Originally Published 2003-11-14 07:24:51 Published on Nov 14, 2003
On 6 November 2003, US President George W. Bush made an 'excellent¿ and ¿noble¿1 speech (much acclaimed by analysts and the media) at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, whereby he launched a new ¿forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East'.
Iran's Dangerous Dabbling Irks the US
excellent' and 'noble'1speech (much acclaimed by analysts and the media) at the 20thanniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, whereby helaunched a new 'forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East'.While his treatment of Iraq was notably different, he could nothelp making a snide reference to Iran. He asserted, "In Iran, thedemand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw lastmonth…The regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demandsof the Iranian people or lose its last claim to legitimacy." Theseare, clearly, the harshest words used by the US President in theaftermath of Iran's cooperation with the International AtomicEnergy Agency (IAEA).

Incidentally, four days later, the IAEA Director General, MohammedElBaradei, sent a 30-page confidential report on Iran's nuclearprograms to IAEA's board members. The report enunciates that Iran'snuclear program goes back 18 years, much earlier than what Tehranhad declared2. As a belligerent Bush administration, citing the report,reiterated that it would urge other nations to take 'appropriateaction' against Iran's ability to make nuclear weapons3, Iran's President Mohammed Khatami warned that Tehran might endits voluntary cooperation if the IAEA's next report, scheduled on20 November 2003, bends to political pressures4. Iran was dismissive about observations by John Bolton, the topU.S. arms control official who said that he found the assessment ofthe IAEA "impossible to believe".5Bolton reportedly wants Iran's case taken to the U.N. SecurityCouncil, but that is possible only if the IAEA allots a negativereport about its nuclear activities. Meanwhile, Iran's ambassadorto the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, added, "We cannot convince somebodywho doesn't want to be convinced".6

While Iran has allotted the IAEA a full and honest account of itsnuclear activities, as well as 'temporarily' suspended (10 November2003 onwards) all uranium-enrichment and plutonium-reprocessingactivity in the country, the international community, especiallythe US, continues to remain skeptical about Iran's nuclearambitions. Iran has repeatedly denied America's accusation that itis using its civil nuclear-power program as a cover forbomb-making. But it has been compelled, by leaks from Iranianopposition forces and findings by IAEA inspectors, to change itsstory several times. It has now owned up to possessing secretnuclear facilities. The report said that Iran had a centrifugeuranium enrichment program for 18 years and a hi-tech laserenrichment program for 12 years, both of which it concealed fromthe UN. It also stated that Iran had admitted to producing smallamounts of plutonium and uranium metal, both of which are usefulsteps towards making a nuclear bomb but of little help ingenerating electricity, despite Iran's insistence that this is allit is up to. However, the report states that there is no evidence,so far, that the country's secret experiments were part of abomb-making program. The report is sharply critical of Iran forcontinuing a deliberate policy of concealment right up until lastmonth, "with cooperation being limited and reactive and informationbeing slow in coming, changing and contradictory."7The IAEA is particularly anxious on account of discovering tracesof highly-enriched uranium (enriched well beyond civilian needs):Iran blames contaminated machinery imports.8

Albeit the U.S. has seemingly welcomed Iran's new openness toinspections, it is unconvinced of the fact that Iran hasrelinquished its nuclear desires, instead, has just decided topursue them for the time being within the nuclear rules. "Iran'snuclear-weapons program and its now well-documented pattern ofnuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) safeguard violations aredeeply troubling," said a senior U.S. State Department official.9He added that the U.S. believes that Iran has no legitimate need topursue either enrichment or plutonium reprocessing. Gary Milhollin,director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, added:"The report is a stunning revelation of how far a country can getin making the bomb while pretending to comply with internationalinspections."10Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell had responded tothe IAEA report by saying that the Iranian people wanted theirfreedom back and referred to Iranian clerics as people who had"dragged the sacred garments of Islam into the political gutter".11The remark evinced angry criticism from the Iranian state radio,which described Powell's remark as "extremely offensive".

Furthermore, the U.S. particularly fears that within a decade, Irancould place nuclear warheads on its Shahab-3 missiles, which couldreach Israel. A U.S. intelligence report heard by Congress earlierthis year expressed concern that Iran's nuclear agenda includedproducing "fissile material for nuclear weapons".12In July 2003, Iran brought into service a new missile capable, intheory, of carrying a nuclear warhead as far as Israel, or indeedreaching American bases in the Middle East. Although Iran arguesthat they only produced tiny quantity of fissile materials, theyreveal that the country has mastered some of the most importantstages in nuclear bomb-making. Thus, if it ever pulled out of theNPT, Iran could quickly have such weapons ready.

On 20 November 2003, the IAEA's board will meet to decide what todo about Iran's latest admissions. Some member countries are likelyto argue that Iran's new cooperativeness should be rewarded, whileothers may call for its breaches of the NPT to be reported to theUnited Nations Security Council. Hence, although Iran might rest inthe belief that it has done 'just enough' to avoid the SecurityCouncil's censure - with the IAEA not yet satisfied with the tracesof highly enriched uranium found in Iran and the US lobbying hardto declare Iran in violation of the NPT at the 20 November meeting,leading to possible U.N. Security Council sanctions - Iran willhave to work harder to assuage the international community'sworries over its capacity to develop nuclear bombs. So, while Iranseems perched at a moment of excruciating wait, President Bush willhave to wait a while for the realization of his 'forward strategyof freedom in the Middle East'.
  1. The words in single quotes were used by William Safire, "Bush's noble speech you didn't hear," International Herald Tribune , 11 November 2003.

  2. Nazila Fathi, "Iran's Leader Says UN Report Removes Suspicions of Weapons," The New York Times , 13 November 2003.

  3. Tom Carter, "U.S. urges 'appropriate action' on Iran's nukes," The Washington Times , 12 November 2003.

  4. Nazila Fathi, "Iran's Leader Says UN Report Removes Suspicions of Weapons," The New York Times , 13 November 2003.

  5. Atul Aneja, "Iran dismisses U.S. remarks," The Hindu , 14 November 2003.
  6. Ibid.

  7. "Dangerous Dabbling," The Economist, 11 November 2003.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Tom Carter, "U.S. urges 'appropriate action' on Iran's nukes," The Washington Times , 12 November 2003.
  10. Nazila Fathi, "Iran's Leader Says U.N. Report Removes Suspicions of Weapons," T he New York Times , 13 November 2003.
  11. "UN report says Iran has plutonium", BBC News, 12 November 2003.
  12. "Iran's Nuclear Disclosures May Hurt U.S.", The New York Times , 11 November 2003.
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