Friday, October 8, 2010

A British Exchange: Comments & Replies

My latest article regarding the double standards of the US' new unilateral sanctions against Iran was reposted on Indymedia UK, among other sites. In response, a comment was posted which, though a bit condescending in its tone, raised some important issues that I subsequently addressed in a comment of my own. What followed was a civil back-and-forth between the commenter, alka, and myself that I believe contains a great deal of valuable information.

The complete exchange is reposted below.


Two points
04.10.2010 18:38

A United Nations Security Council resolution is described as 'illegal'. What law is it breaking? Are all Security Council resolutions illegal, or just the ones you don't like?

Second - the United States can trade with whoever it wants to trade with, and if it doesn't want to trade with Iran, so be it.


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Two Answers
05.10.2010 06:38


Thank you for your close reading of the article and for your comments. Please allow me to address your questions:

1. The notion that the UNSC resolutions regarding Iran's nuclear program is illegal is not based on my personal feelings about Iran or selective readings of international law. It is simply a matter of fact. No document whatsoever, including the UN Charter, the articles of the NPT, cooperation agreements between the UN and the IAEA, the Safeguards Agreement between Iran and the IAEA, and the IAEA Statute itself, authorizes the UN Security Council to enforce Iran's IAEA Safeguards Agreement. Remember, the IAEA is its own entity, not under the auspices or legal framework of the United Nations. It has a legal relationship with the UN, but is not an arm of the organization.

However, the IAEA is authorized (perhaps even required) to "report" certain matters to the Security Council. The purpose of this authorization has nothing to do with UNSC-backed enforcement of IAEA Safeguards; rather, it is to inform the UNSC that, in the opinion of the IAEA, there may be reason to believe a country's (in this case, Iran's) nuclear program is, in the words of Article 39 of the UN Charter, a "threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." It follows that, if the Security Council determines that a "threat...etc" exists, it may then, legally, take action against Iran such as adopting resolutions and implementing non-binding "provisional measures" (Article 40), authorize and implement non-military action against Iran (Article 41) if the provisional measures do not yield results, and even authorize military action "to maintain or restore international peace and security" (Article 42) if the previous measures prove inadequate.

The UNSC has never determined Iran to be a "threat to peace," has never found Iran to be in "breach of peace," and has never accused Iran any "act of aggression." The very first resolution regarding Iran's nuclear program (1696) was enacted ONLY "under Article 40 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations," thereby skipping Article 39 altogether. Article 39 is never even mentioned in the resolution (or any subsequent resolution). In fact, the following resolutions have all simply been "authorized" under Article 41 as "giving effect" to the previous resolutions, but never cite Article 40 in their own right and never once - NEVER ONCE - reference Article 39, which is required for any actions taken after it to be legitimate.

As such, none of the resolutions are, in fact, legally binding on Iran since they all lack the vital element - initial authorization via Article 39 of the UN Charter.

Furthermore, the IAEA's referral of Iran's nuclear "dossier" to the UNSC in the first place was itself illegal. The IAEA Statute (and reaffirmed in Iran's Safeguard Agreement with the IAEA) only authorize a referral to the UNSC when there has been a confirmed diversion of nuclear material for non-peaceful use. The IAEA has confirmed time and again that there has been no such diversion, and that all declared fissile material in Iran has been accounted for and is under full IAEA supervision, seal and containment. Iran's nuclear facilities are under 24-hour surveillance and (even though it is not even allowed under Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA) there have been at least 35 unannounced, surprise inspections of these facilities since March 2007. Throughout all of this monitoring and observation, the IAEA has consistently come to the following conclusion: "The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material [to weaponization] in Iran."

Additionally, even if the IAEA dossier referral and the UNSC resolutions themselves were technically legal (which, as we've seen, they're not), the call for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium, nuclear research and development, and potential energy production, which is what the resolutions call for, would still be totally illegitimate in and of itself. That is a demand that no resolution or legal body can take away from any country.

Note that under Article IV, paragraph 1 of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, "Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination..."

Inalienable Right. Research. Production. Use. Without discrimination. These matters are not under the purview of the UN, and are therefore legally "ultra vires" (beyond the powers) of the UNSC. The right to enrich uranium and pursue peaceful energy is not granted by the NPT, as can be seen above; the NPT merely recognizes and affirms those rights as "inalienable," deriving not from treaty agreements but as fundamental and sovereign rights of all nations regardless of what treaties or resolutions are adopted by the international community. As a result, the UN also has no power whatsoever to limit or suspend these rights.

If you have any information that affirms the right of the UNSC to demand Iran suspend its technological progress or prevent it from acquiring nuclear power, please let me know.

2. You are correct that the United States may determine its own best interest for itself. If it wants to limit trade with Iran, so be it. I never wrote, or even suggested, that the unilateral US sanctions are illegal. They're merely absurd and hypocritical. Notably, as discussed in my article, using "human rights violations" as the basis for imposing sanctions represents a staggering double standard when considering that the United States' closest friends in the region are serial human rights violators like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

(Note that I did not write "allies" since that term is reserved for countries that have entered into legal treaties with one another - NATO, for example. Israel, for instance, has explicitly rejected US offers to become legal allies. Meanwhile, the US refuses to act on behalf of its actual ally, Turkey, when its citizens are murdered in international waters by Israeli commandos. As a NATO member, an attack on a Turkish-flagged ship and the execution of nine Turkish citizens - one of which was also an American citizen - should have been seen as an Israeli act of war against Turkey itself, which would then have to be seen as an attack on all of NATO. But, unsurprisingly, Israel acts with impunity as it kills, occupies, ethnically cleanses, and colonizes.)

Thanks again for your comments. I hope my answers have cleared some things up.

Nima Shirazi
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A considered response
05.10.2010 09:40

First of all, may I thank you for taking the time and trouble to provide a specific response to individual comments. Such courtesy is rare.

A couple of questions arise - if the resolution is illegal, why didn't someone on the SC (and looking at the list of membership, they cannot all be vehemently anti-Iranian) point this out?

I assume this is the IAEA report you are referring to:

I don't think anyone [including the US] has any objection if Iran does build nuclear reactors [although is very strange to see people on Indymedia advocating nuclear energy!]. However, if Iran simply wanted to pursue a civil nuclear power strategy, then it is going about it in a very peculiar way. Whilst no material might yet have been diverted, the way the programme is being set up allows for that to happen at almost any stage.

Put another way, you do not need to spend an awful lot of money enriching uranium to high levels for a civil power programme. The action of the fifteen members of the UNSC implies they too are sceptical of the peaceful nature of the programme.

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A Follow-Up
05.10.2010 19:12


You raise some more excellent points that certainly deserve to be addressed.

Firstly, the United States has a long history of bullying other UN members to into doing what it says. This can be seen in the strong-arm tactics employed (along with Russia) back in 1947 to gain support for the recommendations of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine. More recently, and considerably more relevant, was the revelation that the United States coerced India into voting for the first anti-Iran UNSC resolution back in 2005.

According to Stephen Rademaker, former Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation and International Security at the US State Department, the US leveraged its own help with an future Indian nuclear energy program (remember, this is illegal under the NPT since India is not a signatory and the US is) against India's anti-Iran vote. The July 2005 deal signed between the US and India essentially made India beholden to US diktat thereafter. "The best illustration of this is the two votes India cast against Iran at the IAEA," Rademaker said, adding: "I am the first person to admit that the votes were coerced."

To imagine that India is the only country which the US has forced to comply with its demands would be naive, to say the least. Once this first resolution was passed, subsequent resolutions have simply reaffirmed the original as a fait accompli.

You wonder why, if the legality of the resolutions are dubious, no one speaks up? Well, they do (we just don't really hear about it). For example, all 118 member countries of the Non-Aligned Movement support Iran's peaceful nuclear program and recently noted "with concern, the possible implications of the continued departure from standard verification language in the summary of the report of the [IAEA] director general [Yukio Amano]." All 22 members of the Arab League and 56 members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (there is some crossover, of course) also support the Iranian program. The UN has fewer than 200 members, so it is clear that the vast majority of the world supports Iran.

In 2006, Qatar voted against the initial UNSC resolution (1696) demanding that Iran "suspend all uranium enrichment and related activities or face the prospect of sanctions." In 2008, Indonesia abstained from voting for further sanctions. Earlier this year, both Turkey and Brazil voted against renewed sanctions, which followed the Tehran Declaration between those two countries and Iran which affirmed, in its very first article: "We reaffirm our commitment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and in accordance with the related articles of the NPT, recall the right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities) for peaceful purposes without discrimination."

This declaration clearly views any attempts to prevent Iran from continuing with its nuclear program to be an abrogation of Iran's sovereign rights.

And yet, the Western politicians and the press that speaks for them continue to insist that "Iran is isolated" in the international community on this issue. This is a lie. But it clearly shows just how powerful the five permanent members of the UNSC are. And remember, all five are veto-weilding, nuclear-armed states which have done nothing to dismantle their own nuclear arsenals and stockpiles, as demanded by the NPT.

I wonder in what "very peculiar way" you believe Iran is going about its nuclear program. IAEA inspectors have had open access to the gas conversion facility at Esfahan, the enrichment facility at Natanz, and the new lightwater reactor at Bushehr, as well as the secondary enrichment facility under construction at Qom (which Iran actually declared to the IAEA a full year before required to, when it was, as then-IAEA Secretary General Mohammed El-Baradei described "a hole in a mountain" and "nothing to be worried about"). Iran's facilities continue to be monitored and supervised by the IAEA in full compliance with its Safeguards Agreement.

Iran has only enriched uranium to low levels, nowhere close to what is needed for a nuclear warhead. Nuclear fuel cycles require enrichment of 3%, which Iran has mastered, and medical treatment material to be used as fuel in the Tehran Research Reactor (needed to treat over 80,000 cancer patients) requires enrichment to just under 20%. This is now being produced domestically in Iran because the US has prevented Iran from buying more 20% fuel (needed to keep the Tehran Research Reactor operational) on the open market and is also trying to prevent Iran from exchanging LEU for fuel rods (which can't be converted for weaponization) as outlined in the Turkey-Brazil-Iran agreement.

Still both 3% and 20% are low-enrichment levels. Over 90% enrichment is needed before a nuclear weapon can be produced. That's a huge difference. The only way Iran could begin enriching to such a high level is by literally kicking all IAEA inspectors out of the country and leave the NPT altogether. Iran has shown no signs of intending to this whatsoever. Therefore, your suggestion that "the way [Iran's nuclear] programme is being set up allows for [enriching uranium to high, weaponization-grade levels] to happen at almost any stage," is false and unsupported by facts.

Additionally, Iran has enacted numerous "confidence building measures" asked of it by the IAEA in the past only to have the response by Western states be aggressive and illegal. Iran even voluntarily - VOLUNTARILY - halted its enrichment and implemented the Additional Protocols of the IAEA Safeguards for over two years and was still met with confrontation by the EU. When the IAEA sent the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UNSC in February 2006 (as discussed previously), Iran saw what the West's true intentions were and stopped abiding by the voluntary Protocols, which it was never legally obligated to adhere to in the first place.

A look at the 2007 "Work Plan" between Iran and the IAEA (a prime example of 'confidence building measures') and Iran's compliance with fulfilling these measures to the IAEA's satisfaction shows that Iran has indeed responded as desired to the IAEA's demand for clarification on outstanding issues. As pointed out in Iran's 'explanatory note' to the IAEA, following February 2010's Safeguards report, "It should be recalled that there were only six past outstanding issues which had been included in the agreed Work Plan (INFCIRC/711) and that all of them have been resolved. Also the part IV. 1 of the Work Plan reads as follows: 'These modalities cover all remaining issues and the Agency confirmed that there are no other remaining issues and ambiguities regarding Iran's past nuclear program and activities.' Therefore, no new issues should be raised such as 'possible military dimension'."

This seems to me to represent more than mere disingenuousness on the part of the IAEA - and the US' exploitation of IAEA reports - with reference to its continued insistence obfuscating the truth about Iran's nuclear program. It could also be pointed out that the "alleged studies" which are so often discussed as "proof" Iran's military intentions (and which include forged documents and a phony stolen laptop supplied to the US by members of the terrorist cult MEK - via mutual friends in Israel) have never even been shown to Iran in order to be properly addressed and proven inauthentic.

Essentially, the IAEA and the UNSC are demanding that Iran "prove a negative" by providing evidence that it does not have secret, undeclared facilities and that is is not attempting to build a bomb, which is, as analyst Scott Horton recently explained, "to say the least, a difficult obligation to meet: You say you haven’t read Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover? Prove it!"

Again, I hope I have answered your questions. Thanks again for thoughtful comments.

Nima Shirazi
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Thank you for your response
05.10.2010 21:06

It makes a refreshing change to meet a poster on Indymedia who is prepared to answer comments so comprehensively.

I suspect that I am going to disagree with some of statements, partly as a result of what might be described as semantics.

You say the vast majority of the world supports Iran's programme - I would say that a large number of governments do; but many of those governments cover relatively small numbers of people. Thus if we add the population of America, Russia, China, France, Russia and the UK, then your vast majority shrinks a little.

I would certainly take exception to: 'Therefore, your suggestion that "the way [Iran's nuclear] programme is being set up allows for [enriching uranium to high, weaponization-grade levels] to happen at almost any stage," is false and unsupported by facts.'

On the contrary, the material could be diverted at any stage. And whilst I would agree that the enrichment achieved so far is only 20%, there is no reason why the facilities could not be used to achieve any level of enrichment required.

Much more interestingly, why is it that whilst very many countries in the world have a civil nuclear programme, whereas virtually none, apart from Iran, have enrichment programmes?
Canada and Australia, to take two countries at random, have reactors producing isotopes for medical purposes, but they don't have enrichment programmes.

I agree proving a negative is very difficult, but why is Iran pursuing a path that no other country using nuclear power does - and a path that can very easily lead to a nuclear device?

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In Response
05.10.2010 21:42


Adapting the enrichment process from low-level to high-level is no small undertaking and cannot be accomplished with the flip of a switch. Iran can't wake up one more and decided to start enriching uranium to 90% without kicking inspectors out and making major equipment changes.

Whereas you state that virtually no countries with civilian nuclear energy programs, with the exception of Iran, are enriching uranium. This is patently untrue. In fact, as of 2006, the following countries are known to operate enrichment facilities (most of which are commercial-scale): The US, the UK, Russia, France, China, Japan, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil, and, of course, Iran. Furthermore, Belgium, Italy, and Spain all hold an investment interest in the French enrichment plant (run by the company Eurodif). Iran is also a Eurodif investor and is entitled to 10% of the enrichment uranium output from that plant. Incidentally, since you bring up Australia, you should know that Australia has invented a process called "Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation," or "SILEX," the technology for which has been transferred to the US and which some physicists believe "poses a significant threat to nuclear security." Naturally, Australia is not being threatened with sanctions.

So, again, what path is Iran pursuing "that no other country using nuclear power" is also pursuing?

Nima Shirazi
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05.10.2010 22:06

'The US, the UK, Russia, France, China, Japan, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil, and, of course, Iran'

Let's see - 13 countries enrich uranium - 8 of them have nuclear weapons. Possibly some correlation there. Japan and Germany don't, but given recent events (1945!) that's not surprising. So, 8 out of 11 - I think that makes my point for me.

Laser separation is nothing new. Inventing a technique is not the problem - applying the technique is the problem. Are you saying Australia has a enrichment programme?

'Iran can't wake up one more [sic. morning?] and decided to start enriching uranium to 90% without kicking inspectors out and making major equipment changes.'

Well, kicking out inspectors can be done in 24 hours, so that's hardly a problem. In principle, no major equipment changes are needed. Enrichment is an iterative process - only question is when to stop.

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Oh So Genuine
06.10.2010 03:50

Sorry about that silly "more" typo - yes, I of course meant "morning." I was typing quickly. My apologies.

I'm not quite sure what point you think has been made for you by the list of countries that enrich uranium; I thought we were discussing the legality of sanctions and Iran's legal right to enrich uranium under international law. Iran is still a member of the NPT (and has been for the past 40 years) and has never once indicated that it has been, or will be, pursuing a nuclear weapon. There is literally no evidence for this - quite the contrary. That's what I thought we were discussing; that's what I thought the "point" was.

The control nuclear weapon (and UNSC permanent member) states have over the nuclear energy is evident in everything we're discussing, including the SILEX innovation by Australia. Basically, nuclear technology is being hoarded by these states and, in many cases, being denied to other sovereign states, despite international law. (This is not an endorsement of nuclear power, simply an endorsement of law and an opposition to double standards based on ridiculous mythologies of "good guys" and "bad guys".)

In my opinion, Iran's continued enrichment has to do mainly with two considerations, which are interrelated: self-sufficiency and respect. The US (and submissive European nations) have refused to negotiate with Iran in a reasonable manner that recognizes its sovereign, inalienable rights, have reneged on offers to supply fuel to Iran in exchange for Iran halting 20% enrichment, have consistently prevented Iran from buying fuel (from the commercial enrichment sites mentioned previously), and continue to make baseless accusations about Iranian ambitions (and threaten military attacks on Iran). As a result, Iran has understandably decided to take care of itself. Its own energy needs exceed the domestic capabilities of the Iranian oil industry (mostly due to 30 years of US sanctions) and Iran has long been interested in exploring alternatives to fossil fuels, knowing that - some day - its deep oil reserves will be depleted and it will still need to provide power to its 70+ million citizens. Iran is looking to the future and looking out for its own best interests (again, this is not an endorsement of nuclear energy), yet this is deemed unacceptable by the only superpower on the planet. The name of the game here is hegemony.

Also, if you're going to bring up the events of 1945 with regard to the use of nuclear weapons, I find the US far more condemnable and dangerous than any other country you care to mention. Chances are the hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians murdered by US nuclear bombs would agree with me.

Thanks again for your close consideration.

[Note: I did not post my article here on Indymedia on my own accord, it was reposted here from my own website by someone unknown to me. (I am thrilled to have my writing distributed and republished, of course, so this is not a problem at all.) I happened to come across my article here and, upon reading your first comment (snide though it was), thought it deserved a response. My suggestion is, if you would like to continue this conversation, please email me directly or perhaps post a comment on my own website. If you choose to do that, I might repost these comments there first so that the entire discussion can be archived and contextualized. Let me know if this interests you.]

Nima Shirazi
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Posting & reposting
06.10.2010 09:08

That fact that it was copied from your website without your knowledge shows some of strengths and weaknesses of Indymedia, where a standard response to many articles or comments is a 'spam' repost from Global Research or Dandelion Salad.

On the other hand, no doubt it is a compliment to either your writing or your political sentiments that someone has chosen to post your article.

I think this debate could go on for a very long time. Rather than take up everyone's time and bandwidth, I will just give my own personal point of view, with which people may or may not agree.

I think Iran wants civil nuclear power, I think it also wants to have the option to build a bomb, and that they have tailored their civil programme in such a way that it could easily be switched to military purposes if need be. At the moment, it is entirely civil, but that could be changed quite quickly and easily. They are keeping their options open [and deliberately annoying America in the process!].

The merits and demerits of the attitude of the Security Council and America towards nuclear energy is a separate debate, which might exhaust quite a few electrons in the process.



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