Friday, October 24, 2008
Coffee Break/ Kanchan Gupta
Since news from the United Nations rarely finds space in our newspapers or mention on television news, not many people are aware of the fact that on October 17 the General Assembly is scheduled to select five countries as non-permanent members of the Security Council for a two-year term beginning 2009. Among the competitors for the Asian seat are Iran and Japan. Conventional wisdom would suggest that Japan is the natural choice, but P5 politics, which determines the course of events in the General Assembly and the Security Council, is driven by factors that have little to do with logic or reason, leave alone global concerns. Hence, it is not surprising that China, which is reluctant to see Japan sharing space at the Horse Shoe Table, is believed to be slyly campaigning for Iran's membership. Beijing's economic and energy interests take precedence over those of the region, hence it is not bothered about Tehran acquiring nuclear weapons nor is it concerned about the implications of such lethal acquisition.
Russia, after effectively blocking any further action against Iran despite new damning evidence, this time collated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which shows Tehran is close to stockpiling sufficient weapons-grade uranium to make a nuclear bomb, is lobbying for Iranian representation in the Security Council. Moscow is clearly motivated by the urge to poke Washington in the eye and the strategic imperative to regain space in what the Americans now refer to as the 'extended Middle East'. As the contours of a looming 21st century Cold War take shape, a resurgent Russia sees President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran as a substitute for Gamel Abdal Nasser's Egypt. The Kremlin's claim that it has put off the planned supply of state-of-the-art military hardware to Tehran need not be taken seriously.
If, and it is admittedly a very big if, Iran does make it to the Security Council as a non-permanent member, it would be a mockery of all that the UN professes it stands for. Iran has not only violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory, it has also held up the IAEA to ridicule, refusing to abide by any of its rules. The Security Council has passed three resolutions imposing trade sanctions on Iran to bring it to heel; thanks to Russia and China, the efforts have gone to waste. That the sanctions have had no deterrent effect can be gauged from the contents of the latest IAEA report, which says, "As of 30 August 2008, 5930 kg of uranium hexafluoride had been fed into the operating cascades since 12 December 2007... This brings the total amount of uranium hexafluoride fed into the cascades since the beginning of operations in February 2007 to 7600 kg. Based on Iran's daily operating records, as of 30 August 2008, Iran had produced approximately 480 kg of low enriched uranium hexafluoride."
Strategic affairs experts say this means "under optimal conditions, Iran could use between 700 and 800 kg of low enriched uranium to produce 20-25 kg of weapons grade uranium, enough for a crude fission weapon". Gary Milhollin of Iran Watch, writing in the New York Times, has predicted that Iran will have the low-enriched uranium necessary to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb by mid-January 2009. There is further evidence to suggest Iran is not too far from putting together a weapon of mass destruction -- recently it tested long-range missiles and tried to retrofit them to carry nuclear warheads. If you are still unconvinced, you only have to read the text of Mr Ahmadinejad's rabid, rabble-rousing speech at the General Assembly on September 26 in which he has reiterated Iran's determination to forge ahead with its uranium enrichment programme.
But Iran's violation of the NPT, its taunting refusal to abide by the IAEA's rules although it is legally bound to do so, and its seemingly inexorable march towards manufacturing the second 'Islamic Bomb' -- credit for the first goes to international smuggler (and later peddler) of nuclear know-how AQ Khan of Pakistan -- are not the only reasons why it is undeserving of being allowed entry into the Security Council. Mr Ahmadinejad's opening lines while addressing the General Assembly -- "Oh God, hasten the arrival of Imam Al-Mahdi and grant him good health and victory and make us his followers and those who attest to his rightfulness" -- were the least offensive of what he said that day. Deliberately ignoring the UN Charter, he misused the platform to indulge in rank anti-Semitism and heap abuse on Jews and Zionists, making a spectacle of his deep-seated hatred of the Jewish people. "The Zionist regime is on a slope to decline," he thundered, adding its disappearance is inevitable. It was of a piece with his repeated threats to "wipe Israel off the map" and his appalling denial of the Holocaust; worse, in a replay of crude Nazi propaganda to generate hatred towards Jews, he claimed that "a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists" dominate financial and political centres in Europe and the United States in "a deceitful, complex and furtive manner".
Sadly, the gathered assembly of world leaders listened to a fanatic's rant without so much as a whimper of protest; if Mr Ahmadinejad's appearance in the UN was a shame, the silence that followed his hate-filled speech was shameful. It required Israel's President Shimon Peres, incandescent with rage, to point out, "He is a disgrace to the ancient Iranian people. He is a disgrace to the values of Islam. He is a disgrace to this very house, the United Nations, its basic principles and values."
There's a third reason why Iran, so long as it is led by a fanatic anti-Semite in pursuit of illicit nuclear weapons, must be denied a place in the Security Council. Mr Ahmadinejad is directly responsible for promoting, funding and aiding Islamist terrorism. He has converted Hizbullah into a fearsome Islamist militia and divided Lebanon. He has made Hamas into what it is today, dividing the Palestinian territory and thus making a two-state solution that much more difficult to achieve. He is now trying to scuttle the Iraq defence plan since it does not envisage absolute power for the Shia militias he has nourished with the sole purpose of becoming the arbiter of that country's fate. He is a threat to not only those whom he derisively describes as 'Zionists' but also to all of 'extended Middle East' -- unless halted, he can unleash a fierce and bloody battle for supremacy in Sunni-majority West Asia and North Africa. The doors of the Security Council should remain firmly shut to Iran till such time it disowns Mr Ahmadinejad and discards forever his nuclear weapons programme.
AGENDA | Sunday Pioneer, October 12, 2008