Iran won what may be regarded as a partial and temporary victory at the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEA) on September 24, when the UN nuclear agency’s board refrained from acceding to American demands that it immediately refer Iran to the UN Security Council for alleged breaches of the nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). This would pave the way for the Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran, as the US has long been demanding as the next stage of its escalating campaign of political warfare against the Islamic Republic. It is also part of a process of propaganda and demonization strongly reminiscent of the build up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and may prove to be a stage in a march towards the military action that some influential neo-conservatives in the US have long been calling for and which may, if the Iraqi precedent is any guide, already have been decided on in Washington, London and Tel Aviv.
However, under intense American pressure, the IAEA did pass a deeply hostile and biased resolution that takes Iran one step closer to referral to the Security Council by stating that its inspections had found that Iran was guilty of "many failures and breaches" of its nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Safeguards Agreement, and that these breaches constituted "non-compliance" with the Treaty. It also stated that there was an "absence of confidence" about Iran's intentions, and the matter fell "within the competence of the Security Council". This form of words appears designed to require a further IAEA resolution actually referring the matter to the Security Council, although analysts suggest that this is now a matter of when Iran will be referred, rather than whether it should be referred.
The resolution is not an outright victory for either Iran or the US. It was the result of perhaps the most intense international politicking since the run-up to the Iraq war, and the fact that the US, unquestionably the dominant political power in the world, had to work so hard and still could not get the outcome it wanted is a sign of the widespread international distrust of its intentions and tactics since the Iraq war. Then, the US initially pushed for a second UN Security Council resolution authorising its invasion and then, when it became clear that other Security Council members -- other Western powers rather than hostile states -- would not pass such a resolution, changed its argument to say that it already had the authorisation it required from earlier UN resolutions.
The hardline draft resolution that the US supported was drafted by its closest ally in the UN, Britain, and called for Iran to be referred to the Security Council with immediate effect. This was opposed by a clear majority of the IAEA’s 35 board members, including Russia, China and India, all of which were then accused by the US of having selfish, commercial reasons for supporting Iran despite its alleged misdemeanours. The result was a period of intense political debate during which the US pressured members of the IAEA board to pass as harsh a resolution as possible while Britain negotiated the rewording of the draft to make it acceptable to board members while remaining as strong as possible.
Iran, meanwhile, had earlier come under intense pressure to make further concessions to the IAEA, under the threat of referral to the Security Council. This had culminated in a series of meetings between the British, French and German foreign ministers -- Jack Straw, Philippe Douste-Blazy and Joschka Fischer -- and Iran’s new foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, at the UN summit in New York. At these talks, the EU officials used the threat of the IAEA referring Iran to the Security Council to try to force Iran into accepting their demands that it halt its nuclear programme.
Iran’s public and strident response to these demands was expressed by president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in his speech to the UN General Assembly on September 17, in which he warned that the UN was being undermined by the unilateralism of the US, which had only its own selfish reasons for the policies it was trying to pursue with UN legitimacy. The US responded by walking out of the chamber.
Ahmadinejad also insisted that Iran is doing no more than what it is entitled to do under the NPT; it is pursuing a peaceful nuclear power program, and it has no intention of pursuing nuclear weapons which are, in any case, contrary to the Islamic principles which guide Iran’s policies. He also called for the UN to establish a committee to investigate which countries had given Israel the technology to develop nuclear weapons despite their NPT obligations.
Although Ahmadinejad’s speech was well received around the world, the final outcome in the IAEA reflected US power and influence. The strong anti-Iranian resolution was passed by 22-1 with 12 abstentions, only Venezuela voting against it. Of countries that Iran had hoped would support it, Russia and China abstained and India voted for the resolution. This was clearly the result of American pressure and inducements. In India, for example, a Hindu newspaper criticised the government, saying that the vote “is evidence of the Manmohan Singh government’s shameful willingness to abandon the independence of Indian foreign policy for the sake of strengthening its ‘strategic partnership’ with the United States.” It is undoubtedly not coincidental that India -- which itself has refused to ratify the NPT and developed nuclear weapons -- has recently been offered six nuclear power generators by the US.
The result is that Iran, despite its efforts to balance cooperating with the international agencies with maintaining an independent and principled stance, finds itself on the verge of being hauled before the Security Council to face possible international sanctions dictated by the US. The widespread international distrust of the US, even among its allies, may be the main factor delaying this outcome. Nonetheless, Muslims need to be well aware that, far more quietly than in the case of Iraq, the US is building a case for war against the only Islamic state in the world today.