Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

"Iran at the IAEA: Sidelining ElBaradei" September 18, 2007.

There is a power struggle going on inside the International Atomic Energy Agency about how to handle Iran's nuclear programme. ElBaradei is calling for a double time-out, but the US wants more sanctions.

This week, we pause our review of the past year to consider a crucial development regarding the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The story begins with an innocuous headline from the South African government's information site: “South Africa commends Iran's new stance on nuclear programme.”

The World Report blog is designed more as a research tool than an archive. At the top a news ticker called Hot Topic links the top five results of a Google news search for key words that I decide. I wanted to see how news organizations around the world are covering the controversy about Iran's nuclear program. So for the last few weeks, Hot Topic has been set to look for “Iran nuclear.”

More specifically, I was looking for something I call a “contextual refrain.” News of the day usually reports some incremental development in a story that may go on for months or even years. So the writer has to bring readers who have not been following from the beginning up to speed.

Normally, the day's news event only takes a few paragraphs to describe. Then, after all the direct quotes from key players, comes a sentence or two—no more than a paragraph—that puts the day's development in a context.

For instance, if the story concerns the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we are usually reminded at this point that he has called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

This is important for two reasons. First, it sets the context. In doing so, the writer chooses, from among many options, the particular context in which he or she wants us to view this character in the story. In this case, it's a black hat for Mahmoud.

The writer who tells us that Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map rarely tells us that he was trained as an engineer, that he grew up in a poor family, that he was a municipal politician before he got into national politics, that he was elected and may stand for re-election in 2009—any one of which would depart from the straight demonization that is common.

Context is the key to meaning and tone. Once you can spot the bad guys, the rest of the story will fall into place.

Second, the contextual refrain is important because it is frequently repeated, not just once or twice but literally thousands of times, both vertically and horizontally.

By vertical repetition, I mean that any time a big news organization—Canadian Press, Reuters, CNN—publishes a story, verbatim repetition by hundreds of local newspapers--and often on radio and TV—is the norm.

More relevant to the mind-numbing power of the contextual refrain--is horizontal repetition. The story about Ahmadinejad yesterday, as the one last week and, in fact, for several years now, very likely will remind you, not that he is elected, or an engineer or from a poor family, but that he has called for Israel to be wiped off the map.

Given the emotionally charged nature of the subject, I should come clean and admit that I already had a good idea of what I was looking for. I thought I had seen a contextual refrain about Iran's nuclear program but only because I recognized in my consciousness the onset of a stupor that comes from relentless repetition. Foul play was likely, but I had to be sure.

So I set the ticker and waited.

That's when the story South African snagged my attention.

Not everyone realizes South Africa's importance in the nuclear story.

First, South Africa developed a significant number of nuclear weapons during the 70s and 80s, but dismantled them before a black government could take power. It is the first and only country so far to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.

Second, in 1998, South Africa and seven other middle powers formed the New Agenda Coalition. NAC sought from the nuclear weapon states "a clear commitment to the speedy, final and total elimination of their nuclear weapons." Slovenia withdrew later that year under pressure from the US, UK, and France. (Rauf Action plan 01)

Third, and most recently, “a South African court sentenced Mr Gerhard Wisser to an 18-year suspended jail sentence and three years correctional supervision after entering into a plea-bargain agreement with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for his involvement in the AQ Khan Network.”

So when South Africa welcomed the working plan concluded between Iran and the IAEA on August 21, I stopped to read.

It was a long story.

The IAEA Board of Governors had been meeting in Vienna on Wednesday. All was not well, and stories were mixed about what happened inside the meeting.

According to Arms Control Today, the US and several European governments were unhappy with the working plan and “vowed” to undermine it by asking the Security Council for a third round of sanctions.

The Global Security Network said, ““...the United States and other Western nations today agreed grudgingly to allow the initiative a chance to succeed (see also GSN, Sept. 10).

Enter Abdul Minty, South Africa's Ambassador to the IAEA.

Referring to Iran's Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, Minty told reporters that "The actions by the Security Council are to reinforce the authority of the board and the agency and are therefore by their nature not intended to be punitive."

Minty also expressed South Africa's support for the statement of the Director General in which he called for a 'double time-out' of all enrichment related activities and of sanctions, thereby providing a window of opportunity for the resumption of these negotiations.

In a statement unlikely to be repeated in the Canadian or American press, Minty praised Iran for “providing information to the agency, which has already enabled the agency to resolve some of the outstanding issues.”

I did not find the paragraph I was looking for—the contextual refrain in the South African statement.

Oddly, I did find it in a China View story (Sep 13 07), one of several state-owned publications. It goes like this” quote “"The United States and other Western countries have accused Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under a civilian cover, but Iran denies the accusation, saying it just wants to generate electricity." endquote

By the same token, the US and Britain are hardly credible sources of information about who has a covert nuclear programme and who doesn't.

Scott Ritter, the Chief UN Weapons Inspector from 1991 to 1998 stated publicly numerous times before the invasion in 2003 that Iraq had no significant weapons of mass destruction.

Western resistance to ElBaradei's “safeguards approach” recalls relentless attempts following the invasion to discredit and marginalize another UN Weapons Inspector and former chief of the IAEA, Hans Blix.

Yet, rigorous inspections were a reliable path to disarmament. And the inspectors have been reliable sources of information. In fact, it was Blix and his team who blew the whistle on the phony letter about the purchase of 500 tons of yellowcake from Niger.

Another piece of the larger picture is the first paragraph of Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty states that

“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”

It must also be said that in 2003, Iran admitted that it had concealed its nuclear activities for 18 years. The secrecy violated its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty and created a storm of controversy and suspicion that it was intent on developing nuclear weapons.

Article VI of the NPT is a bit of context especially worth noting. It reads as follows: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

This simple commitment by the nuclear weapons states to eliminate their nuclear weapons is rarely mentioned when our press is busy reporting on the progress of the evil Iranian nuclear programme.

Yet Article VI is so critical to practical nonproliferation, that the Middle Powers Initiative responded to the breakdown of the 2005 NPT Review Conference by creating the Article VI Forum. The Forum “brings together like-minded countries to explore, develop and implement the legal, political and technical elements required for the achievement and maintenance of a nuclear weapons free world.”

The Middle Powers Initiative is a campaign by a network of international citizen organizations. It is chaired by Douglas Roche, a former Alberta Senator and Canadian ambassador for disarmament. This July, Roche wrote an article for the Hill Times urging Canada “to get U.S. tactical nuclear weapons out of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Turkey.... Canada cannot have it both ways: [he said] to support the elimination of nuclear weapons through the NPT, and also support NATO's continued nuclear weapons.”

But the disarmament theme is far from a central item for nuclear weapons states trying to sideline ElBaradei's working plan with Iran.

As Roche points out,
the United States plans to rebuild every weapon in its nuclear stockpile and install new components to make weapons lighter and more rugged to improve the consistency of their explosive yield and to improve the accuracy of their delivery. Russia is carrying out research and missile tests of state-of-the-art nuclear missile systems and is developing new warheads for its most recent silo-based and mobile missiles. France is planning the deployment of new warheads whose concept was tested in 1995-96 on new versions of its cruise and submarine-launched missiles. The British Parliament recently voted to replace its Trident system, which would ensure nuclear weapons capabilities well into the second half of the 21st century. China is currently replacing its force of 20 silo-based long-range missiles with a longer-range variant.

We have a long way to go, and Iran is the least of our problems.

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Gert said...

Doubt very much if the IAEA can do much about anything, really...

Off topic:

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