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July 26, 2008

Resolution 362: A Grave Mistake to Avert


by Reza Nasri

Last month, Reps. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) and Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced a new resolution to Congress, demanding the President to initiate an international effort to impose a land, sea, and air blockade on Iran to prevent it from importing refined petroleum products and to subject all cargo entering or leaving Iran to "stringent inspection requirements."

Aside from the evident inflationary impact that such radical measures would have on the already exorbitant price of oil, it is important for the American constituent to realize that this resolution (H.Con.Res.362) contains a significant number of factual fallacies, wrong assumptions and unfounded assertions that could lead the country down another destructive path in the Middle East.

1) At the outset, the title of the Resolution makes an explicit reference to "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons":

Yet, this assertion is misleading and absolutely inconsistent with the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 2003, as well as with the National Intelligence Estimate's (NIE) most recent assessment of Iran's nuclear ambitions and capabilities.

The case of Iraq has already demonstrated that such sensationalist and hypothetical assumptions could very well predispose the Congress to make decisions that are incompatible with the realities on the ground to the detriment of America's long-term security interests. Therefore, in order to prevent the same mistakes in the case of Iran, it is important for the American constituent to realize that, as to this day, the IAEA has conducted more than 3000 man/days of scrupulous inspection of Iran's military and nuclear facilities, including at least 9 unannounced visits in the past few months.  So far, all IAEA reports, including the latest one issued in May 2008, have exonerated Iran of any allegation of diversion from its nuclear activities to a weaponization program. In fact, the IAEA, along with American, European and Israeli intelligence communities have never been in a position to demonstrate or confirm the existence of a covert non-peaceful nuclear program in Iran. Most IAEA reports contain so far a phrase to the effect that the Agency "has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Furthermore, the National Intelligence Estimate, which expresses the coordinated judgements of a group of 16 U.S intelligence agencies has also stated "with high confidence" in its November 2007 report, that Iran is no longer pursuing any military related nuclear activity.

So, the question is, on what objective basis do the authors of this resolution refer to "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons"? And why have they not stated their source in the text of the resolution?

2) A "whereas" clause misleadingly asserts that "the IAEA has confirmed such illicit covert nuclear activities as the importation of uranium hexafluoride, construction of a uranium enrichment facility, experimentation with plutonium, importation of centrifuge technology, construction of centrifuges, and importation of designs to convert highly enriched uranium gas into metal and shape it into the core of a nuclear weapon."

Actually, none of the activities labelled in this clause as "illicit" are confirmed as such by the IAEA or understood as such under international law, the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT), Iran's agreements with the Agency or any other binding legal instruments for that matter. In other words, neither the importation of uranium hexafluoride, nor the construction of a uranium enrichment facility, nor the experimentation with plutonium are "illicit" activities.

On the contrary, the NPT explicitly recognizes the development, research, production and use of nuclear energy as the "inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty," without discrimination (NPT, Art.4 (1)). In fact, the NPT even contains a number of provisions aimed at facilitating the "exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information" from nuclear states to non-nuclear signatories such as Iran.

With respect to the claim concerning Iran's alleged "importation of designs to convert highly enriched uranium gas into metal and shape it into the core of a nuclear weapon," the authors of the Resolution once again conveniently discard the findings of the IAEA over the past 5 years, as well as the 2007 NIE assessment report regarding Iran's nuclear intentions and capabilities.

The authors of this resolution ought to explain to their constituents why they deem that the findings of the IAEA and the NIE are irrelevant.

3) A "whereas" clause deceptively claims that the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate has reported "that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009":

The authors of this clause regrettably omit to quote the full paragraph of the NIE report in its context, where it is clearly stated that such possibility is "very unlikely" (November 2007 NIE; p. 7). In fact, the 2007 NIE report explicitly concludes that "Iran is unlikely to achieve this capability before 2013" and further reassures that "all agencies recognize the possibility that this capability may not be attained until after 2015."

Once again, the American constituent ought to ask why the authors of this resolution so deliberately left out crucial sections of the NIE report and cited some sections completely out of context to create an artificial sense of urgency about Iran's nuclear program.

4) A "whereas" clause falsely claims that "Iran has consistently refused" offers of economic, diplomatic, and security incentives from the United States, Europe, Russia and China, in exchange of suspending its enrichment program.

First, it is important to note that, as an absent Party to the negotiations, the United States has never directly offered any meaningful "security incentives" to Iran. On the contrary, the omnipresent rhetoric of war and sanctions from Washington, as well as the "regime change" policy pursued by the current administration, have constantly clouded the atmosphere of the negotiations and obscured the prospect of a meaningful agreement between parties.

Secondly, despite the aforementioned clause's claim, recent developments indicate that Iran is rather remarkably receptive to negotiations on the terms of the new incentive package (S210/08) offered to her by the 5+1 group in June 2008. The confrontational measures prescribed in resolution H.Con.Res.362 would only seriously interfere with this promising new round of negotiations.

So why speak of "refusal" when the negotiations are still in progress?

5) A "whereas" clause wrongly asserts that "Iranian leaders have repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel."

First, in order to get a clear and objective picture of the situation at hand, it is imperative to separate the Iranian nuclear issue from matters related to the unfortunate mutual antagonism between Iran and Israel. Once again, there is absolutely no clear evidence indicating that Iran has or intends to divert its nuclear program towards weapon development for military uses. So linking Iran's nuclear program to its alleged hostile intentions regarding Israel is completely unfounded. Furthermore, despite the harsh rhetoric on both sides, there is absolutely no strategically sound and justifiable reason to believe that Iran is disposed to use force against the nuclear-armed State of Israel.

Moreover, it is important to recognize the difference between the sporadic and random rhetoric emanating from some radical ideological factions within the Iranian political apparatus, and Iran's verifiably pragmatic foreign policy, driven by geopolitical considerations. Threats and psychological warfare are not uncommon in the world of domestic or international politics. Senator Hillary Clinton, a former presidential candidate, has just very recently threatened to "obliterate" Iran during the course of her campaign. But it is generally admitted that this sort of rhetoric does not merit to be considered as indicative of the United States policy toward Iran. So why treat them as such when they emanate from some Iranian authorities or use them as an excuse to stop Iran's legitimate nuclear program?

The truth, that the media often fails to reflect, is that Iran's official position toward Israel has been the same for the past two decades. Iran's official policy on Israel has always been "a one-state solution" decided through a countrywide referendum. Even Ahmadinejad endorses this policy:

Ahmadinejad: "[...] Our suggestion is that the 5 million Palestinian refugees come back to their homes, and then the entire people on those lands hold a referendum and choose their own system of government. This is a democratic and popular way." (Interview with Time magazine).

6) A "resolved" clause demands that the President initiate an international effort to (inter alia) impose a land, sea, and air blockade on Iran to prevent it from importing refined petroleum products and to subject all cargo entering or leaving Iran to stringent inspection requirements.

The wording of this clause leaves the door open to "convenient interpretations" by those within the U.S administration who seek military confrontation with Iran. Just as Congressmen Kucinich (D-OH) and Wexler (D-FL) rightly point out in separate letters, this language could be understood to contradict the "whereas" clause that states that "nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization of the use of force against Iran." More importantly, this clause fails to call on the President to seek Congressional approval in the likely event that the implementation of these provocative measures requires the use of force against Iran.

Furthermore, despite what the authors of the resolution claim, H.Con.Res.362 is not "just reiterating" the U.N Security Council's previous resolutions against Iran, but is rather introducing a whole new set of unilateral punitive measures, while leaving the door open for escalation. The sanctions prescribed in H. Con. Res. 362 go far beyond existing sanctions and previously proposed sanctions for dealing with Iran. The impact of these measures would only severely undermine the prospect of diplomacy and the chance to succeed in achieving a peaceful resolution. Moreover, the Charter of the United Nations provides specific provisions under which such measures ought to be implemented. Resorting to a naval blockade without the explicit mandate of the Security Council under Chapter VII would be construed by the court of public opinion, and by foes and allies alike, as a blatant violation of the Charter by the United States and make the task of gaining the cooperation of the international community much more problematic for Washington.

Furthermore, it is important for the American constituent to know that coercive policies have never produced any constructive results in the context of the US-Iran relations. In fact, over 12 years of sanctions under the Iran-Libya Sanction Act (ILSA 1996) have demonstrated that Iran is absolutely not responsive to force or any kind of confrontational measures. None of America's confrontational policies have so far resulted in a change of attitude by Tehran. These unilateral actions, or even the threat thereof, would only have the effect of further diminishing America's image and fueling anti-American sentiments among the otherwise US-friendly people of Iran.

As Congressman Kucinich rightly warns, "If this body [Congress] truly wants to find a peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear program and influence in the Middle East, we must use the best and most credible form of diplomacy at our disposal. The US must engage Iran in direct diplomatic talks without preconditions. Passage of this resolution only escalates our strained relationship with Iran."

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Reza Nasri is originally from Iran. He holds an LLM degree in International law from the University of Montreal in Canada, and is a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID).

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