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July 8, 2008

Deconstructing the Anti-Iran Resolutions


by Muhammad Sahimi

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution (HR 362) that calls on the Bush administration to take strong action against Iran, including a naval blockade of its ports. A similar resolution is being considered by the Senate (SR 580). The two resolutions are supposedly non-binding. They also mention explicitly that they are not granting the Bush administration any authorization to stage military attacks on Iran. Their language, however, is warlike. In particular, a naval blockade of Iran's ports is certainly tantamount to a declaration of war.

One would expect that, on a matter as crucial as dealing with an important and influential Islamic nation such as Iran, especially after all the lies and exaggerations that were sold to the public in order to justify the invasion of Iraq, the resolutions that are being considered would speak the truth about Iran. That is not the case, though. Both resolutions are replete with factual errors, exaggerations, half-truths, and even outright lies. Below, actual sentences from the two resolutions are in italics; my analysis follows in normal text.

The Senate Resolution

"For nearly 20 years Iran had a covert nuclear program, until the program was revealed by an opposition group in Iran in 2002."

Outright lie: Iran did not have any covert nuclear program for nearly 20 years. What it did have was a small nuclear research program that was safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). What Iran did not declare to the IAEA for many years was the construction of the Natanz facility for uranium enrichment, which was not illegal. The subsidiary arrangements part of Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA stipulates that Iran was obligated to inform the agency of the existence of any nuclear facility only 180 days prior to introducing any nuclear materials into the facility. In February 2003 Iran did just that, then introduced nuclear materials into that facility in summer of 2003.

Interestingly, the resolution does not name the "opposition group," because it would be embarrassing to mention that the group is the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a group despised by the Iranian people and listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization. The MEK has been in exile since 1981. It spied on Iran during its war with Iraq and helped Saddam Hussein's regime to ruthlessly suppress the uprisings by the Kurds and Shi'ites after the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

"The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that the government of Iran has engaged in such covert activities as the illicit importation of uranium hexafluoride, the construction of a uranium enrichment facility, experimentation with plutonium, the importation of centrifuge technology and the construction of centrifuges, and the importation of the design to convert highly enriched uranium gas into a metal and to shape it into the core of a nuclear weapon, as well as significant additional covert nuclear activities."

Lies and exaggerations: The uranium hexafluoride was imported from China, which, like Iran, is an NPT member state. China was supposed to report the transaction, but it did not for many years. The matter has now been completely clarified, and the material is safeguarded by the IAEA.

As explained above, construction of the uranium enrichment facility was not an illicit activity, because Iran had no legal obligation to declare it. Indeed, the IAEA has never ever called the construction "illicit" or "illegal."

Iran has never done any experiment with plutonium, except when the shah was in power. What the Islamic Republic did do was experiment with polonium-210, not plutonium. In its February 2008 report to the Board of Governors (BoG) of the IAEA, the agency declared its satisfaction with the resolution of the issue.

Manufacturing or importing centrifuges does not violate the Safeguards Agreement. In fact, centrifuges are not even covered by the Safeguards Agreement, because they are also used for many non-nuclear purposes. Only when the centrifuges are to be used for nuclear experimentation is Iran legally obligated to report to the IAEA the intention for the tests 90 days before carrying them out. The IAEA has been fully informed by Iran, in due time, of all such activities.

As for the document for converting uranium fluoride to uranium metal, Iran had claimed that the A.Q. Khan network gave the document to Iran, without Iran asking for it. In its May 2008 report, the IAEA confirmed Iran's contention by reporting that the government of Pakistan had confirmed the existence of an identical document there. From a practical point of view, since Iran has had for many years, with full knowledge of the IAEA, a uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, it does not make sense for it to pursue such a process.

The documents for designing a nuclear warhead are the subject of negotiations between Iran and the IAEA. Iran claims that the documents are not authentic, and it has demanded to see their original copies, which the IAEA cannot provide. There is considerable doubt about their authenticity.

Most importantly, in a February 2008 report to the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general, declared that, "We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran's enrichment program."

"The government of Iran continues to expand the number of centrifuges at its enrichment facility and to enrich uranium in defiance of 3 binding United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment activities."

Incomplete story: Sending Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council had no legal basis, because the IAEA has never found Iran in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or in breaches of its Safeguards Agreement that could "further a military purpose," the precise language of the agreement.

The reason for sending Iran's nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council was its rejection of the demand by the BoG of the IAEA to suspend its enrichment activity. The IAEA and its BoG have, however, no legal authority to make such a demand. Therefore, there was absolutely no legal basis for sending Iran's dossier to the UN Security Council.

The UN Security Council could not issue its resolutions against Iran under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which is exclusively for the cases that pose a threat to the peace or international security, unless it first identifies, as the UN Charter demands, the threat. However, the UN Security Council refused to identify the threat. Instead, it merely referred to the resolution of the BoG of the IAEA which, as discussed above, had no legal basis.

In addition, Iran has stated repeatedly that, if the nuclear dossier is sent back to the IAEA, it will be willing to negotiate a temporary suspension of its enrichment program. In fact, Iran did suspend, on a voluntary basis, its enrichment activities from October 2003 to February 2006.

"The government of Iran has announced its intention to begin the installation of 6,000 advanced centrifuges, which, when operational, will dramatically reduce the time that it will take Iran to enrich uranium."

Misrepresentation: In compliance with its Safeguards obligations, Iran has declared to the IAEA its intentions for installing more centrifuges. There is also nothing illegal about adding more centrifuges, so long as it is declared to the IAEA. Moreover, the manufacturing and installation of the 6,000 advanced centrifuges will take years, not the short time that the resolution seems to imply.

"The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate reports that the government of Iran was secretly working on the design and manufacture of a nuclear warhead until at least 2003 and that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon as early as late 2009."

Exaggerations: The NIE never presented any hard evidence that Iran was actually involved in the design of a nuclear warhead before 2003. Even if Iran was working on the problem before 2003, it was only at the design stage, as Iran had no highly enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear warhead. In fact, it will not have highly enriched uranium any time soon, if ever.

As for manufacturing a bomb, there must first be an intention, but the IAEA has certified time and again that there is no evidence for such a goal. At the same time, 2009 is a worst-case scenario pushed by Israel. Most estimates, including the NIE's, are from 2010-2015. But, most importantly, Iran cannot use its present facility to produce highly enriched uranium, unless it leaves the NPT and expels the IAEA inspectors. Iran has said repeatedly that it has no intention of leaving the NPT.

"Allowing the government of Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability would pose a grave threat to international peace and security."

False: As long as Iran's enrichment facilities are safeguarded by the IAEA, their potential for making a nuclear weapon is latent and under tight control. In addition, Iran has indicated its willingness to sign the Additional Protocol, which will grant the IAEA much more intrusive power for inspection. In fact, Iran voluntarily carried out the provisions of the Additional Protocol from October 2003 to August 2005. Finally, in 2005 Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa forbidding production of nuclear weapons.

"If it were allowed to obtain a nuclear weapons capability, the government of Iran could share its nuclear technology, raising the frightening prospect that terrorist groups and rogue regimes might possess nuclear weapons capabilities."

False: Iran has been accused of supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, but it has never been accused of sharing conventional weapons technology with them. So why would Iran share nuclear technology with any group or nation?

In addition, any nuclear material manufactured in any nation has a "genetic" signature. If it is used anywhere, experts can identify its origin. Iranian leaders are fully aware that if they provide nuclear materials to any terrorist group, their origin can be identified, leading to massive retaliation by the international community.

"Allowing the government of Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability would severely undermine the global nuclear non-proliferation regime that, for more than 4 decades, has contained the spread of nuclear weapons."

False: The non-proliferation regime has already been greatly weakened not by Iran, but by three U.S. allies and friends: Israel, Pakistan, and India, none of which is an NPT member state. Even if there were a military dimension to Iran's nuclear program, it would be due to the nuclear arsenals of Israel and Pakistan and the presence of the U.S. forces in the Middle East. In addition, if the U.S. transfers its nuclear technology to India, it would be violating its own NPT and non-proliferation obligations.

"It is likely that one or more Arab states would respond to Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons capability by following Iran's example, and several Arab states have already announced their intentions to pursue 'peaceful nuclear' programs."

Half-truth: Three Arab states that may seek peaceful nuclear programs are U.S. allies. One is Egypt, with which the U.S. has close military, intelligence, and economic relations, providing it with nearly $2 billion in annual aid, which is critical to Egypt's solvency. Why doesn't the U.S. discourage Egypt's intentions?

The second nation is Saudi Arabia, the known oil reserves of which are twice as large as Iran's, with a population 1/3 of Iran's. Why can't the U.S. use the same logic with the Saudis that it has tried to use with Iran by telling them, "You have too much oil and, therefore, no need for nuclear technology for the foreseeable future." In addition, if this really concerns the U.S., why has it not protested the Saudi agreement with France for obtaining nuclear technology?

The third nation is the small island of Bahrain, where the U.S. 5th Fleet is headquartered. Bahrain has no conceivable need for nuclear reactors. If the U.S. is worried about the spread of nuclear technology, why has it agreed to sell the technology to Bahrain?

In addition, if the Arab nations did not try to acquire nuclear weapons after Israel developed them in the 1960s, why would they want to do so in reaction to the peaceful nuclear program of Iran, a Muslim nation?

"Allowing the government of Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability would directly threaten Europe and ultimately the United States because Iran already has missiles than can reach parts of Europe and is seeking to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles."

Outright lies: Iran has no program for intercontinental missiles. In fact, the Arms Control Association stated in October 2007 that Iran could not develop an intercontinental missile by 2015, even if it wanted to. Iran's present missiles cannot reach any part of Europe except Turkey, its neighbor. Iran's missiles are purely defensive, because such missiles are offensive weapons only if the nation that owns them has the ability to project power far beyond its borders. Iran does not have such ability, nor is there any evidence that it aspires to have it. In addition, Europe is Iran's most significant commercial partner. Why would Iran attack its commercial partners?

"The government of Iran has repeatedly called for the elimination of our ally, Israel."

False: Aside from some inconsequential and often deliberately mistranslated rhetoric, Iran has never had any plan to attack Israel. It actually purchased weapons from Israel during its war with Iraq, and Iranian oil is reaching Israel indirectly. Iranian leaders are also fully aware that any attack on Israel will bring a massive counterattack by both Israel and the U.S. In fact, many Iranian leaders have stated repeatedly that it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve their own conflict.

"The government of Iran has advocated that the United States withdraw its presence from the Middle East."

Misrepresentation: Iran is not the only nation that has called on the U.S. to withdraw its forces from the Middle East. Many nations consider the presence of the U.S. forces to be the greatest source of instability in the Middle East. Moreover, why is Iran's advocacy an "offense"?

"The United States, the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany have offered to negotiate a significant package of economic, diplomatic, and security incentives if Iran complies with the Security Council's demand to suspend uranium enrichment.

"The government of Iran has consistently refused such offers."

Half-truth: Iran has stated repeatedly that it is willing to negotiate its entire nuclear program without any preconditions and that a suspension of its uranium enrichment program should be an outcome of the negotiations, rather than a precondition. Iran did freeze its enrichment activities from October 2003 to February 2006, but because Europe did not reward Iran for the suspension, as it had promised to, Iran stopped the suspension. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki just announced that Iran will soon start negotiating with the 5+1 group.

The House Resolution

Many paragraphs in the House Resolution are similar to those in the Senate version and therefore require no further response. I analyze only those statements that seem to add fuel to the fire of the threat of an attack on Iran.

"Iran has used its banking system, including the Central Bank of Iran, to support its proliferation efforts and its assistance to terrorist groups, leading the Department of Treasury to designate four large Iranian banks proliferators and supporters of terrorism."

Exaggeration: The Treasury Department has never presented any evidence that Iran uses its banking system for proliferation purposes. In addition, the use of Iran's banking system to fund Hamas and Hezbollah has been greatly exaggerated at the very least. See, in particular, the article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz on June 26, 2008, "Are Sanctioned Iranian Banks Actually Sponsoring Anti-Western Terror?" which questioned the Treasury Department's claims about Bank Melli of Iran.

"Iran's support for Hezbollah has enabled that group to wage war against the government and people of Lebanon, leading to its political domination of that country."

Outright lies: Hezbollah and its allies among the Christian Maronites (the March 8 Coalition) have a large number of representatives in the Lebanese parliament. With the mediation of our ally Qatar, Hezbollah and the Lebanese government recently resolved all of their differences. Hezbollah enjoys strong support among a very significant portion of the population. It is, therefore, not clear who are the "government and people of Lebanon" that the resolution is referring to.

"Iran's support for Hamas has enabled it to illegally seize control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority, and to continuously bombard Israeli civilians with rockets and mortars."

Outright lies: First of all, Hamas won elections that were certified as democratic by former President Jimmy Carter. It took control of Gaza, only because the people of Gaza supported it. According to Fatah, the main group in the Palestinian Authority, many wealthy Saudis provide far more financial aid to Hamas than Iran ever has, but the U.S. is silent about this for the obvious reasons.

"Iran continues to provide training, weapons, and financial assistance to Shia militants inside of Iraq and antigovernment warlords in Afghanistan.

"Those Shia militant groups and Afghan warlords use Iranian training, weapons, and financing to attack American and allied forces trying to support the legitimate governments of Iraq and Afghanistan."

Outright lies: The U.S. has never presented any concrete evidence that Iran provides weapons to any group in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Shi'ite groups that represent the legitimate government of Iraq are the same groups that spent years in Iran in exile. Iran was instrumental recently in preventing Moqtada al-Sadr's militia from starting a full rebellion against the government of Iraq.

As for Afghanistan, Iran was instrumental in helping the U.S. to overthrow the Taliban. Iran's ally, the Northern Alliance, which Iran had supported for years, was the first group to reach Kabul and overthrow the Taliban. According to the U.S. representative James Dobbins at the conference on the Future of Afghanistan in December 2001, Iran was instrumental in helping the National Unity Government of President Hamid Karzai to form. After the U.S., no nation has invested more in rebuilding Afghanistan than Iran. Above all, both the Taliban and al-Qaeda are archenemies of Iran.

"Iran is further destabilizing the Middle East by underwriting a massive rearmament by Syria."

Outright lie: With mediation by our ally Turkey, Syria and Israel have been secretly negotiating a peace agreement. Syria's only other enemy, the regime of Saddam Hussein, is gone. Therefore, what is this imaginary rearmament for? Where is the evidence for it? Where is the evidence that Iran is paying for it, even if it exists?

On the other hand, the U.S. has agreed to a massive rearmament of some Arab states and Israel by agreeing to sell them up to $50 billion in modern weapons, hence contributing greatly to the region's arms race and instability.

"Through efforts, Iran seeks to establish regional hegemony, threatens long-standing friends of the United States in the Middle East, and endangers American national security interests."

Exaggeration: Regional hegemony will not be achieved with an Iranian army that has been designed solely to defend Iran, and an air force that belongs in museums.

It is therefore clear that practically every paragraph in the Senate and House resolutions contains factual errors, lies, exaggerations, or half-truths. Iran can be criticized on many fronts, especially for its political and social repression and violating the basic human and civil rights of the Iranian people. But Iran is not a threat to the United States or Israel. It is not anywhere close to having nuclear weapons, even if it wants to.

Therefore, the American public must recognize these resolutions for what they really are: war plans advocated by the War Party and its allies in the pro-Israel lobbies.

 

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Muhammad Sahimi, professor of chemical engineering and materials science and the NIOC professor of petroleum engineering at the University of Southern California, has published extensively on Iran's nuclear program and its political developments.

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