When Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited
President George Bush at the White House on 11-12 April, the news coming out
of the meetings should have been dominated by the president's displeasure with
Sharon permitting the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
Instead, the New York Times headline on 13 April was Sharon
Asks US to Pressure Iran on Nuclear Arms.
In other words, the best defense is a good offense. Sharon, of course, knew
his decision to permit expansion of a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem by
3500 units would be seen in Washington as a contravention of the road map in
the peace process.
Washington diplomats were stunned, seeing it as a move practically calculated
to undermine the authority of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is trying
as hard as he can to believe that Sharon is acting in good faith.
That issue will remain alive as Washington waits to see if Sharon goes ahead
with the expansion despite expressions of disapproval from Bush and Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice.
Meanwhile, the artful Sharon succeeded in changing
the subject by spreading out aerial photographs purported to show secret Iranian
installations, where he alleges nuclear weapons are being developed.
In briefing the press, the White House made it clear there was "nothing
startling or new" in the aerial photos.
It could have been pointed out, though, that Tehran not only has agreed with
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it will permit inspections
of sites suspected of housing weapons programs, but also that the sites shown
in Sharon's photos have already been visited by IAEA inspectors, with nothing
Israel waves aside the repeated findings of Iranian compliance with the terms
of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty by Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA's director.
Sharon's assertion is that, as long as Iran is permitted to enrich uranium
for the nuclear power plants it is building and plans to build in the future,
it can acquire the capability of producing highly enriched uranium (HEU).
This was the same rationale Israel used in 1981
when it bombed the almost-complete Osiraq nuclear power plant outside Baghdad.
Israeli officials acknowledged at the time that IAEA inspectors would have
control of the fissile material at Osiraq and that there was no evidence Iraq
had a weapons program in violation of the NPT. But it insisted, as Sharon does
now regarding Iran, that it could not be permitted to develop the technical
ability to do so.
What now worries observers is not that Israel will conduct preemptive bombing
attacks against the sites in the aerial photographs and the Bushehr power plant
that has been under construction for decades and is now being completed by Russian
The Israeli Air Force does not have the capability of delivering bombs big
enough to destroy the installations because they are limited in how far they
The pressure on the United States by Sharon is not to persuade President Bush
to bomb Iran for Israel's security, as he knows this would never happen.
The plan of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration,
who work closely with Sharon, instead, aim at changing the terms of the NPT
when the countries that are party to the treaty will gather in New York City
in May for the 1970 treaty's Seventh Review Conference.
The members, practically every nation on earth, meet every five years to assess
how things are going.
Actually, things have been going very well, as evidenced by the fact that the
IAEA has been proven correct in its assessment that Saddam Hussein had no nuclear
program and would be incapable of building one. Its assessment was made before
the president decided we had to go to war anyway, just to make sure.
The neocons, who essentially control Vice President Dick Cheney and his office,
have already made great strides in persuading the president that the NPT is
outmoded and must be modernized. His statements in support of the NPT say that
he likes it so much he wishes it to be strengthened.
How? By removing from its provisions the "inalienable" right of signatory
nations to enrich uranium to the 4% potency required for power plants, but not
the 90% required for nuclear weapons. To accomplish this, the president has
named John Bolton to be UN ambassador.
In his position at the State Department in the first Bush term, Bolton has
been open in his disdain for the IAEA's ElBaradei and has done everything he
can to have him removed.
The reason the treaty is outmoded, Bolton and
his underlings insist, is because it has become too easy for NPT members to
violate the terms of the treaty and get away with it.
An American expert in nuclear weapons, Gordon
Prather, says Bolton has deliberately confused "failure to fully comply
with an IAEA Safeguards Agreement" with "violations" of the NPT.
So far as the IAEA has been able to determine, no country subject to the NPT-IAEA-safeguards
regime (except Iraq of course) has "violated" the NPT.
"It is outrageous that Bolton deliberately obfuscates the difference between
'failure to fully comply with an IAEA Agreement' with 'violations of the NPT'
or of the even more deliberate obfuscation 'failure to comply with its NPT obligations.'"
What Prather is saying is that many countries, including the US, have not fully
complied with the safeguards regime, which actually preceded the NPT and which
simply means that they were found to have done something that they were obliged
to report to the IAEA and failed to do so, for example moving material from
Building A to Building B.
Most recently, both Egypt and South Korea were found to have "not fully
complied" with safeguard, but there is no evidence that they or Iran or
North Korea ever violated the terms of the NPT.
Iraq did, but what Bolton hates to point out is that the NPT was strengthened
when that clandestine effort was discovered after the Gulf War.
The new protocols, to which Iran has agreed, permit intrusive, perpetual inspections,
not by IAEA snoops coming in now and then, but with on-site cameras and sensing
devices that would permit ElBaradei's team in Vienna to monitor Iran's program
day and night.
The great danger in this neocon game plan is that
when the members refuse to alter the NPT at its meeting in New York in May
as they surely will the argument will be made that the US can no longer
support the NPT and will abandon it as a mechanism for preventing non-proliferation.
It is conceivable to experts like Prather, who was the US army's chief scientist
during the Ronald Reagan administration, that further argument will be made
that action against Tehran must be taken to force it to abandon any effort to
What happens then would, of course, increase tensions, not only between Washington
and Tehran, but also between Washington and the rest of the world, most especially
China and Russia.
At the very least, it would be a perfect time for Sharon to announce that Israel
will permit the expansion of the settlement in question, probably "in order
to strengthen" the road map to peace.
Originally run on al-Jazeera,
reprinted with the author's permission.