Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Case Against Iran

K Subrahamyam, The Times of India:
On November 24, India might once again vote on a resolution of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the issue being whether Iran's conduct should be referred to the UN Security Council.

There are demands — from quarters that want to shield the involvement of China, Pakistan and A Q Khan in Iran's activities over the past 18 years — that India shield the proli-ferators for the sake of non-alignment and opposition to western hegemony.

They write lengthy articles without once referring to Khan's proliferation activities in Iran, hoping to mislead India. The arguments in support of Iran amount to legitimising the China-Pakistan proliferation axis. READ MORE

These quarters hope Iran will refuse all compromise, the matter will come up for vote and then, brought to submission, India will reverse its September 24 vote and in the process lose all credibility in the international arena.

But these hopes are likely to be dashed. The US does not want a vote, nor do the West Europeans. They are working strongly on the Russians — who are close to completing the Bushehr reactor — to persuade Iran to accept a compromise which will not deny it uranium enrichment technology for all time to come.

But it's not yet clear if Iran will accept a compromise. If it does not, what would its situation be in the IAEA?

What is being debated in the IAEA is not Iran's right to enrich uranium up to 3-5% to make fuel for the light water reactor. Nor is it about whether Iran is likely to reach bomb-making capability in a few months.

The problem before IAEA is its inability to certify that Iran does not have clandestine sites, equipment or material, thanks to Khan's clandestine proliferation to Iran from 1987 to 2003.

Pro-China ideologues seek to conceal this fact from public attention, presumably because the China-Pakistan-A Q Khan proliferation dates back to 1976.

IAEA's inspections and investigations in the past two-and-half years have been inconclusive. It has insisted on Iran being more transparent.

Having established its independence by refusing to toe the US line on Iraqi WMD, the IAEA has the support of Germany and France, countries that opposed the US's WMD stand.

Therefore, the IAEA vote is not US-inspired, but one that represents a face-off between Iran and the West Europeans who are concerned about proliferation.

West Europe and Russia have offered a compromise — Tehran can convert uranium ore into uranium hexafluoride gas in Iran if it defers the indigenous enrichment (to 3-5%) programme for now, carrying it out in Russia instead.

This would facilitate IAEA inspections and develop confidence between Iran and West European countries. Russia will supply the fuel for the Bushehr reactor and take away the irradiated fuel.

So, fuel is not an issue. Iran is yet to conclude the next reactor deal, and in all probability the source will be Russia again. The terms are likely to be the same as in the case of Bushehr.

So Iran is not in immediate need of enriched fuel and will lose nothing by accepting the EU-Russia proposal. Iran should understand that its 18 years of clandestine proliferation efforts have created a credibility problem for it in Europe and the West.

It needs to create confidence in other countries that it will completely fulfil its NPT obligations and satisfy the IAEA that there are no longer any clandestine sites or materials on its soil.

As long as it refuses to do so it will be breaching IAEA regulations. That would need to be referred to the Security Council. Of course, what happens at the Security Council is another matter — something the IAEA cannot influence.

In the Security Council, China may well veto further action. In the IAEA, India is in a position to demand that Pakistan and China cooperate with IAEA investigations into charges that Iran was sent supplies by these countries.

India can propose amendments to any resolution in the IAEA in this respect. India would have national interest rather non-alignment on its mind when deciding on such action.

As Jawaharlal Nehru once said, no foreign minister should continue in his office unless he upholds the country's national interest.

Whether it was the case of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, the Bangladesh war or backing the Heng Samrin regime against Pol Pot in Cambodia, India decided on its vote just on the basis of national interest. In all the above cases, India's vote did not go with the non-aligned.

The ideologues who supported Pol Pot, the Afghan jehadists, and the anti-India stand during CTBT along with the US and China, have nothing to teach the present UPA government on non-alignment. The UPA government has only one obligation — to serve the national interest.