remembered seeing the white flash of the Bravo detonation on Bikini atoll, six decades ago. It was 1,000 times more powerful than Hiroshima, he told PrepCom delegates, mostly proponents of nuclear disarmament.

A two-week-long meeting of the PrepCom for the upcoming 2015 review conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) ended in predictable disappointment.

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), told IPS the PrepCom succeeded in adopting an agenda for the 2015 conference.

But “to no one’s surprise, it did not accomplish anything else,” he added.

Washington's "Dismal Record"

In an open letter to U.S. President Barack Obama, a coalition of more than 100 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and anti-nuclear activists has blasted the United States for its "dismal record" on nuclear disarmament.

"The United States has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst," says the letter, whose signatories include the Western States Legal Foundation, the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Peace Action, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, American Friends Service Committee and Peace Action New York.

The letter urges the Obama administration to "shed its negative attitude and participate constructively in deliberations and negotiations regarding a creation of a multilateral process to achieve a nuclear weapons-free world. This will require reversal of the dismal U.S. record."

Unless Washington takes a more positive role in nuclear disarmament, the coalition predicts "this conflict may come to a head at the 2015 Review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)."

The criticisms in the letter include:

* Despite a unanimous 2010 agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear and Other Weapons of Mass Destruction in 2012, the U.S. State Department suddenly announced in November 2012 the conference be postponed indefinitely.

* In March 2013 and February 2014, Norway and Mexico respectively hosted two conferences on humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons. But Washington boycotted both meetings.

* In November 2012, the General Assembly established an open-ended working group to develop proposal for disarmament negotiations and scheduled the first ever high-level meeting on nuclear disarmament. The United States voted against both resolutions, refused to participate in the working group and declared in advance it would disregard any outcomes.

Burroughs, a member of the international legal team for Marshall Islands, said the most dramatic development of the PrepCom was the announcement of the Marshall Islands filing on Apr. 24 of lawsuits against the nine nuclear-armed states: the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, along with Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

The cases, before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, claim those states have failed to meet obligations of nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arms race under the NPT and general international law, said Burroughs.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands triggering health and environmental problems which still plague the nation with a little over 68,000 people.

The NPT, which came into force in 1970, requires a review conference to be held every five years. The last review conference took place in 2010.

The only nuclear powers which have refused to join the treaty are India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea (which joined and later withdrew from the NPT).

South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se, who chaired a meeting of the Security Council on Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), pointed out last week that North Korea “is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

“Notwithstanding the efforts of the international community, North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear weapons over the last two decades, and is now threatening its fourth nuclear test,” he added.

If North Korea succeeds in acquiring nuclear weapons, he said, it will seriously undermine the NPT regime and exacerbate tension and instability in Northeast Asia.

Ambassador Enrique Roman-Morey of Peru, who chaired the PrepCom, admitted the meeting was unable to agree on an action plan for NPT.

“But this was due to lack of time, not lack of political will,” he said, pointing out the PrepCom does not negotiate.

Asked about the difficulties facing negotiators, he said when nuclear issues are discussed there are problems “from the first letter to the last letter” in the negotiated document.

A “working paper” resulting from the PrepCom will be the basis for future negotiations at the Review Conference.

Under the treaty, all parties to the NPT pledge not to transfer nuclear weapons or assist or encourage any non-nuclear weapon state to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons.

Similarly, each non-nuclear-weapon state undertakes not to receive the transfer of nuclear weapons or manufacture or otherwise acquire them.

Burroughs told IPS the PrepCom, like previous such meetings in the years prior to review conferences, could not reach consensus on recommendations to the 2015 conference.

Many states rejected the effort of the PrepCom chair to craft a compromise document.

The NPT nuclear-weapon states effectively maintained that commitments made by the 2010 Review Conference relating to nuclear arms control and disarmament should be carried forward into the next five-year period, he added.

He said the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and other groupings of non-nuclear weapon states held that the 2015 conference should adopt a more far-reaching plan of action that leads to verified, timebound elimination of nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

Many non-nuclear weapon states also said the proposed recommendations should have taken much fuller account of the conferences on humanitarian consequences of nuclear explosions, the last two held in Norway and Mexico, as well as the first-ever High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament held in the General Assembly in September 2013.

Burroughs said the debate at the PrepCom set the stage for consideration of a crucial question going into next year’s Review Conference: “Should non-nuclear weapon states insist, even if doing so results in no agreed outcome, that the conference set in motion multilateral negotiations on achieving a world free of nuclear weapons?”

A serious effort to that end was made in the 2010 conference but was rejected by the nuclear weapon states.

“Or, should they once again, as in the 1995, 2000, and 2010 conferences, agree to lesser commitments that have gone largely unfulfilled?” he said.

Still, most of those commitments remain valid and relevant whatever the 2015 conference does.

Thomas M. Countryman, U.S. assistant secretary at the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, told PrepCom delegates that in 2015, Washington will “look to build upon the success of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, where the conference approved a comprehensive, 64-item Action Plan, the first of its kind in the NPTs 44-year history.”

He said the United States will issue a national report on the steps taken so far to implement key elements of the 2010 Action Plan that uses a common framework agreed by all five nuclear weapon states.

“We will also highlight our contributions to International Atomic Energy Agency programmes harnessing the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for efforts like fighting disease, improving food security, and managing water resources,” he added.

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Gaps Remain in U.N. WMD Resolution Wed, 07 May 2014 22:39:58 +0000 Thalif Deen While the resolution adds to the global WMD non-proliferation regime, there are concerns among several states about the instrumental use of the Security Council to bypass duly constituted multilateral negotiating forums. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

While the resolution adds to the global WMD non-proliferation regime, there are concerns among several states about the instrumental use of the Security Council to bypass duly constituted multilateral negotiating forums. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Thalif Deen

The United Nations claims that a key Security Council resolution adopted unanimously back in 2004 has been instrumental in keeping weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) from the hands of terrorists and insurgent groups worldwide.

At a meeting Wednesday to mark its 10th anniversary, Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said resolution 1540 has helped make important inroads against the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons over the last decade.The five major nuclear powers have consistently asserted they don't want WMDs to fall into the "wrong hands" - a code phrase for terrorists and insurgent groups.

But that only tells part of the story, he said, expressing regrets over “the setbacks and disappointments”, including the recent use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“However, through multilateral agreement, over 90 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have been removed from the country even as the conflict has intensified,” Eliasson added.

A U.N. team investigating the use of these deadly weapons in Syria last year found “clear and convincing evidence” of Sarin gas attacks against civilians, including children.

But the team was not mandated either by the General Assembly or the Security Council to probe whether the weapons were used by government military forces or armed insurgents – leaving the question of accountability wide open.

The mandate was only to determine whether chemical weapons had been used, not by whom.

Tariq Rauf, director Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS the resolution was adopted a decade ago to close the gaps in the domestic legislation of member states.

The primary aim was to prevent the spread or access to WMD materials and technologies to non-state actors such as terrorist groups or criminals through the implementation of legislation providing for effective controls and criminal penalties.

He said the resolution does not duplicate nor impinge upon existing multilateral non-proliferation treaties and organisations, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Eliasson told Wednesday’s meeting it is critical for every country to implement the resolution.

“Terrorists and traffickers tend to target countries whose customs, borders, imports, exports, ports and airports are less well monitored or controlled,” he said.

One promising trend, he pointed out, is the preparation of voluntary national implementation action plans.

At the recent Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, 32 countries released a joint statement reaffirming a commitment to submit such action plans to the ’1540 Committee’ coordinating the implementation of the resolution.

The Western powers have expressed concern that terrorist groups, specifically Al-Qaeda, may be attempting to acquire WMDs.

Still over the last 10 years following the adoption of the resolution, North Korea has gone nuclear while Iran is accused of trying to develop nuclear weapons (which it vehemently denies).

And Saudi Arabia has threatened to go nuclear if Iran joins the group of nine nuclear weapons states: including the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council, namely, the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia, along with India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

The five major nuclear powers have consistently asserted they don’t want WMDs to fall into the “wrong hands” – a code word for terrorists and insurgent groups.

But Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says “there are no right hands for wrong weapons.”

The anti-nuclear activists, who call for a total elimination of WMDs, say there are “no right hands or wrong hands” for nuclear weapons which should be removed from everyone’s hands.

Rauf told IPS the resolution adopted under chapter VII of the U.N. Charter is mandatory for all U.N. member states. It complements but does not replace nor is it a substitute for multilaterally negotiated arms control treaties.

A Security Council committee to promote implementation of 1540 has been set up to assist states in their implementation of the resolution. However, he said not all member states are reporting to the committee as the reporting format is considered quite complex and taxes the capacity of many states.

While the resolution adds to the global WMD non-proliferation regime, there are concerns among several states about the instrumental use of the Security Council to bypass duly constituted multilateral negotiating forums such as the Conference on Disarmament, and the U.N. General Assembly, where more or all states are represented.

He said the Security Council is not considered a globally democratic body as it has permanent members with a veto and a very small number of other states elected for two year terms.

In sum, the resolution is a useful instrument but it cannot be compared in importance or legitimacy to global WMD treaties since such treaties have been duly negotiated in open multilateral forums where member states have a say and thus have greater legitimacy and authority, he declared.

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U.S.-Dependent Pacific Island Defies Nuke Powers Fri, 25 Apr 2014 21:17:40 +0000 Thalif Deen A Patriot interceptor missile is launched from Omelek Island Oct. 25, 2012 during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency integrated flight test. Credit: U.S. Navy

A Patriot interceptor missile is launched from Omelek Island Oct. 25, 2012 during a U.S. Missile Defense Agency integrated flight test. Credit: U.S. Navy

By Thalif Deen

The tiny Pacific nation state of Marshall Islands – which depends heavily on the United States for its economic survival, uses the U.S. dollar as its currency and predictably votes with Washington on all controversial political issues at the United Nations – is challenging the world’s nuclear powers before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is being described as a potential battle between a puny David and a mighty Goliath: a country with a population of a little over 68,000 people defying the world’s nine nuclear powers with over 3.5 billion people."The United States should defend the case and widen the opportunity for the Court to resolve the wide divide of opinion regarding the state of compliance with the disarmament obligations." -- John Burroughs

John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy and the U.N. Office of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA), told IPS the Marshall Islands and its legal team strongly encourage other states to support the case, by making statements, and by filing their own parallel cases if they qualify, or by intervening in the case.

Burroughs, who is a member of that team, said the ICJ, in its 1996 advisory opinion, held unanimously that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations on nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.

And these cases brought by the Marshall Islands nearly 18 years after the ICJ advisory opinion “will put to the test the claims of the nine states possessing nuclear arsenals that they are in compliance with international law regarding nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date.”

The nine nuclear states include the five permanent members (P5) of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, the UK, France, China and Russia, plus India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Burroughs said three of the respondent states – the UK, India, and Pakistan – have accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court, as has the Marshall Islands.

For the other six states, he said, the Marshall Islands is calling on them to accept the Court’s jurisdiction in these particular cases.

“This is a normal procedure but the six states could choose not to do so,” said Burroughs.

Between 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests, triggering health and environmental problems which still plague the island nation.

Tony de Brum, the foreign minister of Marshall Islands, was quoted as saying, “Our people have suffered the catastrophic and irreparable damage of these weapons, and we vow to fight so that no one else on earth will ever again experience these atrocities.”

The continued existence of nuclear weapons and the terrible risk they pose to the world threaten us all, he added.

The suit also says the five original nuclear weapon states (P5) are continuously breaching their legal obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Article VI of the NPT requires states to pursue negotiations in good faith on cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and nuclear disarmament.

India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea are not parties to the treaty.

But the lawsuit contends that all nine nuclear-armed nations are still violating customary international law.

Far from dismantling their weapons, the nuclear weapons states are accused of planning to spend over one trillion dollars on modernising their arsenals in the next decade.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which is strongly supportive of the law suit, said, “The Marshall Islands is saying enough is enough.”

He said it is taking a bold and courageous stand on behalf of all humanity, “and we at the foundation are proud to stand by their side.”

In a statement released Thursday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa said, “The failure of these nuclear-armed countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes the world a more dangerous place.

“We must ask why these leaders continue to break their promises and put their citizens and the world at risk of horrific devastation. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time,” he added.

Burroughs told IPS the United States maintains that it is committed both to the international rule of law and to the eventual achievement of a world free of nuclear weapons.

“The United States should defend the case and widen the opportunity for the Court to resolve the wide divide of opinion regarding the state of compliance with the disarmament obligations,” he added.

The other five states which have not accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court are being asked to do likewise.

As to the case against the UK, a key issue is whether the UK has breached the nuclear disarmament obligation by opposing General Assembly efforts to launch multilateral negotiations on the global elimination of nuclear weapons, said Burroughs.

For India and Pakistan, because they are not parties to the NPT, the case will resolve the question of whether the obligations of nuclear disarmament are customary in nature, binding on all states.

He said it will also address whether the actions of India and Pakistan in building up, improving and diversifying their nuclear arsenals are contrary to the obligation of cessation of the nuclear arms race and the fundamental legal principle of good faith.

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Interfaith Leaders Jointly Call to Abolish Nuclear Arms Fri, 25 Apr 2014 19:18:34 +0000 Michelle Tullo Faith leaders gathered at the United States Peace Institute to solidify a common stance on nuclear disarmament. Credit: Courtesy of SGI

Faith leaders gathered at the United States Peace Institute to solidify a common stance on nuclear disarmament. Credit: Courtesy of SGI

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 25 2014 (IPS)

On the eve of next week’s meeting at the U.N. headquarters in New York on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), more than 100 representatives of 11 faith groups from around the world have pledged to step up their efforts to seek the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

Gathered at the U.S. Institute of Peace here Thursday, the participants, composed of influential representatives of the Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, among others, said their traditions teach that the threat posed by nuclear weapons was “unacceptable and must be eliminated”.“Nuclear deterrence theory does not work like it used to. In order to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, the only way is to create an era in which there are no nuclear weapons.” -- Hirotsugu Terasaki

Soka Gakkai International, a global grassroots Buddhist organisation based in Japan, hosted the event.

“The continued existence of nuclear weapons forces humankind to live in the shadow of apocalyptic destruction,” according to a statement issued at the end of the one-day conference.

“The catastrophic consequences of any use of nuclear weapons cannot be fully communicated by numbers or statistics; it is a reality that frustrates the power of both rational analysis and ordinary imagination.”

Signatories of the statement include representatives from the Muslim American Citizens Coalition and Public Affairs Council, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and Pax Christi International.

The conference, the latest in a series on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons, came as delegates from around the world prepared to convene in New York for the NPT PrepCom, set to run Apr. 28 through May 9. That meeting will help lay the groundwork for the 2015 Review Conference, also slated for New York, on implementing the NPT’s goals of non-proliferation and eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

“Nuclear deterrence theory does not work like it used to. In order to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons, the only way is to create an era in which there are no nuclear weapons,” Hirotsugu Terasaki, vice-president of Soka Gakkai and executive director of Peace Affairs of Soka Gakkai International, told IPS.

“The president of our organisation has said, ‘Nuclear weapons are not a necessary evil, they are an absolute evil.’”

Prodding the process

One goal of Thursday’s symposium was to flesh out the fatal consequences of nuclear weapons, including ramifications that go well the immediate fallout of a nuclear strike.

For instance, keynote speaker Dr. Andrew Kanter, former director of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told the participants of scientific findings that even a small detonation could cause a widespread deadly famine by accelerating climate change and disrupting global agriculture.

Others discussed the need to engage the Permanent Five members of the U.N. Security Council in the broader conversation. As a first step, Thursday’s statement will be presented next week to the chair of the NPT PrepCom.

“We need to think again about what we mean by security and how we experience security,” Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, said. “As faith-based communities, we are in a position to ask those kinds of questions.”

Since 1970, when the NPT became effective, its regular review conferences have produced few successes other than the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bars all nuclear explosions – including those, such as took place in the Marshall Islands, for testing purposes.

Additionally, the five nuclear-armed signatories have met annually since 2009. Last week, they met in Beijing where they reaffirmed past commitments and solidified a reporting framework to share national progress on meeting treaties.

Also present at Thursday’s symposium was Anita Friedt, an official on nuclear policy at the U.S. State Department. She described some of the reasons that nuclear abolition has been such a frustratingly slow process.

More than 100 representatives of 11 faith groups from around the world have pledged to step up their efforts to seek the global abolition of nuclear weapons. Credit: Courtesy of SGI

More than 100 representatives of 11 faith groups from around the world have pledged to step up their efforts to seek the global abolition of nuclear weapons. Credit: Courtesy of SGI

“Why can’t we just stop and give up nuclear weapons? This is really hard work,” Friedt said.

“If we just say today we’re just going to give up nuclear weapons, there’s no incentive for other countries to do so, necessarily. Unfortunately, it is more complex than it may seem at the surface.”

There are also significant bureaucratic challenges to the ongoing NPT negotiations. The U.S. Congress, for instance, failed to ratify the CTBT in 1999 and only barely ratified President Barack Obama’s New START Treaty – a strategic arms-reduction agreement between the U.S. and Russia – in 2010.

“It’s a slower pace than I would like; it’s a slower pace than our president would like,” Friedt said.

Yet SGI’s Terasaki says global faith communities are well placed use their broad leverage to try to influence, and speed up, this process. Thursday’s event, he noted, was the first time such a discussion had come to the United States.

“We want to help re-energise the voice of faith communities,” he said, “and explore ways to raise public awareness of the inhumane nature of nuclear weapons.”

Obligation to disarm

The conference occurred on the same day that the Marshall Islands filed an unprecedented lawsuit before the International Court of Justice against the United States and eight other nuclear-armed countries for not upholding their commitments to the NPT and international law.

“Article VI [of the NPT] defines an obligation to negotiate in good faith for an end to nuclear arms and disarmament,” David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and a consultant to the Marshall Islands lawsuit, filed Thursday, told IPS.

“This lawsuit indicates that each of the nuclear armed states are modernising their nuclear arsenal. You can’t modernise your arsenal and say you’re negotiating in good faith.”

Five countries are currently party to the NPT: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. However, the Marshall Islands is also suing India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan, claiming that those countries are bound to the same nuclear disarmament provisions under international law.

The small island nation, in Micronesia in the Pacific Ocean, is not suing for monetary compensation. Rather, its government wants the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to declare the nine countries in breach of their treaty obligations and to issue an injunction ordering them to begin negotiating in good faith.

Krieger says the Marshall Islands have “suffered gravely” as a result of nuclear testing carried out by the United States between 1946 and 1958.

“They don’t want any other country or people to suffer the consequences that they have,” he said, noting that the residents of the Marshall Islands have suffered health effects in the generations since the testing stopped, including stillborn babies and abnormally high rates of cancer.

Out of the nine nuclear-armed countries, only the United Kingdom, India and Pakistan accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction. The other six countries, including the United States, are not to be invited to the court in order to state their reasons for not fulfilling their obligations under the NPT.

Still, just to be sure that the United States answers for its responsibility to the NPT, the Marshall Islands has also filed a lawsuit in a U.S. federal court in San Francisco.

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U.S.-Russia Sabre Rattling May Undermine Nuke Meeting Tue, 22 Apr 2014 20:55:42 +0000 Thalif Deen U.S. Permanent Representative Samantha Power (left) speaks with Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right), and Vitaly Churkin (back to camera), Russia's Permanent Representative, in happier times, prior to a unanimous vote by the Security Council on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

U.S. Permanent Representative Samantha Power (left) speaks with Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right), and Vitaly Churkin (back to camera), Russia's Permanent Representative, in happier times, prior to a unanimous vote by the Security Council on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Thalif Deen

The growing tension between the United States and Russia over Ukraine has threatened to unravel one of the primary peace initiatives of the United Nations: nuclear disarmament.

As they trade charges against each other, the world’s two major nuclear powers have intensified their bickering – specifically on the eve of a key Preparatory Committee (PrepCoM) meeting on a treaty to stop the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."The spectre of war in Europe may give new impetus to efforts to ban the bomb." -- Alice Slater

The “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at a review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2000 and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal at the 2010 Conference, had augured well for the strengthened review process, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala told IPS.

But he warned that, “However the actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage.

“Unless the Third Prepcom reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT,” warned Dhanapala, who is also president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

The Third PrepCom for the upcoming 2015 Review Conference of the NPT is scheduled to take place at the United Nations Apr. 28 through May 9.

But a positive outcome will depend largely on the United States and Russia, along with the other declared nuclear powers, Britain, France and China, who are also the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council.

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, a programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS next week’s PrepCom is being held at a time of high tensions between the two countries with the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The United Nations describes the 1970 NPT as "a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament".

The treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states.

As of now, there are 190 parties to the treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon states, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

But the other nuclear weapons states - India, Israel and Pakistan - have refused to join the NPT. North Korea joined and withdrew in 2003.

She said neither of these countries has fulfilled their obligation to negotiate the elimination of these weapons and in fact, both spend billions of dollars upgrading them and extending their lives into the indefinite future.

“Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and the risk of their use by accident or on purpose warrants urgent action on disarmament,” Acheson added.

During 2014, she pointed out, the NPT nuclear-armed states must report on their concrete activities to fulfill the disarmament-related actions of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

The extent to which the nuclear-armed states can report the achievement of meaningful progress in implementing their commitments will be a strong indicator of their intention to serve as willing leaders and partners in this process, she noted.

But “none of the public releases issued thus far by the nuclear-armed states has given any reason to expect they have given serious consideration to the implementation of most of those commitments.”

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS there is “alarming sabre rattling on the eve of the NPT PrepCom.”

She said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) builds up its military forces to “protect” Eastern Europe. The media reports only part of the story, justifying NATO war games based on events in Ukraine; former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compares Putin to Hitler; and the New York Times front page blares “Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin”.

“Yet there’s little reporting on Russia’s security fears as NATO expands up to its borders, inviting even Ukraine and Georgia to join,” said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

This, she said, despite President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush’s promises to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that NATO would not expand beyond East Germany.

Nor is it reported how the U.S., in 2001, quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty, planting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, she added.

In his closing statement as president of the historic 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, which extended the treaty for an indefinite duration, Dhanapala said, “The permanence of the Treaty does not represent a permanence of unbalanced obligations, nor does it represent the permanence of nuclear apartheid between nuclear haves and have-nots.

“What it does represent is our collective dedication to the permanence of an international legal barrier against nuclear proliferation so that we can forge ahead in our tasks towards a nuclear weapons-free world.”

Slater told IPS that deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations bodes poorly for progress at the paralysed NPT process, which even before this latest eruption of enmity failed to implement the many promises for nuclear disarmament since 1970.

But this new crisis may motivate nations to press more vigorously for the process that began in Oslo (at the 2013 conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons), addressing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and urging their legal ban.

With 16,000 nuclear bombs in Russia and the U.S., non-nuclear weapons states must step up their efforts for a ban treaty, she added.

The P-5 nuclear powers boycotted these meetings in Oslo (in 2013) and Mexico (February 2014) while Indian and Pakistan joined 127 nations in Oslo and 144 in Mexico. This year, Austria will host a follow-up.

This new process raises a contradiction highlighting the growing reality gap in the “nuclear umbrella” states, Slater said.

They ostensibly support nuclear disarmament and deplore the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war in this burgeoning new global conversation about its humanitarian effects, while continuing to rely on lethal nuclear deterrence, she noted.

Article VI of the NPT requires all treaty parties to be responsible for its fulfillment.

“The spectre of war in Europe may give new impetus to efforts to ban the bomb,” warned Slater.

Acheson told IPS that unlike the other weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological weapons – nuclear weapons are not yet subject to an explicit legal prohibition.

“Now is the time to address this anomaly, which has been allowed to persist for far too long. History shows that legal prohibitions of weapon systems, their possession as well as their use, facilitate their elimination.”

She said weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate.

They lose their political status and, along with it, the money and resources for their production, modernisation, proliferation, and perpetuation.

In the context of rising tensions between two countries with nuclear weapons it is more imperative than ever that non-nuclear weapon states take the lead to ban nuclear weapons, Acheson stressed.

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Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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