A November 8 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear regulatory authority, has been used by the United States and other Western powers as a pretext for a new round of economic sanctions against Iran and the ramping up of belligerent rhetoric.
“The phraseology is ponderous but the message is clear,” BBC diplomatic and defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus explained on November 8. “Iran, the IAEA believes, may well have been working on research for a nuclear bomb to arm one of its long-range missiles.”
However, the phraseology is not just ponderous but vague. Like previous IAEA reports, it contains no new evidence of any actual Iranian nuclear bomb-making activity.
Evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program remains limited to evidence that it is possible that Iran has contingency plans for using its civil nuclear program for military purposes in the future.
As with previous IAEA reports, all enriched uranium produced by the Iranian nuclear program was tracked and accounted for.
What was new about the report was that it reflected changes in the leadership of the IAEA.
Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh told Democracynow.org on November 21: “It’s not a scientific report, it’s a political document.
“It takes a lot of the old allegations that had been made over the years, that were looked at by the IAEA, under … Mohamed El Baradei, … somebody who was very sceptical of Iran in the beginning and became less so”
An October 16, 2009, secret cable from the US diplomatic mission to the UN in Vienna (since published by WikiLeaks) revealed US satisfaction at ElBaradei’s replacement.
The cable said: “IAEA Director General-designate Yukiya Amano thanked the U.S. for having supported his candidacy and took pains to emphasize his support for U.S. strategic objectives for the Agency.
“Amano reminded Ambassador on several occasions that he would need to make concessions to the G-77 [bloc of Third world countries] … but that he was solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision, from high-level personnel appointments to the handling of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.”
Hersh told Democracynow.org that in response to his articles criticising the beat-up of the supposed Iranian nuclear threat, people inside the IAEA contacted him saying they shared his concern about the organisation’s politicisation.
“I get emails … from people on the inside saying, ‘Way to go’,” he said. “I’m talking about inside the IAEA. It’s an organisation that doesn’t deal with the press, but internally, they’re very bothered by the direction Amano is taking them.”
On November 21, the US, Canada and Britain announced new sanctions.
The BBC said on November 22: “The US named Iran as an area of ‘primary money laundering concern’ to dissuade non-US banks from dealing with Tehran. It also blacklisted 11 entities suspected of aiding Iran’s nuclear programme [and] expanded sanctions to target companies that aid Iran’s oil and petrochemical industries.
“Britain ordered all British financial institutions to stop doing business with their Iranian counterparts, including the central bank. Canada said it would immediately ban the export to Iran of all goods used in the petrochemical, oil and gas industries.”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed freezing the assets of Iran’s central bank and on November 24, France announced it would restrict imports Iranian crude oil.
South Korea is also foreshadowing increased sanctions against Iran, as is the European Union.
China and Russia have both opposed the new round of sanctions.
Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Alexander Lukashevich said on November 22: “We again underline that the Russian Federation considers such extraterritorial measures unacceptable and contradictory to international law …
“We believe that the constant augmentation of sanctions has long since gone beyond the framework of accomplishment of non-proliferation tasks in the context of the Iranian nuclear program.”
Western countries began imposing sanctions when students took over the US embassy and took its staff hostage during the Iranian revolution of 1979.
Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions have been the pretext of sanctions imposed since 2006 by various Western powers and international institutions, including the UN.
Consequently, Iranian economic ties are mainly with China and Russia. The Iranian government has expressed a lack of concern over the new sanctions.
The November 23 Tehran Times reported that Iranian foreign ministry spokesperson Ramin Mehmanparast said: “Such measures are condemned by our people and are ineffective and futile. It is interesting that the countries which are making such remarks are either on the brink of political and economic collapse or are about to experience it.”
A November 23 article from the official Fars News Agency said the new sanctions were fuelling rising crude oil prices in the West.
What effects the sanctions do have on Iran are likely to be felt most by ordinary people. Iranian-American journalist Maryam Zar wrote in the Huffington Post on November 23: “The women will be inched out of the workforce first as the economy shrinks. No member of the Islamic republic’s ruling class will lose their jobs or suffer the indignation of poverty.
“But the women who work as tailors, housekeepers, shop sellers, fruit vendors, office maids, cooks or assembly-line workers will find themselves nudged out of the jobs that keep a humble roof over their heads and plain food on the family table.”
Western sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program have always gone along with military threats, both verbal and manoeuvres and deployment of weapons.
Hersh noted the development for the US military by Boeing of horrifically powerful 30,000-pound “bunker buster” bombs has been publicly linked to Iran’s IAEA-monitored civilian nuclear facilities being underground.
In 1981, Israel bombed a nuclear power plant under construction in Iraq and Israeli leaders frequently threaten to do the same to Iran. They argue the “existential threat” that a nuclear-armed Iran could pose to Israel could justify a larger attack.
In a November 20 interview with CNN, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak again refused to rule out militarily attacking Iran.
He said: “I don’t think that that’s a subject for public discussion but I can tell you that the IAEA report has a sobering impact … people understand that the time had come ...
“People understand now that Iran is determined to reach nuclear weapons. No other possible or conceivable explanation for what they had been actually doing. And that should be stopped.”
Israel is the only state in the Middle East to actually possess nuclear weapons ― between 70 and 400 warheads, according to the Federation of American Scientists.
This stockpile was produced with assistance from the US, France and Apartheid South Africa and continues to be maintained despite Israel not having signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, without IAEA inspections or any form of accountability.
In fact, this nuclear weapons program would have remained secret had it not been exposed by Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu in 1986.
Vanunu was abducted and jailed for 18 years (11 years in solitary confinement). Since his release in 2004, he has been subjected to a draconian form of parole that bars him from travelling, speaking to foreigners or even having a phone. He has been frequently re-imprisoned.
Israel’s hypocrisy, however, is surpassed by its allies. The US monopolises most of the world’s nuclear weapons and is the only state to have deployed them against civilians as an act of war.
Britain and France are also major nuclear powers, and like the US, they have exposed civilians to nuclear radiation through bomb-testing. Indigenous people in Australia and the Pacific have borne the brunt of US, British and French nuclear testing.
Regional power struggle
The West’s desire to pressure Iran has nothing to do with its nuclear program. The failure of George W Bush’s attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East to US advantage left the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan relying on local forces allied to Iran, strengthening the Iran’s position in the region.
Furthermore, Arab dictatorships aligned with the West have been threatened by the Arab Spring uprisings, undermining the West’s position.
Iran’s size and relative economic and military strength make a full-scale military invasion unlikely. Whether Israel intends carrying out its threat of bombing raids on nuclear facilities is unclear.
US politicians sometimes play up Israel’s “mad dog” approach to international relations ― suggesting the US may not be able to stop Israel attacking.
This is rhetoric. Israel’s total economic dependence on the West, including US$4 billion US military aid each year, means that if an attack occurs, it is with US approval.
Whatever the West’s plans, under Amano the IAEA is more likely to provide a pretext for further aggression.