John Burroughs

In remarks at the Arms Control Association annual luncheon in DC on January 25, 2006, Hans Blix indicated that IAEA Board referral of the Iran situation to the Security Council may not be the most productive course. He also said that, regardless of the forum, what is needed is a better offer to Iran to induce it to drop its uranium enrichment program. Lacking so far, he stressed, has been security guarantees of the kind offered to North Korea.

Michael Spies, program associate for the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy (LCNP), and I attended and were struck that Blix’s discussion of Iran was broadly consistent with the letter sent to the IAEA Board on January 23 by LCNP and Western States Legal Foundation. For other topics covered by Blix, see David Ruppe’s story in Global Security Newswire and the ACA transcript.

Blix of course was head of UNMOVIC, in charge of inspecting Iraq for biological and chemical weapon and missile programs prior to the illegal U.S. invasion which, consistent with UNMOVIC’s reporting, found no such programs. In the 1980s, he was director general of the IAEA. He is now chairman of the WMD Commission established by Sweden, whose report will be released in May.

Regarding Security Council consideration of the Iran situation, Blix said that an upside is that it would put China and the United States at the table. But downsides are that it would increase expectations and pressure; harden the Iranian position; and lead to chatter about economic and military sanctions. It is certainly the case that the U.S. media tends to assume, wrongly, that Security Council consideration is necessarily about whether to impose sanctions. It is also true that the credibility of the United States, the permanent five, and the Council is seen to be at stake, reducing flexibility and increasing the risk of confrontation.

Blix said that if the Security Council takes up the matter, it may then just send it back to the IAEA with an exhortation to Iran to cooperate. The IAEA might then be able to close the file regarding Iran’s past violations of its Safeguards Agreement and its current intentions. However, that would leave the issue of Iran’s enrichment program still outstanding. Blix believes that it is important that Iran end the program. Perhaps he thinks that under all the circumstances, including the nature of the present Iran government, this is the only way to achieve certainty regarding Iran’s future course.

Similarly, in our letter, we said that a “non-confrontational solution [outside the Security Council] is achievable and efforts to this end are ongoing. Additionally, the IAEA investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities has not yet reached a conclusion. Escalation would needlessly and artificially create a condition of crisis and tension which could easily undermine the diplomatic and IAEA processes, and pave the way for dangerous confrontation in the future.” Also worth noting is that Kofi Annan has indicated that referral is premature, at least until the March report of the director general.

Also in our letter, we said that the question of Iran’s enrichment program must be separated from its cooperation with the IAEA in clearing up questions about its past undeclared activities and its current intentions. We went on to say that “non-compliance,” as defined in the Safeguards Agreement, is not the same as violations of that agreement by failing to declare activities and facilities; non-compliance refers to diversion of nuclear materials to military purposes, or uncertainty about diversion. The IAEA has concluded that there has been no such diversion. The IAEA Agency and Board have also made no findings that Iran has breached its NPT obligations barring diversion or acquisition of nuclear weapons. What the Board did do, in its September 24, 2005 resolution, adopted by a divided vote, was to find that Iran’s violations of the Safeguards Agreement constitute non-compliance “in the context of” the IAEA Statute.

Regarding the inadequacy of the incentives offered Iran by the EU3 (Britain, France, Germany) to end its enrichment program, Blix said that North Korea has been offered assurances against attack by conventional and nuclear means and normalization of diplomatic relations, but not Iran. His comments echo those of Selig Harrison in the January 17 Financial Times. Harrison wrote that the

nuclear negotiations between Iran and the European Union were based on a bargain that the EU, held back by the U.S., has failed to honor. Iran agreed to suspend its uranium enrichment efforts temporarily pending the outcome of discussions on a permanent enrichment ban. The EU promised to put forward proposals for economic incentives and security guarantees in return for a permanent ban but subsequently refused to discuss security issues.

The language of the joint declaration that launched the negotiations on November 14 2004, was unambiguous. “A mutually acceptable agreement,” it said, would not only provide “objective guarantees” that Iran’s nuclear program is “exclusively for peaceful purposes” but would “equally provide firm commitments on security issues.”

Working groups on political and security issues were to report back in three months. But the U.S. has proved unwilling to co-operate with the EU in formulating concessions to Tehran relating to its security concerns.

Our letter likewise observed that the “August EU proposal required very firm commitments from Iran on forfeiting aspects of its nuclear program in exchange for a weak and nebulous package of incentives.” How did the negotiations end up in this sorry state? There is ample reporting about Iran’s misbehavior. But little noticed are the deficiencies on the other side. In early 2005, Condoleezza Rice, newly installed as secretary of state, with Bolton sidelined because he was between jobs, backed EU3 negotiations. This was hailed as a return to a sane diplomatic course. However, the price for U.S. backing was that the EU3 took the position that the only “objective guarantee” of a peaceful Iranian nuclear program is the cessation of all nuclear fuel production related activities. This was not the understanding when the negotiations began. Further, as Harrison explains, the US was not willing to offer security guarantees and normalization of relations that only it is in a position to make good on, on its own behalf, and implicitly or explicitly, on behalf of Israel. Finally, the US extracted a commitment from the EU3 that if the negotiations failed, referral to the Security Council was the next step. So here we are.

The most promising avenues out of this morass are negotiations that address Iran’s security concerns, some sort of face-saving gesture towards Iran regarding enrichment (perhaps the proposed facility in Russia), and Iranian cooperation and IAEA speed in closing the file on Iran’s past violations of the Safeguards Agreement and related matters going to Iranian intentions. On the latter point, Pierre Goldschmidt, former deputy director of the IAEA, now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and George Perkovich of Carnegie have energetically been calling for a Security Council “generic” resolution that among other things would require states that have violated their safeguards agreement to be subject to enhanced IAEA inspection powers. This sounds nice on paper, but shows a faith in the US-dominated Security Council and in U.S. intentions that unfortunately I am unable to share.