Bill Totten's Weblog

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Iran: The Calm before the Storm

by Pham Binh

www.mrzine (June 13 2006)

The media is hailing the Bush administration's call for talks with Iran and its endorsement of an incentives package which includes the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor as a diplomatic breakthrough. The threat of war seems to have receded over the horizon of the foreseeable future.

In fact, this is the calm before the storm. As Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice put it on June 2, "we can't wait for months ... They need to make a choice and the international community needs to know whether negotiation is a real option or not". {1} The new-found willingness to negotiate on Bush's part and the incentives proposals are an attempt by the ruling classes of the US, Germany, France, and Britain to isolate Iran from its closest allies on the UN Security Council, China and Russia, an attempt which has succeeded since they both support the current carrot-or-stick package.

From the Bush administration's point of view, the US is now in a win-win situation. If Iran declines the offer, the US and its allies will refer Iran to the UN Security Council, leading to economic sanctions and a resolution that would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security, thereby creating the legal and diplomatic basis for US (or Israeli) air-strikes.

If Iran accepts the offer, the US can delay the construction of a light-water reactor while the Iranians will be prohibited from enriching uranium, allowing Uncle Sam to have his cake and eat it too. It would not be the first time the US failed to live up to its end of a nuclear bargain. In 1994, the US, along with Japan and South Korea, agreed to finance and build two light-water reactors for North Korea by 2003 in exchange for the North's placement of its nuclear facilities under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The US and its allies never delivered on their end of the deal, triggering a crisis which eventually led to North Korea's announcement that it possessed nuclear weapons in 2003. {2} Furthermore, the US can manipulate the IAEA which would be in charge of monitoring Iran's nuclear facilities in the same way that it used UN weapons inspectors in Iraq in 1998, when weapons inspectors installed US surveillance equipment into key government buildings which provided intelligence for a bombing campaign later that year. {3}

In either case, Iran's ruling class is in a lose-lose situation. Accepting the offer would prevent Iran from enriching uranium on its own and put the country at Washington's mercy to follow through on the delivery and construction of the light-water reactors. This course of action would merely postpone the conflict between the US and Iran, since the US would be able to exploit Iran's acceptance to pressure it for even more concessions. Rejecting the offer would lead to Iran's referral to the UN Security Council, the possibility of sanctions, and the very real threat of war.

In all likelihood, Iran will try to split the US-created united front by accepting parts of the incentives package and rejecting others and calling for more time for negotiations. China and Russia will probably support prolonging negotiations, since they have no interest in yet another war in the Middle East to strengthen US hegemony, while the Bush administration and its European allies will claim that their offer was "reasonable" and that they have "no choice" but refer the matter to the UN Security Council, setting the stage for war.

The dispute over Iran's nuclear program is not about nuclear weapons, despite what the Bush administration and their media megaphones claim. Iran currently has 164 centrifuges refining uranium, but it would take 16,000 centrifuges to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for nuclear weapons. {4} Furthermore, much of Iran's uranium deposits are contaminated with the element molybdenum, which Iran does not have the technology to remove, rendering it unusable for nuclear power. In fact, President Ahmadinejad's April announcement that Iran had joined the world's nuclear club was highly misleading - it appears that the uranium used in the enrichment cycle was imported from China back in 1991 because of Iran's difficulties in purifying its own uranium. {5} The enormous technical hurdles are why the US National Intelligence Estimate has projected that Iran is at least ten years away from being able to produce nuclear weapons. {6}

At the heart of the crisis is the irreconcilable conflict of interest between the ruling classes of the US and Iran over Iran's growing power in the Middle East and Central Asia. Iran's rulers have no choice but to develop a nuclear program to generate electricity because, if current consumption trends continue, Iran will become an oil importer within fifteen years {7}, thereby depriving the Iranian government of its major source of income: oil exports. For America's rulers, curbing Iran's growing power is crucial if the US is to retain unfettered dominance in the Middle East, which is the key to remaining top dog in the world's imperialist pecking order in the 21st century.


1 David Shelby, "Rice Gives Iran Weeks, Not Months, to Decide on Talks", Washington File, June 2 2006.

2 See Pham Binh, "Background to the Crisis in North Korea" and "The North Korea Crisis: the Dragon Falters, the Eagle Steps In", December 14 2005.

3 Sharon Smith, "Targeting Iraq: US Hypocrisy and Media Lies", International Socialist Review 4, Spring 1998.

4 Eric Ruder, "The Nuclear Hypocrites: World's Biggest Nuclear Power Demands Disarmament by Iran", Socialist Worker, May 12 2006. For more on the technical difficulties that Iran's nuclear program is facing, see Jeffrey Lewis, "Iran and the Bomb: How Close Is Iran?", January 19 2006.

5 Jonathan Marcus, "Iran Enrichment: a Chinese Puzzle?" BBC News, May 18 2006.

6 Ruder, op cit.

7 Pham Binh, "The Coming War with Iran", MRZine, April 22 2006.

Pham Binh is a 23-year-old recent graduate of Hunter College. He edits Traveling Soldier.

Bill Totten


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