Are they stupid? UN Security Council votes to sanction Iran

A resolution was passed unanimously by the UN Security Council on Saturday, the day before Christmas eve, imposing sanctions-lite on Iran for pursuing attempts to produce industrial-scale quantities of enriched uranium.

The current Iranian administration has made its efforts to produce its own enriched uranium a matter of national pride.  Iranians in an out of government say that, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution which caused the Shah to flee into exile, the country has been subjected to sanctions and international isolation — as well as a devastating 8-year war with Iraq, and that they simply cannot rely on any outside source of the enriched uranium they say will be needed to fuel the country’s planned production of nuclear energy. 

The problem is that enriching uranium for use in nuclear power plants is essentially the same process as enriching uranium for use in nuclear weapons.  Iran says admantly that it is not pursuing, and will not make, nuclear weapons.  But some other countries — led by the United States — are convinced that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program.

Iran, under the Shah, signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which prohibits the development of weapons, in exchange for facilitated access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Iranian officials now say that this means they have the right to pursue their own uranium enrichment program.  But American officials argue that, even under the NPT,  there is no “right to enrich”.

The resolution that was adopted in the UN Security Council on Saturday was negotiated for four long months. 

The NY Times reported Saturday that “For years, some officials within the American government have pressed for the Security Council to adopt sanctions to halt Tehran’s nuclear pursuits.   In June, the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives to halt its nuclear program. The offer was rejected, setting the stage for the Aug. 31 deadline and, ultimately, the sanctions resolution.”  The NY Times story said that “In an effort to maintain their sometimes fragile coalition, the Americans and Europeans also agreed to eliminate a mandatory travel ban on those people said to be involved in nuclear activities. While older drafts had mandated that all states ‘prevent entry’ of such people, the final version of the resolution simply ‘calls upon’ states to ‘exercise vigilance’ over who crosses their borders.  In another nod to Russia’s concerns, the resolution was amended to exclude any sanctions against a nuclear power plant that Russia is building at Bushehr, in southern Iran…
As recently as Friday morning, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly I. Churkin, voiced concerns that the text continued to threaten legitimate business deals.  Mr. Churkin maintained that the resolution was intended to prod Iran to negotiate, not punish it. Several small 11th-hour revisions, however, allayed Moscow’s concerns.”

The BBC World Service reported that “The resolution, under Chapter Seven of Article 41 of the UN Charter, makes enforcement obligatory but limits action to non-military measures…But acting US ambassador to the UN, Alejandro Wolff, said the resolution sent a strong warning that there would be serious repercussions to Iran’s continued defiance of the international community.
‘Today we are placing Iran in the small category of states under Security Council sanctions,’ Mr Wolff said.  ‘If necessary, we will not hesitate to return to this body if Iran does not take further steps to comply.’ … Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, condemned the resolution as illegal.  He told state-run television that the decision ‘cannot affect or limit Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities but will discredit the decisions of the Security Council, whose power is deteriorating.’   The resolution, which demands that Tehran end all uranium enrichment work – which can produce fuel for nuclear plants as well as bombs – was the result of months of protracted negotiations…In a statement before the Security Council, Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, emphasised that the resolution did not authorise the use of force.  But he said the sanctions sent a “strong message” to Iran about the need to comply with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).  The resolution demands that Tehran end all uranium enrichment work, which can produce fuel for nuclear plants as well as for bombs.  BBC –

An Associated Press (AP) story, which was published in the Jerusalem Post, reported that “Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow voted ‘yes’ because it wants to send ‘a serious message’ to Iran ‘to lift remaining concerns over its nuclear program.’ He stressed that the goal must be to resume talks. If Iran suspends enrichment and reprocessing, the resolution calls for a suspension of sanctions ‘which would pave the way for a negotiated solution,’ Churkin said. Israel praised the UN Security Council’s decision to impose sanction on Iran, saying it’s an important step toward preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.  Israel considers Iran the biggest threat to its existence, and has repeatedly called for tougher action against its foe…Israeli officials welcomed the Security Council’s decision. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said it sends ‘a clear message to the Iranian leadership that Iran’s nuclear program is total unacceptable and the community of nations will act to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons.’   Israel’s Defense Ministry said the international community ‘will need to continue to show determination to reach the goal of blocking Iran’s nuclear plan.’  If Iran refuses to comply, the resolution warns Iran that the council will adopt further non-military sanctions…Qatar’s UN Ambassador Nassir Al-Nassir, the only Arab member of the council and its current president, was the last to make his country’s intentions known, telling members just before the vote that Qatar would vote yes ‘because we are concerned about the safety of Iranian nuclear facilities.’  … The resolution authorizes action under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. It allows the Security Council to impose nonmilitary sanctions such as completely or partially severing diplomatic and economic relations, transportation and communications links.  If Iran fails to comply with the resolution, the draft says the council will adopt ‘further appropriate measures’ under Article 41.  During negotiations, a mandatory travel ban was dropped at Russia’s insistence.  Instead, the resolution calls on all states ‘to exercise vigilance’ regarding the entry or transit through their territory of those on a UN list that names 12 top Iranians involved in the country’s nuclear and missile programs. It asks the 191 other UN member states to notify a Security Council committee that will be created to monitor sanctions when those Iranians show up in their country.  The resolution also says the council will review Iran’s actions in light of a report from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, requested within 60 days, on whether Iran has suspended uranium enrichment and complied with other IAEA demands.  To meet concerns of Russia and China that the original resolution was too broad, it was changed to specify in greater detail exactly what materials and technology would be prohibited from being supplied to Iran and to name those individuals and companies that would be affected’.”

In a later story, AP reported that “In a final attempt to win Russian support, the measure dropped one Iranian company from the list of those facing an asset freeze.”

In another later story, AP added that Iran’s Ambassador to the UN, Javad Zarif, made a statement to the UN Security Council after the vote, tjat was “filled with lists of grievances: allegations of war crimes and nuclear irresponsibility by Israel, Iranian proposals he claims were ignored by the Europeans and Americans, and crimes against Iran he charged were ignored by the Security Council.  In an emotional moment, Zarif remembered a colleague, Mahdi Vahidi, who recently died from cancer he said was caused by chemical weapons used by Iraq against Iran during their 1980-88 war. He said the council, because it failed to take action against Iraq at the time, ‘shouldered responsibility’ for Vihidi’s and others’ deaths.  Zarif also questioned the sincerity of the Security Council’s claim that it wanted Iran to suspend enrichment in order to build confidence and trust between Iran and the international community. The United States’ ‘stated objective has always been to use the council as an instrument of pressure and intimidation to compel Iran to abandon its rights,’ Zarif said.”

The AP story added, with reporting from Tehran, that “Iran has said it intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006, and then expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium gas into enriched material to produce nuclear fuel.  Iranian nuclear officials say 54,000 centrifuges would produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a 1,000-megawatt reactor, such as the one Iran has built with Russian assistance at Bushehr, southern Iran. The reactor is due to begin operating next year.”

In what must surely be purely coincidental, the UN Security Council action was taken a day after a U.S. federal judge ruled “that Iran is responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing and ordered that the government pay $254 million to the families of 17 Americans who died in the attack in Saudi Arabia…U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s ruling yesterday was the first time an American court found that Iranian government agencies and senior ministers financed and directed the bombing by a militant Saudi wing of the Islamist terrorist group Hezbollah.  ‘The totality of the evidence at trial . . . firmly establishes that the Khobar Towers bombing was planned, funded, and sponsored by senior leadership in the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran,’ Lamberth wrote. ‘The defendants’ conduct in facilitating, financing, and providing material support to bring about this attack was intentional, extreme, and outrageous.’  Lamberth’s decision in the lawsuit, which was filed in 2002 by the families of 17 victims, reverses a lower magistrate judge who said evidence linking the Iranian government to the bombing was not convincing.
Lamberth said the leading experts on Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group based in Lebanon, presented ‘overwhelming’ evidence that the Iranian military worked with Saudi Hezbollah members to execute the attack, and the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security provided money, plans and maps to help carry out the bombing. Six Hezbollah members captured after the attacks implicated Iranian officials.

Two weeks earlier, the Washington Post reported that the list of Iranian individuals and organizations to be included in the UN Security Council resolution was compiled after a junior staff member of the U.S. Department of State was ordered to do a Google Search.  The Washinton Post article, entitled  Seeking Iran Intelligence, U.S. Tries Google – Internet Search Yields Names Cited in U.N. Draft Resolution, written by Dafna Linzer, was published on 11 December: “When the State Department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for their involvement in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the agency refused, citing a large workload and a desire to protect its sources and tradecraft.  Frustrated, the State Department assigned a junior Foreign Service officer to find the names another way — by using Google. Those with the most hits under search terms such as ‘Iran and nuclear,’ three officials said, became targets for international rebuke Friday when a sanctions resolution circulated at the United Nations.  …
None of the 12 Iranians that the State Department eventually singled out for potential bans on international travel and business dealings is believed by the CIA to be directly connected to Iran’s most suspicious nuclear activities.
‘There is nothing that proves involvement in a clandestine weapons program, and there is very little out there at all that even connects people to a clandestine weapons program,’ said one official familiar with the intelligence on Iran. Like others interviewed for this story, the official insisted on anonymity when discussing the use of intelligence.  What little information there is has been guarded at CIA headquarters. The agency declined to discuss the case in detail, but a senior intelligence official said: ‘There were several factors that made it a complicated and time-consuming request, not the least of which were well-founded concerns’ about revealing the way the CIA gathers intelligence on Iran.  That may be why the junior State Department officer, who has been with the nonproliferation bureau for only a few months, was put in front of a computer.  An initial Internet search yielded over 100 names, including dozens of Iranian diplomats who have publicly defended their country’s efforts as intended to produce energy, not bombs, the sources said. The list also included names of Iranians who have spoken with U.N. inspectors or have traveled to Vienna to attend International Atomic Energy Agency meetings about Iran.
It was submitted to the CIA for approval but the agency refused to look up such a large number of people, according to three government sources. Too time-consuming, the intelligence community said, for the CIA’s Iran desk staff of 140 people. The list would need to be pared down. So the State Department cut the list in half and resubmitted the names.  In the end, the CIA approved a handful of individuals, though none is believed connected to Project 1-11 — Iran’s secret military effort to design a weapons system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The names of Project 1-11 staff members have never been released by any government and doing so may have raised questions that the CIA was not willing or fully able to answer. But the agency had no qualms about approving names already publicly available on the Internet…U.S., French and British officials came to agree that it was better to stay away from names that would have to be justified with sensitive information from intelligence programs, and instead put forward names of Iranians whose jobs were publicly connected to the country’s nuclear energy and missile programs. European officials said their governments did not rely on Google searches but came up with nearly identical lists to the one U.S. officials offered…The U.S.-backed draft resolution, formally offered by Britain and France, would impose a travel ban and freeze the assets of 11 institutions and 12 individuals, including the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the directors of Iran’s chief nuclear energy facilities, and several people involved in the missile program. It would prohibit the sale of nuclear technologies to Iran and urges states to ‘prevent specialised teaching or training’ of Iranian nationals in disciplines that could further Tehran’s understanding of banned nuclear activities. The text says the council will be prepared to lift the sanctions if Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director general, concludes within 60 days that Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and has halted efforts to produce a heavy-water nuclear energy reactor.  Many Security Council members are uneasy about the sanctions. The Russians and the Chinese — whose support is essential for the resolution to be approved — have told the United States, Britain and France they will not support the travel-ban element of the resolution, according to three officials involved in the negotiations. Russia is building a light-water nuclear reactor in Iran and some people on the sanctions list are connected to the project.  ‘The Russians have already told us it would be demeaning for people to ask the Security Council for permission to travel to Russia to discuss an ongoing project,’ a European diplomat said yesterday…” Staff writer Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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