Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bombs or bribes no answer to Iran nuke threat - SEPT 24, 2004

Bombs or bribes no answer to Iran nuke threat - SEPT 24, 2004: "Bombs or bribes no answer to Iran nuke threat
By Henry Sokolski

LAST weekend, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency called on Teheran to freeze its efforts to produce nuclear fuel, since this will enable Iran to come within days of having a nuclear arsenal. On Wednesday, however, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said the world must recognise Iran's right to enrich uranium to fuel its power stations.

Iran says 'no' to nuke freeze: President Khatami says world must recognise Iran's right to enrich uranium to fuel its power stations despite calls by the United nations for a freeze. -- REUTERS
At stake is the future of any hope of keeping the Middle East from following Iran's nuclear example.

Unfortunately, when it comes to Iran's nuclear ambition, everyone, both hawks and doves, Europeans and Americans, still believes there is some way to keep Iran from coming within a few weeks of having a nuclear bomb. Iran, however, is no more than 12 to 36 months from acquiring nuclear arms and seems dead set on securing an option to do so.

Still, most experts don't perceive the urgency. President George W. Bush's detractors insist that by simply dealing directly with Teheran, the United States can resolve it by offering it a reliable supply of fresh reactor fuel in exchange for a pledge to refrain from making its own (and thereby coming within days of making a bomb). Never mind Iran's defiance of a year-old nuclear enrichment freeze agreement that has humiliated Britain, France and Germany. A new US president, according to Mr Bush's opponents, can reverse these trends.

White House officials, meanwhile, insist Iran, having repeatedly violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), should be hauled before the Security Council to make sure it doesn't get the bomb. Judging from the Security Council's inability to ensure Saddam Hussein's compliance with international weapons inspections, one can't be too hopeful.

This, then, gives rise to the hawkish solution: bombing (with or without UN approval). Israeli or US attack on Iran's nuclear plants, this group insists, is the only hope. This will at least delay its programme a few years. However, lasting results will require overthrowing the current regime - an endeavour still under way in Afghanistan and Iraq.

If there is no sure way to stop Iran, what should the international community do? The answer: Tackle the most worrisome preventable problems. This would clearly exclude getting Iran to keep its nuclear materials and capabilities out of the hands of terrorists. This scenario is not only unlikely (Teheran's mullahs are unlikely to allow it), but clearly beyond the scope of international powers.

What, then, deserves greater attention? The one thing even worse than a nuclear-ready Iran: an entire Middle East cast in Iran's nuclear mould. Earlier this year, senior Saudi officials announced their interest in acquiring or 'leasing' nuclear weapons from China or Pakistan - a legal move under the NPT, so long as the weapons remain under Chinese or Pakistani 'control'. Egypt, having revealed plans to develop a large nuclear desalination plant, also recently received sensitive nuclear technology from Libya. Syria, meanwhile, is believed to be experimenting with uranium enrichment centrifuges. Algeria is in the midst of upgrading its second large research reactor facility.

If these states continue to pursue their nuclear dreams (spurred by Iran's example), can Iraq, with its considerable number of nuclear scientists and engineers, be expected to stand by? And what of Turkey, whose private sector was recently revealed to be part of Pakistani proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan's network? Will nuclear agitation in its south and its repeated rejection by the European Union cause Turkey to reconsider its non-nuclear status? What can be done?

First, the international community must challenge Iran's claim that its nuclear activities are peaceful and protected under the NPT. No nation that sits on as much oil and gas as Iran has a legitimate need to generate nuclear electricity. Consider: Had Iran openly solicited proposals to provide electrical generating capacity, all the non-nuclear bids would have come in at a fraction of the cost of building nuclear power reactors and fuel production plants.

Second, the US and its allies should build on France's recent proposal that the UN Security Council adopt country-neutral rules for dealing with NPT violators. These rules should stipulate that countries which reject inspections and withdraw from the NPT (something Iran has threatened to do) without first addressing their previous violations must surrender and dismantle their nuclear capabilities (especially large research and power reactors and bulk handling facilities) to come back into compliance.

They would also stipulate that nations not found to be in full compliance will no longer receive nuclear assistance from any other country (for example, Russian assistance to Iran to complete its reactor at Bushehr, which has been the 'peaceful' justification of Iran's most dangerous nuclear activities) until the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors unanimously issues a clean bill of health.

Surely, if France can support such rules, so can Europe, the US and its allies. If these nations unite, Russia will likely follow, particularly if it receives a reward. (One might start with the cost-free nuclear cooperative agreement Moscow has sought for so many years from the US.)

Finally, the US and its allies need to pace themselves. In the end, the only sure path to non-proliferation is more moderate self-rule and increased arms restraint backed by US and allied military resolve and economic cooperation. Iran's current rulers will have to go. Until then, bombing or bribing Teheran should be put aside in favour of tightening and enforcing the rules to keep others from following Iran's example.

The writer is executive director of the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Centre in Washington, DC. Rights: YaleGlobal Online"


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