Saturday, January 22, 2005

Times Online - Jack Straw Fears Neocon Stupidity towards Iran

Times Online - Sunday Times: "Straw snubs US hawks on Iran
David Cracknell and Tony Allen-Mills, Washington

JACK STRAW has drawn up a dossier putting the case against a military attack on Iran amid fears that President George W Bush’s administration may seek Britain’s backing for a new conflict.
Straw and his officials fear that hawks in Washington will talk the American president into a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, just as they persuaded him to go to war in Iraq.

The foreign secretary has produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action and makes the case for a “negotiated solution” to curbing the ayatollahs’ nuclear ambitions amid increasingly bellicose noises from Washington.

He will press home the point at a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the incoming secretary of state, at a meeting in Washington tomorrow.

The document says a peaceful solution led by Britain, France and Germany is “in the best interests of Iran and the international community”. It refers to “safeguarding Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology”.

The dossier, entitled Iran’s Nuclear Programme, was quietly issued in the Commons on the eve of Bush’s inauguration last week for fear of provoking a public rift with Washington — although privately tensions are running high between the two nations.

The approach contrasts with the government’s two Iraq dossiers, which were trumpeted to make the case for war.

US agents have tried to locate suspected nuclear sites in Iran, according to a report last week by Seymour Hersh, the investigative journalist who broke the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal.

British officials are increasingly concerned that months of patient European-led diplomacy may explode in a torrent of bunker-busting attacks by US stealth bombers. There is also concern in London that the Pentagon may be ordered to act on the basis of its flawed intelligence, while British agents on the ground believe Iran is complying with nuclear inspectors.

Fears in London of an attack were fuelled when Dick Cheney, the American vice-president, said that Iran was “top of the list” as a trouble spot for the administration. Rice said it was an “outpost of tyranny”.

The message that the British government wants no part in another war in the Middle East will be reinforced by Tony Blair when he meets Bush in Brussels next month and at an Anglo-American summit in Washington after the British general election, which is expected in May.

The foreign secretary’s dossier sets out in detail the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since Iran signed up to an agreement 15 months ago.

Despite his confidence in the negotiations, which have been frustrated by setbacks, IAEA minutes published in his dossier show that the agency believes that all declared nuclear material has been accounted for.

However, minutes of a key meeting last November show that “the agency is not yet in a position to conclude there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran”.

The minutes go on: “In view of the past undeclared nature of significant aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, and its past pattern of concealment, however, this conclusion can be expected to take longer than in normal circumstances.”

The agency has yet to be satisfied that a “clandestine supply network” for the production of Iran’s “centrifuge enrichment programme” — equipment for making nuclear weapons — has been cut off.
In his preface to the dossier, Straw admits that Iran’s compliance with international inspectors is “mixed and incomplete”. He writes: “There are a number of issues which have still to be fully resolved.

“A negotiated solution, in which both sides have a feeling of ownership, is in the best interests of Iran and of the international community. It gives stronger guarantees of future behaviour than an imposed solution and is more likely to build the long-term confidence and trust which can enable the broader relationship to develop positively.

“We have worked hard to achieve agreement with Iran on the way in which this issue is handled, to give the international community the reassurance we seek while safeguarding Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.”

A cabinet minister said: “Jack is making clear, as is Tony, that we are not getting involved in American sabre-rattling to make Iran comply with its international obligations.”

In a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times today, 65% of people said that Britain should not support American military action against Iran, compared with 16% who were in favour.

However, a consensus is emerging among the “neoconservative” hawks in Washington who are close to Bush that European-led diplomacy with Iran is failing to produce results.

A prominent Washington defence hawk said: “At some point the Americans are going to turn to the Europeans and say: ‘The goal is disarmament but all we are getting is arms control. It’s time for a bigger stick’.”

Richard Perle, a former Pentagon adviser, said: “What Straw should be nervous about is the reliability of his Iranian interlocutors. There’s certainly scepticism (in Washington) about whether the Europeans are going to achieve a result.

“To do that you have to believe that the Iranian regime is not unswervingly committed to nuclear weapons. I find it hard to believe that they will part from them based on this diplomatic initiative.”"

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