By: Anoush Maleki
Amid increasing Israeli and Congressional pressure, the White House's desperate struggle to win international support to impose tough United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran has forced the Western propaganda machine to move into high gear.
The White House realizes that the campaign to persuade those that matter to adopt tough sanctions has hit a brick wall. The efforts are based on the same old arguments: that Iran is going nuclear, that a nuclear-armed Iran would upset the balance of power in the volatile Middle East, that it would cause an arms race with Arab countries just waiting to beat each other in making atomic bombs -- Israel already has a nuclear arsenal, that Iran could provoke an all-out war if Israel sensed it could no longer live with the possibility that its arch foe would go nuclear one day; and they are falling on apathetic ears in China and, to a degree, in Russia.
It is not that the Chinese, or the Russians, are not concerned by the notion that Iran could one day become the world's tenth nuclear-armed power -- a charge the Islamic Republic vehemently rejects. It is rather because the long lasting allegations against Iran seem to have been running their course as the world powers have failed to provide any compelling evidence to validate the claims in the past few years.
Today, China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power, says dialogue is the only solution to the Iranian issue. Russia, another veto-wielding member, says sanctions are not "optimal" in dealing with Iran over its nuclear program.
Iran is currently under three rounds of UNSC sanctions resolutions. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it says it will not yield to international pressure to abandon its rights to enrich uranium for civilian use. The sanctions, which Iran says are illegal, meanwhile, have failed, while proving troublesome at times, to force Iran to stop its enrichment work.
The reality is that there are no evidence whatsoever that Iran is making nuclear bombs -- as if such proofs existed, the Israelis would have let the world know with much fanfare. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has said in many reports that its inspectors, who have been roaming Iranian nuclear sites for years, attest to the non-diversion of Iran's civilian program.
The United States knows this; its allies, including Britain, also know this. But the White House is under Congressional and Israeli pressure to take action, and its allies have to follow suit.
David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, warned in an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune that a war in the Middle East could be in the offing, arguing that if the international community failed to show "unity and resolve," Israel might feel compelled to attack Iran in an "act of self defense."
He also went as far as claiming that, while stopping short of saying the future of humanity hanged in the balance, Iran was the most alarming problem the world faced today and that it needed to be dealt with by the means of sanctions or else.
"Iran's nuclear program, and the world's reaction to it, raise the most profound questions about the strength of international law, the purpose of the United Nations and the rights of states that feel threatened by others. More prosaically, Iran's nuclear ambitions are a potential flashpoint for war in the Middle East," Britain's top diplomat wrote.
I am not going to point out the flaws in Mr. Miliband's repetitive argument, but it seems to me that Western techniques are starting to lose their convincing power. Maybe they realize this too. And maybe that is why a new case is starting to make waves on the horizon.
According to the New York Times, "officials of several governments and international agencies deeply involved in the hunt for additional nuclear sites in Iran" have said, in private, that the country may be moving to build new nuclear enrichment sites.
The Times claims that there are "highly classified operations" underway in Iran to gather intelligence on the country's nuclear plans.
The article, by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, makes a case that Iran is speeding up its nuclear activities, which ultimately lowers the time estimation given by American intelligence agencies that in the next one to four years, Iran may acquire the capacity to make atomic bombs, and that it is time for the international community to act on Iran; and adopt sanctions.
The argument, which is based on a whole lot of hypothetical estimations, may sound realistic to some; but it could also be viewed from a different angle if the White House so chose to.
Iran, an active member of the IAEA, has kept an open book on its nuclear work. It has even adopted the Additional Protocol -- the only measure that enables the UN agency to assert with absolute certainty that a country's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes -- for two and a half years. And the reward for it was the first round of UNSC sanctions resolution against the country.
Iran, nonetheless, continued to keep a close cooperation with the agency. Last year, it informed the UN body that it was taking measures to build its second enrichment plant in Fordo, near Qum, southwest of the capital. The announcement was made in private. It, however, became public in September when President Barack Obama of the United States alleged that the Fordo site had been built in secret. With the allegation, the president hoped to get China and Russia on board for new sanctions -- an initiative which is yet to bear fruit.
In November, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's top nuclear official, revealed in an interview that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had instructed the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin pre-construction work on ten new enrichment sites, similar to the Natanz plant, which was for years used to enrich uranium to a level lower than five percent for nuclear fuel.
Meanwhile, the Times article said American officials, examining satellite evidence, have been unable to find clues as to where the new sites are being built.
As if, no one in the American administration is keeping record on Iran's correspondents with the UN nuclear watchdog. Because if they did, they would know that the Tehran government, while abiding by its responsibilities to the NPT and the international community, would do all but to deliberately provide the West with a valid excuse over its nuclear program.
They would know that Iran would inform the IAEA of its plans when the time is right -- eighteen months before construction on new sites begin -- and would then allow UN inspectors to set up monitoring stations in and around the facility.
Nonetheless, the efforts to push for new Iran sanctions are meeting Chinese resistance. And the US administration is being forced to trim down its proposed list of sanctions on Iran's economy, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the country's gasoline imports.
And even if they manage to pass such punitive measures in the toughest format, they will be making an already complex situation much worse. Mr. Obama must look for a way to solve the problem at its roots, and that goal cannot be achieved unless his administration involves in effective negotiations with Tehran, accompanied by redoubled trust building measures.