Friday, November 25, 2011

Iran: Don't Tell an Iranian to 'Do This or That'

By Ramesh Jaura
Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BERLIN (IDN) - "If you tell an Iranian 'you must do this or that', he will tell you in a loud 'NO!' But if you ask him politely to do something, he will answer 'yes' and will do its best to do it," says Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"So the West must learn one thing: do not threaten or try to use force against Iranians, and we'll stick to the principles of dialogue and compromise," he adds in an interview with Nima Ghadakpour at the UN nuclear watchdog's headquarters in Vienna. The full interview was shown on November 22, 2011 on Euronews.

A poised response to another round of sanctions threatened by IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano's rather controversial report reflecting his "serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," is also reflected in Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi's remarks in an interview with the German weekly magazine, Der Spiegel.

Nukes "un-Islamic"

Asked whether he really expects Iranians to put up with an intensified economic boycott, Salehi said: "These are inconveniences we're willing to accept. With 3,000 years of history behind us, 30 or even 50 years spent under an embargo are a mere footnote. We won't give up our independence and we will continue our civilian nuclear program. There is great unanimity on this point both within our government and among the people."

"Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei," he said, had issued "a fatwa, a ruling according to religious law, describing nuclear weapons as 'un-Islamic'. They are 'haram,' forbidden, which means these weapons of mass destruction play no role in our defense strategy. That's the truth, and anything else is propaganda."

Answering another question, Iran's foreign minister averred: "The IAEA is acting under pressure from certain countries . . . ('Israel and its ally, the United States' – Spiegel) . . . so we are prepared for everything. But we have no fear of the discussion at the IAEA concerning this document. Mr. Amano is facing difficult times. We will hold him and the IAEA accountable for their conclusions."

Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA also does not leave any doubt either about his disapproval of Amano – a Japanese national committed to a nuke-free world. He points out that "before the publication of the IAEA report, the Israelis and the Americans announced to the world that the document contained revelations about Iran's nuclear program."

"Surprise at no surprises"

"After the publication of this report," Soltanieh adds, "everyone has said that ultimately there was nothing surprising in it. In short, everyone seemed surprised that there were no surprises. This is very important: and this is why Americans and Israelis failed to convince the other members of the agency to pass a tough resolution against Iran's nuclear program."

He further tells Euronews: ". . . after the errors made by the Director General of the agency, most member countries, particularly the non-aligned countries, including the Egyptian ambassador and my Cuban colleague protested against the publication of this report. And then finally, the resolution adopted on the last day was not at all to the taste of Americans or Israelis.

"Also the last, less severe resolution did not get the vote of all member countries. The resolution calls on Iranians to continue to cooperate with the agency."

Soltanieh says: "It was a simple meeting of members of the IAEA, but the mistake of Director General Amano was to create a climate of hostility between the participating countries. In fact, instead of negotiating with the Iranians regarding possible military dimensions of their program, Mr. Amano, released the report, which was supposed to be confidential."

However, Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA assures to doubting Thomases that "Iran (a founding member of the United Nations) is a responsible country and follows its commitments to the NPT (Non Proliferation Treaty). We will continue to cooperate, so visits and inspections will continue in Iran."

Asked what he thought was the solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and what direction it would take, Soltanieh says: "You know that the Iranian nuclear issue, instead of being a technical matter became a political issue ever since it became the subject of debate in the UN Security Council. And ever since it became a political issue, the problem became more complicated."

According to the report tabled by IAEA Director General, since 2008, officials of the Islamic Republic have not allowed inspectors to visit all of the nuclear sites. Soltanieh said these were two different points."

"Concerning the inspections ... There are ongoing inspections, and the cameras of the agency are still present. The 10 page report writen by Mr Amano, says that everything is under control, whether it be the enrichment centres at Natanz, Fordo, Isfahan and Arak. Everything is under the control of the IAEA," Tehran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog told Euronews.

"The second point concerns the accusations made by the Agency. It said that Iran wanted to focus on pre-2003 studies to develop nuclear weapons. We have said several times that to make such accusations, they must first provide evidence," Soltanieh added.

Iranian officials have been supported by Professor Ramesh Thakur, director of the Center for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, Australian National University. He argues: "Using the same evidence, Mohamed ElBaradei's reports concluded there was no conclusive proof Iran had crossed the weapons threshold. His successor Yukio Amano concludes there is no conclusive proof that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful and he 'has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program'."

IAEA Director General's November 8 report to the Board of Governors underscores Thakur's reservations in that it avers: "While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities . . . declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."

Reminiscent of months ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2002, the report adds: "The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing."

The Federation of American Scientists draws attention to the fact that Iran's nuclear program began in the Shah's era (from September 16, 1941 until his overthrow by the Iranian Revolution on February 11, 1979) including a plan to build 20 nuclear power reactors. Two power reactors in Bushehr, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, were started but remained unfinished when they were bombed and damaged by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war.

Following the revolution in 1979, all nuclear activity was suspended, though subsequently work was resumed on a somewhat more modest scale. Current plans extend to the construction of 15 power reactors and two research reactors. Research and development efforts also were conducted by the Shah's regime on fissile material production, although these efforts were halted during the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.

Iran ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, and since February 1992 has allowed the IAEA to inspect its nuclear facilities.