The frustration of the Bush administration with Iran regarding its nuclear program is obviously boiling over when an administration official issues an outright lie about Iran in a public venue, as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns did on television on May 5.
Mr. Burns made the following statement on PBS’s “NewsHour” program to interviewer Margaret Warner.
WARNER: But as you know, I mean, Iran says that under the (Nuclear Non- Proliferation) treaty, it has an inalienable right to continue pursuing this technology for civilian purposes.
BURNS: But the agreement that Iran entered into November of last year in Paris with Britain, France and Germany, is that it will not just suspend its nuclear fuel cycle activities, it will actually lead to cessation and dismantling. That means that Iran would not be able to have the possibility to enrich or produce fissile material which, as you know, is the essential ingredient in the capacity to build a nuclear device.
Mr. Burns’ statement is untrue. The Nov. 15 treaty, a public document, does not stipulate any agreement on Iran’s part to dismantle any part of its peaceful nuclear development program. Moreover, Iran’s cessation of enrichment activity was specified as voluntary in the treaty.
Mr. Burns’ remark is designed to show that Iran is in violation of a treaty subsequent to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), thus perpetuating the Bush administration portrait of Iran as an outlaw nation and “treaty violator.” What Mr. Burns failed to point out is that Iran also subscribed to the following unambiguous statement in the November treaty:
“Iran reaffirms that, in accordance with Article II of the NPT, it does not and will not seek to acquire nuclear weapons. It commits itself to full cooperation and transparency with the IAEA. Iran will continue implanting voluntarily the Additional Protocol [for enhanced inspections] pending ratification.”
Iranian officials have dug in their heels on this issue, because they correctly feel that they have been unfairly singled out for attack. They know full well that Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea are not signatories to the NPT; that they have nuclear weapons; and that the United States is doing nothing to target them. They also know that Brazil has a developing nuclear program, and that Taiwan supplies nuclear technology support to all and sundry, and these nations are, likewise, not the targets of American rhetoric.
Iran is deeply proud of its technological advances. It is now manufacturing commercial passenger aircraft for export, and has the largest automobile manufacturing plant in the Middle East. It is diversifying its oil economy and has growing non-oil export trade. Nuclear energy technology is both a demonstration of its advancing skills in high-level engineering and a practical economic measure to free petroleum and natural gas for export to China, India and other nearby Asian markets. Iran’s clerical leaders are not loved by its youthful population, but their support for nuclear energy development is almost universally supported by the populace.
Since there has been no diplomatic relations between Washington and Tehran for nearly 30 years, the only way for either nation to get the attention of the other is through invective and excessive rhetoric. The Bush administration has decided that the nuclear issue is the one that will play best with the American public, and on the world scene, and so it seems ready to tolerate, and perhaps even orchestrate, stunts like the Burns prevarication.
However, in the long run, the United States is losing the battle. European powers are not willing to go along with U.S. strong-arm tactics and, even if the United States is able to haul Iran in to the United Nations to face sanctions, it is likely that China, Russia and France will veto the measure, causing embarrassment in Washington.
Far better for Washington would be to do what Britain, France and Germany have been urging the Bush administration to do, and actually press to open direct talks with Tehran. This is the honest, the correct and the effective way to deal with the very proud nation of Iran.
(Pacific News Service contributor William Beeman is professor of Anthropology and director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is currently visiting professor of Cultural and Social Anthropology at Stanford University.)
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