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The Iran Issue

Since the end of the cold war, the US has been seeking to establish a permanent global dominance, to achieve which dominance over the strategically vital region of west Asia is essential. The aim of the US vis-à-vis Iran has been how to undermine the regime and make it subordinate. The US wants to go to any extreme to have an excuse to put the squeeze on Iran in consonance with its wider ambitions, which go beyond the issue of that Asian country's nuclear weapons-making prospects. For India, the options are clear enough, but are not reflected in the position of either the UPA government or the Left.

Nuclear notebook

The Iran Issue

Since the end of the cold war, the US has been seeking to establish a permanent global dominance, to achieve which dominance over the strategically vital region of west Asia is essential. The aim of the US vis-à-vis Iran has been how to undermine the regime and make it subordinate. The US wants to go to any extreme to have an excuse to put the squeeze on Iran in consonance with its wider ambitions, which go beyond the issue of that Asian country’s nuclear weapons-making prospects. For India, the options are clear enough, but are not reflected in the position of either the UPA government or the Left.


he latest decision by the big five countries, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to call for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to submit a report on Iran’s nuclear energy activities and facilities to the UNSC lets the UPA government led by the Congress off the hook. Not only does it not have to confront the Left internally, it can now also hope that the Left falls quietly into line behind the Russians and the Chinese, who themselves have backtracked vis-à-vis the US on this issue.

The Left is trying to put a brave face on matters by pointing out that this is a collective decision to have the IAEA “report” to the UNSC in a month’s time and then depending on that report to take up the issue of possible sanctions. So a month’s time has been bought and the issue of whether the UNSC will go in for sanctions is still left open. Nonetheless, the fact of the matter is that the file on Iran is going to be referred, i e, sent to the UNSC with the endorsement of the P-5 and its backers on the IAEA governing board. The UNSC like the IAEA can also be manipulated by the US. But unlike the IAEA the UNSC has powers of enforcement of whatever decision it subsequently or eventually arrives at, e g, future imposition of sanctions.

US Strategy

But before trying to assess its implications for India, one needs to start one’s analysis from where one should always start – namely by first understanding the overall strategic perspective of the most powerful country, the US, within which the games that have been played over Iran by all comers needs to be situated. The US is playing for huge stakes. In comparison, the Indian government is playing for very small stakes but pretending that these are much bigger stakes in order to justify its foreign policy stand in support of the US.

The US since the end of the cold war has been seeking to establish a permanent global dominance, an informal global empire, or what some prefer to call a stable and enduring unipolarity. To achieve this it must achieve dominance over the strategically vital region of west Asia. This in turn means it has to reverse the greatest political-strategic defeat it suffered in this region, namely, the overthrow of the former Shah of Iran and the establishment of a more intransigent clerical regime which for all its support to the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (for its own reasons) is fundamentally independent and not suborned in its foreign policy to the US and has been and can be strongly opposed to certain US imperial ambitions and forms of behaviour. The aim of the US since the fall of the Shah in 1979 then, has been constant. Its problem has been how to go about undermining the Iranian regime and making it subordinate through regime change, if necessary. For a long time now the US has selectively opposed certain governments developing nuclear weapons.

But September 11, 2001 added a new dimension. It created an urgent determination on the part of Washington that from now on it was not just a question of not letting certain countries get the bomb but that even their capacity to make the bomb must be denied. Since this capacity is inseparable from the inherently dual-use nature of nuclear civilian energy production this had to mean US intervention to prevent complete control of the entire nuclear fuel cycle by some countries, above all Iran. But naturally enough not of countries like Germany, Japan, etc, who are non-nuclear signatories to the NPT but which have complete control over their respective nuclear fuel cycles and can, if they put their minds to it, make nuclear weapons much more quickly than Iran. Expert estimates suggest that it would take Iran several years, possibly a decade, to make the bomb after it takes such a decision, whereas Japan can make a bomb in a few months.

For decades this inherent contradiction within the NPT was not a serious concern of the US or of the other nuclear powers. For this whole period, the Indian government and its supporting elite only waxed eloquent about the “discriminatory” character of the NPT; not about the contradiction in the treaty between using the “carrot” of promoting nuclear energy production as the other side of the “stick” that non-nuclear weapons powers should join the NPT and renounce acquisition of nuclear weapons. The only voices that for decades were repeatedly stressing this point were the voices of those in civil societies worldwide who opposed both nuclear weapons (whomsoever had them) and civilian nuclear energy development as a disaster in itself as well as being a way of keeping the nuclear option open because of its inescapable dual-use character. It was from the late 1980s-early 1990s that Europe and the US became more concerned about such dual-use capacities because of fears that North Korea, Libya and Iraq (all signatories to the NPT as nonnuclear states) might be taking advantage of this carrot to create the nuclear weapons option or even clandestinely exercise it. But it took September 11, 2001 to really crystallise US strategic thinking vis-à-vis Iran in this regard.

So now the US could outline a path to how it might fulfil its longer running strategic goal of undermining Iran. That

Economic and Political Weekly February 11, 2006 path would require the following tasks to be accomplished: (a) Carry out necessary doctrinal changes in the US’ own security policies that can give it the flexibility to pre-emptively attack countries that the US considers a threat to its security. Thus preventive war against countries suspected of having or even wanting weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or of harbouring terrorists is to be justified by national policy. Such doctrinal changes were put in place after September 11, 2001 and before both the attack on Iraq and the game of diplomatically attacking Iran through and besides the IAEA. (b) Suborn and manipulate the IAEA to push US perspectives.

(c) Publicly isolate Iran from the world community at large by concocting a case with some small measure of plausibility at least so that Iran could be presented as the “principal wrongdoer” thereby diverting attention away from the US’ own machinations and at the same time providing an excuse that governments already keen to side with the US could then use to justify such support. (d) Just as the 2003 attack on Iraq was preceded by sanctions for many years which gravely weakened Iraq, similarly, before thinking of militarily attacking Iran in any way whether indirectly through Israel or directly by the US, Iran should be weakened and politicallydiplomatically isolated by getting the UNSC to impose sanctions. To achieve this, France in the EU (and the EU itself) had to be brought on board as well as the all-important countries of Russia and China who have the power of vetoing against UNSC sanctions.

The second and third tasks have not proved that difficult because of two main reasons. The first reason why this is so is because the IAEA leadership has exhibited a fundamental moral and political dishonesty and lack of courage while a host of countries including India have been fully prepared to accept the dishonest rabblerousing and hypocritical posturing of the US and its cohorts, wherein the US decides who can or cannot be trusted to have nuclear weapons or even just the capacity to make them. The second reason, and by far the much more minor contributor to the current state of affairs, is the Iranian regime’s past record (before 2003) of not providing the IAEA a full account of its nuclear energy related facilities. By best and most sober inference, the reason for this was not that Iran had taken a decision to make the bomb but that it wished to keep its nuclear weapons option open and was prepared to hold out information from the IAEA in this respect. But after the discovery of its failure to account for all such activities in 2002 Iran not only moved towards full compliance with all IAEA requests for information and monitoring but it also accepted the Additional Protocol giving the IAEA even greater access in this regard. It did not ratify this Protocol and may now, after the latest decision to “report” it to the UNSC, rescind its application and end its current cooperation with the IAEA in this regard.

The Real Facts

The Indian media for the most part has shamelessly toed the Indian government’s line on this issue and therefore so distorted, misrepresented or hidden the true facts of the case that it is incumbent here to spell out the actual and indisputable facts of the matter, to make clear what is known and not what is merely surmised or imputed.

  • (1) After three years of comprehensive investigations by all sources including the IAEA no one has shown that Iran has an actual nuclear weapons programme, past or present. (2) Iran has not enriched uranium to anywhere near the high level that is required to make its weapons usable.
  • (3) Most key outstanding issues between the Iranian government and the IAEA have been resolved. As per the IAEA’s own November 2004 report all declared nuclear materials in Iran have been accounted for and confirmed as not diverted to prohibited activities. (4) The IAEA is not in a position to conclude whether or not Iran has any undeclared materials, activities or facilities that might be used for weapons making. There is no evidence of this so far and therefore there is no justification for assuming or imputing that this is the case. To reach a broader and final conclusion in this regard will be a timeconsuming process during which Iran will have to cooperate with the IAEA in answering and explaining the following queries (i) Iran’s past work on P-1 and P-2 centrifuges; (ii) some nuclear contaminants that have been found; (iii) past experiments with plutonium and polonium;
  • (iv) fuller details about Iran’s effort between 1987 and late 1990s to obtain materials and plans for setting up a full-scale enrichment plant, something of course that cannot be legally denied to it as an NPT signatory. This includes possible ties between Iran and the A Q Khan network. Other countries like Pakistan with which the Khan network has had dealings are not
  • being asked by the IAEA or anyone else to make full disclosure of such dealings. Nor is anyone demanding disclosure of various secret dealings involving various nuclear weapons states and other states whereby the latter have developed either nuclear weapons capabilities or nuclear weapons. Of this there is a long history. Every one of the eight nuclear weapons powers (US, UK, France, Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan) in this respect have been either providers or recipients or both. (5) The IAEA has had to make similar time-consuming investigations to clear other non-nuclear NPT signatories like Japan and Canada and took five and six years respectively to carry this out. There are a number of EU countries for which the IAEA is still in no position to arrive at such a broader conclusion. However, it is only Iran that is being pressured in the way that it is. It is only in the case of Iran that the IAEA is accepting being hustled by the US and EU-3 in this way. (6) While Iran accepted and went along with the Additional Protocols, 26 of 71 states with significant nuclear activities do not have such Additional Protocols in force. (7) In the past Iran was in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement with the IAEA in not having reported certain facilities, namely, the Teheran Jabr Ibn Hayan Multipurpose Laboratories (JHL), the Esfahan Fuel Manufacturing Plant (FMP), the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP), and the Arak Iran Nuclear Research Reactor (IR-40). All have been brought under safeguards and Iran’s past non-compliance has been fully rectified and this has been duly noted in the IAEA reports since.

    (8) Numerous other officially non-nuclear countries, e g, Brazil, South Africa, have more advanced uranium enrichment programmes than Iran. None of them have been subject to the kind of pressure the US and its allies are imposing on Iran. Nor has the IAEA seen fit to behave in the same way with regard to these other countries nor in those cases made any reports in the kind of carefully worded language that in the case of Iran can create “uncertainties” that can then be used by the US for its purposes. (9) Since El Baradei’s visit to Iran in 2003 Teheran has given the IAEA 1,500 person days of on-site inspections as well as access to military sites that it is under no obligation to provide. This has been a voluntarily given access that goes beyond its formal obligations. (10) The Iranian government has declared that it has

    Economic and Political Weekly February 11, 2006

    the right under all its legal obligations to have full control over its nuclear fuel cycle

    – which is completely correct – and has declared that this control will come under IAEA safeguards, which is also the proper legal position. (11) The EU-3 had promised in return for the voluntary and temporary suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment activities from November 2004 to come up with a package of economic incentives and security assurances that could be traded off against Iranian concessions in regard to the matter of its having full control of its nuclear fuel cycle. It is the EU that reneged on this promise by bending to the US and ultimately refusing to give any security assurances to Iran.

    (12) All of the countries of the Arab League and also Iran have long declared themselves in favour of the immediate establishment of a Middle East Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons. The only country in the region that refuses to accept this proposal is Israel, which insists that this must wait (however long it may take) for a final peace settlement in west Asia of the kind that Israel would accept. In this shameful filibustering Israel is, of course, supported fully by the US.

    Unwilling to Stand Up

    With the EU (and France) in the bag and El Baradei more than willing to go along with such US manipulation of the IAEA the most important task of the US was to get Russia and China on board since both countries have significant energy-related relations with Iran. Baradei, incidentally, is reported as having applauded the India-US nuclear deal, that not only violates the existing laws of the international nonproliferation regime but aims to publicly and universally legitimise the nuclear status of India. This is extraordinary, coming as it does from a person who claims to be against nuclear weapons and its further proliferation and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The most important aspect of the latest development at the beginning of February 2006 is that Russia and China have agreed to the referral of the Iran case to the UNSC. One does not know yet of what the behind-the-scenes discussion between them and the US and EU were, but some combination of benefits and costs must have been put forward to persuade them.

    The idea that these two countries will somehow prevent the actual imposition of sanctions should the US desire it by exercising their veto power in the UNSC must now be deemed more remote. It is much more likely that if push comes to shove later on in the UNSC, that Russia and China will abstain. They have boxed themselves into accepting a procedure that they should never have accepted. The Russian proposal for uranium enrichment by Iran on Russian territory would of course deny Iran full national control of its nuclear fuel cycle, which is its right. As such it gives legitimacy to the illegitimate western pressure on Iran and makes Iran out to be the unreasonable party that is unwilling to compromise in the “wider interest”. That wider interest is of course a US-led imperial expansion of its power to which any number of governments and their supporting elites are willing to bend. Thus the Russians and the Chinese have placed themselves in a situation whereby if Iran refuses to accept the Russian proposal then these two governments will in the logic of things find themselves having to say that Iran did not “compromise” and thereby legitimise US-led initiatives of what the UNSC should now consider doing to “punish” a supposedly recalcitrant Iran. It is as well to remember that neither Russia nor China made the running but hid behind France when it came to preventing a UNSC endorsement of the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and that all three later buckled under in accepting a subsequent UN Resolution endorsing and legitimising the actual occupation of Iraq by the US.

    Iran is willing to consider the Russian proposal up to a point, i e, even possibly accept uranium enrichment there. But it insists that its scientific personnel be involved in the activity in Russia. This is something that the EU (and behind it the US) is not willing to accept because though it is eminently reasonable that Iranian personnel master the technology that is to help it run its own sovereign nuclear energy generation prgramme. This is because such skill acquisition is inherently dual use in character. What it comes back to is that the US wants to go to any extreme to have an excuse to put the squeeze on Iran in consonance with its wider ambitions, which go beyond the issue of Iran’s nuclear weapons-making prospects. The US has not made up its mind that it must soon enough attack Iran. What it is aiming at is to move steadily along its strategic path, which requires it to clear all obstacles so that it can get the UNSC to impose sanctions whenever it wants it to. If it does move in this direction then it will wait and see the reaction to such sanctions as it can get. These Iranian reactions will also take place in Iraq. The US will then weigh its options, see the overall relationship of forces in order to judge whether and when and how it should further squeeze Iran including the possibility of attacking it militarily (perhaps via Israel) or somehow cause the downfall of the regime. In short, the future remains open-ended even in regard to the issue of the US actually attacking Iran. There are simply too many imponderables. But what should not be in doubt is that the US is determined to move along this strategic path so that it can act in this way in the future.

    Indian Situation

    The Indian government and its supporting elites have every reason now to be grateful. In the larger scheme of things they were smaller fry, despite the US putting pressure on the Indian government to support it in the IAEA. The key for the US was to get Russia and China on board. Now this Indian government can simply and happily hide behind this turn of events and tell itself and everybody else that it is in its interest to support the US because the big two of Russia and China are going in this direction or at least not obstructing the US plans vis-à-vis Iran. In effect, the relative inconsequentiality of India makes it easier for the government to behave more supinely before the US and to claim at the same time that it is not doing so under US pressure. The US is getting what it wants from governments. It knows that in order for it to establish its global dominance it must make sure there is no serious opposition to it from significant powers and to ensure this, must tie them up in arrangements including formal and informal alliance structures that can sustain its overall hegemony. It knows what it needs to secure its unipolar dominance – it must prevent the emergence of a genuine multipolarity. It is more than delighted if an Indian government and its supporting elites can convince themselves that the best way for India to grow strong and the best way for a multipolar world to emerge is through support for the unipolar ambitions and plans of the US!

    What about the official Indian Left led by the CPM and CPI? The question before them is whether they are prepared to recognise the clear betrayal of the cause of fighting US-led imperialism by Russia and China in this case and the general

    Economic and Political Weekly February 11, 2006 wishy-washyness of these two countries that are anything but serious pillars of resistance to US global ambitions. Will this Indian Left take its distance from these two countries and what they have done visà-vis this issue of Iran? Or will it now be much more subdued? The Congress-led UPA government clearly thinks the latter and believes it has weathered the internal storm on this score at least. But whatever the official Left decides to do, for all those who are committed to fighting consistently for justice and against US empire-building the political positions that need to be adopted should be clear. They are as follows:

  • (1) Oppose and unremittingly expose the unfairness of, and the US purposes behind, the whole Iranian-IAEA nuclear imbroglio.
  • (2) Oppose any and every country going in for nuclear energy. This must be done not only for reasons related to alternative and superior forms of energy production but because as long as civilian nuclear energy programmes are around one is creating the potential for nuclear weapons programmes to also emerge. (3) As a transitional measure, demand complete transparency for all nuclear energy programmes everywhere and not just for Iran or selectively for some countries. That is to say, demand the formulation of an international or multilateral treaty for full transparency in all aspects of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle for all countries having such programmes, including all nuclear weapons states. These countries may still be able to retain their nuclear weapons or further develop them. But there is no reason why their civilian programmes should be able to get away without revealing all their activities and information, even if unlike non-nuclear NPT signatories they are not legally prevented from transferring fuel from civilian reactors for military purposes. Nuclear powers that are not signatories to the NPT like India, Pakistan and Israel must also abide by such an international or multilateral treaty of transparency for their civilian programmes. Such a treaty must have a truly impartial monitoring body like that in the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT). This cannot of course be the existing IAEA.
  • (4) Put this dishonest Indian government and its supporting elites under pressure. This lot claims that it is not in India’s interest to have another nuclear neighbour. These very elites justified India’s acquisition of nuclear weapons in the name of security, indeed citing China as a threat. But India never ever faced the kind or level
  • of security threat and pressure that Iran is facing today – from the US and an Israel that openly threatens to bomb Iran’s nuclear reactors. In brief, India certainly has no moral right to tell any other country not to acquire nuclear weapons because they endanger the neighbourhood when it is responsible for endangering its own neighbourhood by what it did in 1998 and by doing so push Pakistan to also carry out nuclear tests and become another nuclear power in the region. At that time, knowing that Indian tests would push Pakistan to replicate, this Indian nuclear elite was claiming that having Pakistan as a nuclear neighbour would actually be a good thing, helping to stabilise the region politically and militarily! None of this should be taken to mean that Iran should have nuclear weapons or that its right to have them should be endorsed. The best way to put this Indian nuclear elite under some kind of moral-political pressure and to expose its obsequiousness in relation to the US and Israel is to demand of it that if it is so worried about another nuclear neighbour emerging then it should throw its weight behind the call for the immediate establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons or of all weapons of mass destruction. And that if it wants to be taken at its word that not having a nuclear neighbour is in its “national interest” then it must attack and expose the hypocrisy and deceits of Israel and the US, which countries are the biggest obstacles to such a zone emerging. (5) Oppose nuclear weapons whichever country has them and endorse the movement towards such disarmament by striving to realise forms of denuclearisation that are regional and global as well as opposing all avenues that lead to a development of nuclear weapons quantitatively or qualitatively. Thus one must strive for a universally applied CTBT; and for the drawing up of a Fissile Materials Treaty (FMT) that would put limits on production and eliminate stockpiles of fissile materials usable for making nuclear weapons. One must support efforts to establish a south Asian nuclear weapons free zone as well support other such regional disarmament initiatives. One must also oppose the Ballistic Missile Defence and Theatre Missile Defence projects of the US, its hypocritical and selective Proliferation Security Initiative, its development of battlefield nuclear weapons and of third and fourth generation weapons. The Indian government basking in the glow of being called a “responsible nuclear power” by the most vicious and irresponsible nuclear power in the world – the US

    – will not of course do any of these things. Which is why pressure must be put on it from activists and concerned citizens in Indian society to take up these responsibilities. It would be good if the official Indian Left would also lend its stature and weight to all these efforts.





    November 26, 2005
    Ecology, Exclusion and Reform in Madhya Pradesh: Introduction – Mihir Shah
    Four Decades of Agricultural Development in MP:
    An Agro-Ecological Sub-Region Approach – P S Vijay Shankar
    Structure of Madhya Pradesh Economy:
    Pre- and Post-Liberalisation – Prabhat P Ghosh
    Power Sector Restructuring in Madhya Pradesh – Nikit Abhyankar
    Displacement with State Subterfuge:
    Case Study of Indira Sagar Pariyojana – Harsh Mander
    Deconstructing the Harda Experience:
    Limits of Bureaucratic Participation – Bhaskar Vira

    Antyodaya Anna Yojana and Mid-day Meals in MP – Jyotsna Jain, Mihir Shah

    Socio-Economic Base of Political Dynamics in Madhya Pradesh – Shaibal Gupta

    Adivasi Encounters with Hindu Nationalism in MP – Amita Baviskar

    For copies write to Circulation Manager

    Economic and Political Weekly

    Hitkari House, 284, Shahid Bhagatsingh Road, Mumbai 400 001 email:

    Economic and Political Weekly February 11, 2006

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