A sadistic streak permeates the mainstream commentary on Iran. No attack on its sovereignty by the US and Israel, however egregious, has succeeded in satiating the appetite of journalists for further conflict.
Though this atmosphere of war-mongering is at its most febrile in the USA, the British press has resonated with the same mendacious justifications, the same enthusiastic paeans to the efficacy of air strikes, that were ardently peddled in the lead-up to the Iraq debacle. Just as Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction, so Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Just as Saddam was led by a maniacal dictator intent on war, so Iran is led by mad mullahs with a suicidal penchant for nuclear strikes against Israel.
The recently released IAEA report, showing an intensification in Iran’s enrichment activities, is likely to be eagerly alighted upon in both countries as yet a further pretext for war. The suspect nature of reports issuing from the IAEA these days seems not to disconcert Iran’s critics. The fact the UN agency is currently headed by a man whom a US embassy cable (released by wikileaks) describes as ‘firmly in the American court’ on most strategic issues, is something conveniently omitted in most accounts.
Moreover, the technical flaws in its previous November report, which suggested ongoing, illicit efforts at nuclear weapons’ development, are rarely alluded to. Robert Kelley – a former IAEA inspector – stated that there was virtually no new evidence adduced in that earlier report of nuclear weapons’ development, and what evidence it contained was of a highly dubious character. However, disregarding these issues of credibility, and taking on trust the IAEA’s suggestions that Iran is intensifying enrichment of uranium, this still does not amount to a breach of Iran’s international obligations or evidence of an active nuclear weapons’ program.
Any honest assessment of US policy must acknowledge that Iran is under no legal compulsion to cease uranium enrichment and cede control over its stockpile to foreign powers. The NPT treaty to which it is a signatory allows it to develop nuclear power for civilian purposes.
Despite the hyperbolic claims with which newspapers are replete, no report from the IAEA has ever succeeded in establishing that Iran’s nuclear program is anything other than civilian in nature. Indeed, all 16 US intelligence agencies concur in concluding that Iran has not even made a decision to pursue nuclear weapons, let alone embarked upon such a program. Any Iranian refusal to submit to arbitrary US dictates and cease enrichment is thus neither reprehensible, if international law is accepted as the standard of acceptable behavior, nor an indication of a nefarious scheme to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Its decision to even countenance such demands should be considered a concession to the caprice of external powers, not a fulfillment of its obligations under international law.
Nevertheless, subscribing to the premise that journalists unconsciously adopt – that US demands, not international law, constitute the sole criteria for assessing the legitimacy of Iran’s nuclear program – it is worth recalling who drove Iran to enrich uranium to 20 percent levels in the first place. For the history of negotiations shows that Iran has engaged in good faith efforts to many many of the unjust demands imposed on it.
This became strikingly evident in May 2010, when Brazil and Turkey successfully brokered a deal that entailed Iran shipping out of the country 50 percent of its enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel. Iran required nuclear fuel for its Tehran Research reactor, which produces medical isotopes needed in the treatment of millions of cancer sufferers. 20 percent enrichment is a necessary prerequisite for production of such fuel, but rather than expand its enrichment activities, Iran was willing to relinquish control over its uranium stockpile in return for fuel rods that would have been nigh on impossible to use as material for a nuclear bomb. Under the provisions of the agreement , the uranium would be held in a third country under the custody of the IAEA – Turkey – till Iran received the fuel, as a guarantee against the US reneging on its end of the bargain. However, the deal was peremptorily rejected by the US in favour of a new round of sanctions to which it had just secured the assent of Russia and China in the Security Council. Hillary Clinton was particularly vituperative in her condemnation of a negotiated settlement that undercut the spurious justifications being proferred for sanctions. Within the mainstream media, the reaction was no less dispiriting, as pundits lined up to disparage Brazil and Turkey as dupes who had been so credulous as to succumb to Iranian diplomatic ploys. Sage US journalists castigated the two countries for naively believing that Iran could be dissuaded from pursuing its non-existent nuclear weapons program through negotiations, and lauded by contrast the imposition of harsher sanctions that rendered a peaceable resolution to the impasse increasingly unlikely.
Those who seek to trivialize Iranian overtures as insincere or insufficiently comprehensive have, however, one problem to contend with: the May 2010 agreement satisfied all the conditions the White House had officially delineated for a viable settlement. Affronted by US duplicity and the furious media reaction their efforts to avert sanctions had provoked, Presidents Lula and Erdogan publicized identical letters addressed to them from Obama in which the President not only encouraged their attempts at negotiation, but outlined the requirements an eventual deal would have to meet to be deemed acceptable to the USA. Iran, Obama stated, would have to hand over 1200kg of its low enriched uranium, which would be held ‘in escrow’ in a third country as a guarantee that nuclear fuel supplies would be forthcoming. 1200kg is the same amount of uranium that Iran pledged to give up in the settlement concluded with Brazil and Turkey. The subsequent US failure to avail itself of the opportunity to embrace a deal for which it had supposedly been striving, is perplexing only to who seriously entertain US assurances that its policy is animated by concern over a nuclear weapons’ program. The only plausible inference from this episode is that US efforts were themselves insincere, and encouragement was offered to Brazil and Turkey in the expectation that talks would fail and supply a further pretext for restricting trade with Iran. The ultimate result has been that, to the chagrin of the West, Iran continues to enrich uranium but to even higher levels than it did previously.
Mainstream media attempts to characterize sanctions as a diplomatic measure to force an intransigent Iran back to the negotiating table are hence insidious lies, since sanctions were clearly instituted as an alternative to negotiations. Sanctions are a policy to precipitate war, not to obviate it. How else are we to construe the absurd spectacle being currently enacted amongst Western powers in their dealings with Iran? Despite assurances from the EU negotiator, Baroness Ashton, before talks commenced that any future agreement would have regard to the NPT, the current round of negotiations ended in failure in Moscow when the P5+1 refused to ease sanctions in answer to Iranian offers to suspend 20 percent uranium enrichment. For Western powers, this offer was deemed unsatisfactory, because their objections were never over a specific level of enrichment or a supposed nuclear weapons’ program, but enrichment itself.
Until the West relents and recognizes Iran’s basic right to enrich uranium – a right recently acknowledged by two thirds of the world’s nations at a non-aligned summit in Tehran – then the charade of failed negotiations is destined to repeat itself ad nauseam, giving fodder to those who view diplomacy as merely an irksome prelude to war.
Joseph Richardson is a freelance journalist for Voice of Russia radio station in London. He studied history at Merton College, Oxford.