Our colleague, Siddharth Varadarajan, strategic affairs columnist for India’s The Hindu, published a fantastic column on Sunday analyzing the backdrop for and implications of last week’s resolution on Iran from the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors. We will be offering our own thoughts on the resolution shortly, but want to give Siddharth’s piece the widest possible circulation.
Siddharth rightly criticizes the resolution, among other things, for short-circuiting any possibility of reaching a workable understanding with Iran over refueling the Tehran Research Reactor. Siddharth published an important interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki two weeks ago, in which Mottaki stressed Tehran’s interest in finding a mutually acceptable arrangement for refueling the TRR. But, in retrospect, it seems to that the United States, Britain, and France are not really interested in negotiating such an arrangement. On this point, Siddharth notes,
For reasons best known to itself, however, Washington declared the original proposal could not be modified. Rather than using Mr. Mottaki’s comments on a swap inside Iranian territory as a means of swiftly closing the TRR deal, President Barack Obama expressed disappointment in Iran’s response and said the Security Council would soon have to consider fresh sanctions. It is in this context that last week’s IAEA resolution must be seen…President Obama’s refusal to find creative ways of reaching a settlement is of a piece with the approach of his predecessor. In early 2005, the Bush administration leaned on the European troika of Britain, France and Germany to ensure the package they proposed to Iran included the insulting condition that Tehran should abandon enrichment altogether. And now, once again, by turning the P5+1 into a U1+5 — a body driven by U.S. interests and considerations — Washington is sabotaging the prospects of a diplomatic solution.
Siddharth also analyzes the international politics surrounding the Board of Governors resolution brilliantly:
Russia and China went along because they have a veto in the UNSC and were willing to kick the can down. India, which voted against Iran, naively stated that the latest resolution “cannot be the basis of a renewed punitive approach or new sanctions”. But Brazil, which abstained, demonstrated a clearer understanding of international politics. “The resolution clears the way for sanctions… and sanctions don’t lead to anything,” its ambassador to the IAEA said.
In response, of course, Iran has said it would reduce its “voluntary” cooperation with the IAEA, which could severely impair the ability of the international community to monitor the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities—hardly a brilliant outcome for Western nonproliferation policy. Even more dramatically, President Ahmadinejad announced on Sunday that Iran would build ten more enrichment facilities in coming years. Western policy on the Iranian nuclear issue is proving not just feckless, but increasingly dysfunctional for regional stability and the global nonproliferation regime.
Siddharth offers an intriguing proposal to get out of the current impasse:
One way out of the current impasse is for the UNSC to suspend sanctions for a finite period, to begin with, during which time the Iranians once again voluntarily abide by the AP and step up cooperation with the IAEA over the alleged weaponisation studies. This mechanism would allow the agency to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear activities in Iran, following which U.N. sanctions could be lifted. While the world would welcome such an outcome, Israel wouldn’t, since it is not prepared to accept a safeguarded Iranian enrichment programme under any circumstances. Mr. Obama’s failure to press ahead with his campaign promise of engaging Iran is of a piece with his failure to play the honest broker on the Israel-Palestine issue and can only lead to confrontation and conflict. Sooner rather than later, the world, and America, will come to regret this abject failure of leadership.
We have a proposal of our own for moving beyond the current impasse, but, for now, we commend Siddharth’s outstanding article to your attention.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett