Iran's recent agreement with the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues over its nuclear program is following a predictable pattern as the US and EU deliberately try to undermine it. Everytime Iran makes concessions over the nuclear issue by showing some flexibility and making compromise offers which would address any real concerns about weapons proliferation, the US and EU-3 simply move the goalposts by demanding yet more concessions and imposing additional preconditions on Iran. This consistent pattern only proves that the claims about any Iranian nuclear "threat" are just pretextual.
Iran recently reached an agreement with the IAEA that resolved some outstanding issues and which is intended to address all the remaining issues regarding Iran's nuclear program. The US initially criticized the agreement and accused IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei of "overstepping" his authority. Then the US demanded that Iran comply with the agreement but at the same time asserted that even Iran's full compliance with the agreement, won't be enough anyway. The EU-3 have joined in criticism of the IAEA Director General, causing him to simply walk out of a meeting with the EU representatives.
It appears that what we're seeing is essentially a repeat of a previously-established pattern where Iran makes concessions and shows flexibility, only to be met with increased demands...(more)
The Paris Agreement Fiasco
This pattern of moving the goalposts on Iran has several precedents. For example, during the Paris Agreement negotiations of 2003-2005, Iran suspended enrichment and implemented the Additional Protocol - exactly as was demanded of it - and all that got Iran in return were additional EU demands on Iran to turn a temporary, voluntary and non-legally binding suspension of uranium enrichment into a permanent, obligatory cessation.
In Oct 2003, Iran and the EU-3 issued what is known as the Tehran Declaration, according to which Iran agreed to temporarily suspend enrichment and voluntarily allow the more intensive inspections required under the Additional Protocol to the NonProliferation Treaty - and in return the EU-3 were required to recognize Iran's nuclear rights, make an offer of a way to proceed in cooperation with Iran to resolve differences over the nuclear issue, and to assist Iran in developing its nuclear program. In February 2004, Iran further agreed to also suspend the manufacture of centrifuges (the machines used to enrich uranium.) Negotiations about the exact scope of the suspension continued until Nov 2004, when Iran and the EU-3 informed the IAEA of the terms of their accord in the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement explicitly required the EU-3 to recognize Iran's inalienable right to possess nuclear technology, which includes the full nuclear cycle and the manufacture of enriched uranium. Enriched uranium is used as fuel in nuclear reactors, and several other countries also have recently developed the technology to manufacture enriched uranium (including Brazil and Argentina.) During the course of the negotiations, the Iranians made it crystal clear to the EU-3 that Iran's temporary suspension of enrichment would be exactly that: temporary. Hossein Mousavian, a member of Iran's negotiating team, has written that the Iranian side insisted that there should be no talk of any permanent cessation of enrichment, and Iran required the EU negotiators to explicitly confirm this understanding with their corresponding governments - which they did.
The IAEA verified that Iran had abided by its end of the Paris Agreement by suspending its enrichment program. As the New York Times reported:
Iran appears to have frozen key nuclear activities in an effort to convince the world that it does not intend to build nuclear bombs, the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said Monday.
"I think pretty much everything has come to a halt right now, so we are just trying to make sure that everything has been stopped," Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Vienna.
He added that operations at the Isfahan facility had stopped, and that the agency was in the process of applying seals to shut down operations at Iranian facilities to "make sure everything has been stopped."
The Significance of the Additional Protocol
In accordance with the terms of the Paris Agreement, Iran also implemented the Additional Protocol in 2003 and permitted IAEA inspectors to access to additional sites which were suspected of being involved in Iran's nuclear program, but where Iran was not legally required to allow inspections. No evidence of a nuclear weapons program was found at these additional sites either.
The Additional Protocol sets out a more rigorous inspection regime by which the IAEA can verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities. Until they sign and ratify the Additional Protocol, NPT-signatory states such as Iran are only required to allow the IAEA inspectors access to declared nuclear sites in accordance with their basic safeguards agreement with the IAEA. However, since Iraq cheated the IAEA by attempting to make nukes at undeclared sites, the Additional Protocol was created so as to allow IAEA inspectors greater access to undeclared nuclear sites as well. The IAEA has demanded on several occasions that Iran should implement "transparency measures" that go beyond Iran's existing safeguards, by ratifying the Additional Protocol and permitting the more rigorous inspections. Iran has signed the Additional Protocol, but has not ratified it and so is not legally bound by its terms - though it has offered to ratify the Additional Protocol if and when its nuclear rights are recognized.
The IAEA has certified that all declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and that none of the material was diverted for military use - and so Iran has met its obligations under its basic safeguards agreement. However, the IAEA has also stated that it can't verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities or material, though this should not be interpretted as evidence of the existence of a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA simply does not verify the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in countries until they have ratified the Additional Protocol, and have permitted the required inspection process (which can take several years to complete.) As Michael Spies of the Lawyer's Comittee for Nuclear Policy has explained:
For some it is tempting to declare, based on the inability of the IAEA to presently draw a conclusion on the absence of nuclear activities, that Iran continues to operate concealed facilities and that any such facilities must be for a military program. But the IAEA has cautioned that the lack of a conclusion does not imply suspicion of undeclared nuclear materials and activities, as the matter is frequently spun in the media and by some governments.
According to the IAEA's Annual Safeguards Implementation Report of 2004, of the 61 states where both the NPT safeguards and the Additional protocol are implemented, the IAEA has certified the absence of undeclared nuclear activity for only 21 countries, leaving Iran in the same category as 40 other countries including Canada, the Czech Republic, and South Africa. Note especially the last sentence:
"With regard to 21 States with both CSAs and AP in force or otherwise applied, the Agency concluded that all nuclear material in those States remained in peaceful nuclear activities. For 40 other such States, the Agency had not yet completed the necessary evaluations, and could therefore only draw the conclusion that the nuclear material placed under safeguards remained in peaceful nuclear activities."
Nevertheless, during the course of the Paris Agreement, Iran voluntarily acted as if it was bound by Additional Protocol anyway, and permitted the additional inspections at sites such as the Parchin military complex - and no evidence of a secret nuclear program was found there either. (A string of similar "tips" about "secret Iranian nuclear sites" which turned out to be duds ultimately led IAEA officials to publicly complain about the quality of US intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.)
US reaction to the Paris Agreement
The US (and the usual pundits at the pro-Israeli think tanks in Washington) were naturally opposed to the Paris Agreement, and declared early on that the US would neither join the Iran-EU negotiations nor offer any compromises to help the negotiations proceed. Colin Powell tried to torpedo the deal by claiming that the US was in possession of "secret" evidence which had shown that Iran not only had an active nuclear weapons program, but was also trying to make nuclear-armed missiles too. As expected, the Saddam Hussein-backed Marxist terrorist cult known as the MEK chimed in with their own claims about "secret nuclear sites," but which never panned out either.
EU-3 Violates the Paris Agreement
Despite the fact that the EU-3 had explicitly recognized that Iran's temporary suspension of uranium enrichment was not to be a permanent cessation, the EU tried to drag out the temporary suspension by delaying their long-awaited offer to Iran. After 2 years had passed from the Tehran Declaration, Iran's patience was worn thin and so Iran pressed the EU to make their proposal. When the EU finally presented their proposal on August 5th 2005, it neither commited the EU-3 to anything concrete, nor offered anything that the EU-3 wasn't already required to do anyway. An EU diplomat reportedly referred to the EU-3 offer to Iran as "a lot of gift wrapping around a pretty empty box" and according to an analysis by BASIC the EU-3 offer was "vague on incentives and heavy on demands." Worse yet, the EU-3 proposal contained a demand that Iran permanently give up uranium enrichment. This constituted a blatant violation of both the letter and spirit of the Paris Agreement.
Iran resumes enrichment
Iran's refusal of the EU offer was quite predictable, since Iran had made it perfectly clear from the begining that no demand for a permanent cessation of enrichment would be acceptable. However, as one Iran expert observed, it was ultimately the Bush administration's refusal to participate in the negotiation process that successfully undermined the Paris Agreement and forced the EU to make the obviously defective offer:
Clearly incapable of compelling the US to budge, the European strategy has ever since been to procrastinate on the talks in the hope that Iran would fail to call the EU’s bluff, while searching for an exit strategy that would enable the EU to pass the blame on to Iran. The EU found its perfect scapegoat in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s new conservative president.
And naturally, since the EU had so blatantly tried to cheat Iran by violating the Paris Agreement, Iran announced that it would cease implementing the Additional Protocol and would restart its enrichment program - as was its legal right to do all along. Iran then proceeded to remove the IAEA seals on its centrifuges and restarted its uranium enrichment program, which had been delayed for approximately two years by the EU-3's mendacity during the course of the Paris Agreement process. Of course, the US and EU engaged in the expected media campaign which tried to portray Iran as the party which had "violated the Paris Agreement" and tried to attribute Iran's decision to the newly elected "hardline" Iranian President Ahmadinejad (who was not even in charge of the nuclear negotiations process) - but the true facts were obvious: the EU had violated its agreement with Iran.
Lessons from the Paris Agreement
In short, the Iranian authorities had made a good faith effort to reach out to the EU and had shown a great deal of flexibility on the nuclear issue, risking the ire of their own hardliners - but instead of trying to work with Iran, the EU-3 had simply moved the goalposts and increased their demands on Iran, thus totally undermining the Iranian side's faith in the EU-3 as honest negotiating partners.
Compromise rebuffed, opportunities lost
Even though the Iranian side had repeatedly stated that it would not permanently cease uranium enrichment under any circumstances, the Iranians have shown additional flexibility by offering to suspend enrichment on an "industrial scale" and instead limit their enrichment activities for several years to a smaller pilot program:
"Iran has said it will never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel but has indicated it may temporarily suspend large-scale activities to ease tensions."
Though the exact definition of industrial- or large-scale enrichment was never specified, it is clear that it involved a very limited number of centrifuges, verus the 50,000 or so that are ultimately planned to be put in place by Iran. As one arms control analyst reported:
"For example, Iran has, as I said before, indicated that it will limit the size of that facility; I've heard a number of centrifuges as low as 164. They've also indicated, of course, a desire for what they call industrial-scale enrichment, and it's unclear as to exactly what they mean by that, but certainly then it is talking about considerably more centrifuges. But they say that they're willing to suspend initiation of that for a period of at least a few years."
Iran's suggestion suspending "industrial scale" enrichment was also part of the International Crisis Group's recommendations to resolve the conflict by allowing a delayed limited enrichment program in Iran:
"C. Phase 3 (Unlimited time) - The IAEA will have reduced its inspections to the level of safeguards and the Additional Protocol, and relations between the parties will become normal. - Nuclear production on an industrial scale "
The precise definitions of what constituted a pilot program or "industrial scale" enrichment were thus never worked out in detail since the US refused to even acknowledge Iran's offer - which was also not even reported in the US media and instead it was simply waved away:
"Aliasghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, has said his country offered in March to temporarily suspend large-scale enrichment, but that the proposal was rebuffed."
In fact, the US has consistently refused to acknowledge all of Iran's offers of compromise - offers that would have addressed any legitimate concern of weapons proliferation by, for example, renouncing plutonium extraction, opening Iran's nuclear program to foreign participation and operating it as a multinational facility, and placing strictly-monitored limits on its enrichment program to ensure that no enriched uranium could be diverted for weapons use. The US has similarly simply ignored Iranian offers to resolve a whole host of other regional and diplomatic disputes, such as Iran's faxed offer of 2003 (actual text available here) which was even vouched for by the Swiss Ambassador to Iran (Bush administration officials quashed the Iranian offer and actually criticized the Swiss ambassador for communicating the offer to the US.)
And just as ElBaradei is now criticized by the US and EU-3 for reaching an agreement with Iran, he was also subjected to a great deal of criticism by the US in the past when he declared that all nuclear materials in Iran had been accounted for, and none had been diverted for nuclear weapons - thus depriving the US of an opportunity to claim that Iran had violated its safeguards agreement. As Michael Spies of the Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy has explained:
The conclusion that no diversion has occurred certifies that the state in question is in compliance with its undertaking, under its safeguards agreement and Article III of the NPT, to not divert material to non-peaceful purposes. In the case of Iran, the IAEA was able to conclude in its November 2004 report that that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes. The IAEA reached this same conclusion in September 2005.
American efforts to oust ElBaradei were eventually dropped, but only conditionally and subject that ElBaradei agreement to "get tough" with Iran. Writing in the New Yorker, Symour Hersh described the US demands on ElBaradei thus: "We want you to give us an understanding that you will not say anything publicly that will undermine us."
If I am right and this new agreement between Iran and the IAEA will be given the Paris Agreement treatment, then that explains the recent US and EU criticism of the IAEA and ElBaradei, plus efforts by the US to undermine the agreement by, for example, co-opting it and yet insisting that even Iran's full compliance with the agreement will not suffice to counter charges that Iran is building nuclear weapons. Based on the established pattern, the US will heighten its demands on Iran. Furthermore, it is reasonable to expect the US to try to circumvent the IAEA entirely, and deal with this issue either strictly through the UNSC, or outside of the UN system entirely. Ultimately, the US goal is to ensure that Iran is never capable of getting a "clean bill of health" from the IAEA, or to make the IAEA's finding irrelevant.
The other moving goalposts
Nor was the Paris Agreement fiasco with Iran the only occasion that the US moved the nuclear goalposts to suit itself. Another example can be seen in the indefinite extension of the NPT. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty required the signatory states to gather on every 5 years to review the treaty and extend its applications for next 5 years. However, in 1995 the signatories agreed to make the treaty permanent, by adopting a resolution to extend the NPT indefinitely.
The US was naturally supportive of the NPT's indefinite extension, which had the practical effect of securing the monopoly of the states armed with nuclear weapons. The Nonproliferation Treaty is essentially a bargain, according to which the non-nuclear armed states agreed to suspend their right to manufacture nuclear weapons and to allow IAEA inspectors to verify their suspension - and in return the 5 recognized nuclear-armed states (the US, China, Russia, France and the UK) were obligated to work towards their own nuclear disarmament, to share civilian nuclear technology with other NPT signatory states, and to not share nuclear technology with non-signatories such as Israel, Pakistan and India. With the indefinite extension of the treaty, the US was now even freer than usual to ignore its obligations under the treaty.
The US had to make some compromises to get the indefinite extension of the NPT - specifically, by agreeing to undertake "13 Steps" towards disarmament and re-affirming its previous pledge to not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear armed states (known as the Negative Security Assurance.) Iran did not oppose the indefinite extension of the NPT, though it made a point of insisting that the nuclear-armed states should live up to their own obligations under the treaty too.
However, the ink has hardly had time to dry on the indefinite extension of the NPT since the US has started to backtrack on both the "13 Steps" agreement and the Negative Security Assurance. John Bolton has characterized the 13 Steps agreement as simply invalid & nonbinding, and rather than working towards nuclear disarmament as required by the NPT, the US is now developing new and more "user friendly" nuclear weapons. Similarly, rather than observing the Negative Security assurance which would prohibit the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear adversaries, the US has implemented a specific policy that envisions the first use of nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear armed states such as Iran, and the US has also blatantly violated its remaining obligation under the NPT by agreeing to provide nuclear technology to India, a non-NPT signatory.
The deal with India is particularly ironic, since it was a reward for India's vote in favor of referring Iran's nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council. In short, the Bush administration violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to supposedly get Iran to abide by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The obvious conclusion from all this, and the US/EU-3's consistent refusal to even acknowledge Iran's several offers of nuclear compromise that would address any real concerns about weapons proliferation, and their insistence on raising the stakes and undermining Iranian negotiators, is that the US and EU-3 aren't really concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation at all. Instead, they want not only to topple the Iranian regime but also monopolize nuclear energy. By monopolizing the means of manufacturing nuclear fuel, the US seeks to establish a death grip on not only Iran's economic growth but also the economy of all the other developing countries which will inevitably have to turn to nuclear power as oil starts to run out.