Sunday, September 25, 2005

US senses 'victory' over nuclear Iran

The US was pleased that it got India to vote with it at the IAEA board meeting after New Delhi pleaded that a confrontation with Iran be avoided.

A rare vote in the International Atomic Energy Agency went in support of the United States after the US agreed to delay referring nuclear Iran to the UN Security Council for its alleged violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The US favours UN sanctions against Iran unless Tehran gives up its nuclear ambitions. The day of reckoning has been postponed. India, which decided to vote with the US and some other countries, hoped that a diplomatic solution would be found before the next IAEA board meeting in November when the issue will be formally revisited.

The US used the European board members as its front for dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran with which it has no diplomatic relations. This way, it has also taken them on board so that they join the US in case coercive diplomacy fails.

The US accommodated the wish of the Europeans to give Iran one last chance to return to the negotiating table and abandon its suspected nuclear bomb programme.

The first US-inspired draft resolution ran into vehement opposition after which it was modified to weaken the opposition by Russia, China, India, Pakistan and some other non-aligned countries.

‘History of deception’

The resolution does not refer Iran directly to the Security Council but charges it with “many breaches” of its nuclear safeguards agreement with IAEA. The resolution criticises Iran’s “long history of concealment and deception” in the nuclear programme.

The resolution got 22 of the 35 votes, with 12 nations abstaining and only Venezuela opposing. Both Russia and China were expected to oppose the resolution but on the last day they decided to abstain. They alone matter since they have the authority to say the last word if and when the issue goes to the Security Council. Either could use a veto in case some members of the Security Council seek to punish Iran with sanctions. Because of this division, the cold war allies failed at this stage to threaten Iran with a unanimous resolution.

Tehran could claim that all was not lost because the US had to force a vote that exposed divisions.

IAEA was originally established to promote atomic energy but later turned into a regulatory body by the nuclear haves. Normally, decisions by IAEA are taken by consensus, but this time the US was keen to see who was with it and who was against it. It won over the initially reluctant Europeans and India and even persuaded Russia and China not to oppose the modified resolution directed against Iran.

India on board

Its biggest diplomatic victory was to pressure India to make a choice between a new-found friend called the United States and traditional ally Iran. When the crucial hour came, India had to distance itself not just from Iran, but from Russia and China, with whom it works at a trilateral forum, and some of the fellow non-aligned nations who refused to be influenced by the US.

That did not dishearten the Bush administration as it got the Europeans on board and gained time to press ahead further towards its objective of denuclearising Iran. It secured India’s support for which it thanked New Delhi.

The Bush administration was quick to claim victory in Vienna and, even on a Saturday, two top officials were made available for conference calls by reporters. Mr Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said: “This is a significant steps forward in the international effort to isolate Iran. It’s also a significant setback for Iran’s nuclear strategy.” He said the US has a long-term strategy to isolate Iran and to ratchet up international pressure on Iran.

Mr Robert Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control, said the IAEA resolution contained a formal finding of non-compliance by Iran with NPT obligations and an explicit reference to the requirement to report the matter to the UN Security Council.

However, some of the nonproliferation lobby did not agree with the officials as, in their view, Iran should have been punished earlier. They believe the delay will be used by Iran to frustrate the US plan.