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Iran Calls the UN's Bluff By: William R. Hawkins
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In his testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 29,  R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said, “Just this past weekend, the U.S. led the Security Council in a 15-0 vote to condemn and sanction Iran for the second time in three months. Despite the fulminations of President Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran is not impervious to financial and diplomatic pressure. It is clear to us that concerted international pressure is helping to undercut the Iranian regime’s sense of ascendancy, unnerve its overly confident leadership, and clarify to it the costs of its irresponsible behavior.” What a difference two weeks can make in turning such declarations on their head!

Iran’s capture of 15 British sailors and Royal Marines the day before the UN vote demonstrated that Tehran still has its sense of “ascendancy” and confidence. Iran struck at sea in the face of a U.S. show of naval force by two aircraft carrier groups meant to back the UN vote. The hostage crisis was entirely manufactured and stage-managed by President Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad to call the West’s bluff. And to prove that the release of the British personnel 13 days later– after the broadcast of their “confessions,” was not a sign of retreat by Tehran, a massive roadside bomb destroyed a British armored vehicle and killed its four man crew the next day in Basra. Major General Mohammed al-Moussawi, chief of police in Basra, said such an explosive device had not been used in southern Iraq before, but was of a type supplied by Tehran to pro-Iranian factions of the Mahdi Army. It should be noted that when Ahmadi-Nejad released the British hostages, he called on London to withdraw from Iraq.


Tough there has been plenty of commentary on London’s weak response to Iran’s provocation, the incident has not been put into the larger context of Tehran desire to expose the weakness of UN Security Council Resolution 1747, and the supposed coalition behind it. China is Iran’s major supporter at the UN and has worked to water down its resolutions. Its UN ambassador, Wang Guangya ,said on March 24 that “the purpose of the new Security Council resolution is not to punish Iran but to urge Iran to return to the negotiations and reactivate diplomatic efforts. The relevant sanction measures should neither harm the Iranian people nor affect normal economic, trade and financial exchanges between Iran and other countries.”  In other words, have no discernable impact, nor should it open the door for further action. As Wang said, the UN resolution should only “help enhance diplomatic efforts rather than aggravating conflicts and leading to confrontation.” This is the Chinese formula for letting Iran continue on its way without outside intervention.


Let’s look at the resolution. Paragraph 2. “Calls upon all States also to exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals who are engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems” and to notify the UN of any such movement. This is not an outright prohibition, a point made clear in the next provision of the resolution. Paragraph 3 “Underlines that nothing in the above paragraph requires a State to refuse its own nationals entry into its territory, and that all States shall, in the implementation of the above paragraph, take into account humanitarian considerations, including religious obligations.” This means that if Russian, Chinese or personnel from other member states are working on nuclear weapons or delivery systems in Iran, they are free to travel to and from home! This is a wide open door for the most dangerous form of outside aid flowing to Tehran.


Paragraph 5 is a prohibition, but the only one in the resolution. It “Decides that Iran shall not supply, sell or transfer directly or indirectly from its territory or by its nationals or using its flag vessels or aircraft any arms or related materiel, and that all States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.” This is not, however, much of an economic sanction because Iran is not a major exporter of weapons, except for what it provides to terrorist groups in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere. This clandestine trade is not going to be halted by a UN resolution.


It is the importation of arms that needs to be embargoed to weaken Tehran’s regional military capability. But this is not prohibited, only discouraged by the UN. Paragraph 6 uses the same language as paragraph 2 and merely “Calls upon all States to exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale or transfer directly or indirectly from their territories or by their nationals or using their flag vessels or aircraft of any battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles or missile systems as defined for the purpose of the United Nations Register on Conventional Arms to Iran” as well as any technical services or transfer of technology. An impressive list, but there is not even a reporting requirement as in the provision governing the movement of suspect personnel.


Paragraph 7 is supposed to be a broader application of economic sanctions, but has major loopholes. It “Calls upon all States and international financial  institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans, to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes.” What investment in Iran could not be justified as being for developmental purposes? For sanctions to have the effect of weakening Iran, they must disrupt and stop Iran’s development, for that is the process that gives the Tehran regime the means to carry out its aggressive agenda.


Annex II of Resolution 1747 lists elements of a “negotiated solution” which is the only permitted outcome. All are carrots. They include a reaffirmation of “ Iran’s inalienable right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination” including active “support the building of new light water power reactors in Iran through international joint projects” along with research and development in a variety of fields. There would also be efforts at “improving Iran’s access to the international economy, markets and capital, through practical support for full integration into international structures, including The World Trade Organization and to create the framework for increased direct investment in Iran and trade with Iran.” Also promised is “support for the modernization of Iran’s telecommunication infrastructure” and “cooperation in fields of high technology and other areas to be agreed upon.” So even if Tehran were to agree to halt its nuclear enrichment, the resulting payoff for its threatening behavior would make Iran stronger under a regime that would use that increased strength in dangerous ways.


Of course, as long as Iran has abundant oil to sell to a hungry global market, it will be able to attract trade and investment without making concessions. Germany, Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe, refused to threaten economic sanctions against Tehran for its assault on its NATO ally Britain. Though the Iranian economy is shaky, with high unemployment and slow growth, the main obstacle to progress has been mismanagement by the theocratic state. There is no shortage of foreign corporations eager to help Tehran out of its malaise. Washington has even had trouble restraining the foreign subsidiaries of American companies from working in Iran.


Undersecretary Burns’ optimism that “although the Iranian regime remains obstinate and we have not yet succeeded in either stopping altogether its nuclear research programs or blunting its support for terrorism, we are making progress” does not seem well founded. Tehran has shown the world that whatever may be said at the United Nations or to Senate committees or to the Western press, there is no “international community” willing to take real action.


Indeed, the day after Burns’ speech, the UK failed to get the UN Security Council to condemn Iran for the seizure of its sailors and Marines. Russia balked at British wording that their people had been seized in Iraqi waters. China, Qatar, Indonesia, Congo and South Africa also refused to blame Iran. So the UN again proves itself an arena for conflict, not consensus. The real problem, however, is that the only powers with the means to apply real pressure– the U.S. and UK, are also reluctant to act, giving the impression that they are fearful of Iran.

No wonder Ahmadi-Nejad was able to declare April 9 “nuclear day” in Iran, announcing that his country could now enrich uranium on an “industrial scale.” Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said Iran will not accept any suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities and urged world powers to accept the "new reality" of the Islamic republic's nuclear program. In the wake of recent events, it is clear why Tehran could believe that the world had already accepted their rise to major power status.

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William Hawkins is a consultant on international economics and national security issues.

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