Iran, UNSC talks have the effect of Averting War

The meeting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) with Iran in Baghdad is apparently producing a lot of detailed proposals for resolving the crisis.

Apparently the one place there could be a breakthrough, if not at Baghdad then later this summer, is with regard to Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 19.75% (this is still low-enriched uranium or LEU) for the production of medical isotopes at its medical reactor. A stock of 19.75%- enriched LEU is much closer to the 95% enriched uranium typically needed to construct a nuclear warhead than the 3.5%-enriched uranium used to fuel ordinary electricity-generating reactors. The UNSC and Germany want to find a way to have Iran supplied with the fuel for the medical reactor from the outside, so that they do not have to make their own.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is also seeking enhanced access to sites for inspection. Some of these sites have no uranium enrichment facilities, such as the military base Parchin, but are of interest because Iran is suspected of conducting experiments there with weapons implications, as with the construction of a superhard casing for a warhead.

The problem on the UNSC + Germany side is that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allows Iran to enrich uranium, including to 19.75%, and does not allow for inspections of military bases (at US and then-Soviet insistence). The P5 + 1 are making demands on Iran for which there is no basis in international law, and which are directly contradictory to the NPT. In essence, the UNSC has high-handedly repealed the NPT for Iran and from 2006 has just insisted that Iran stop enriching uranium altogether, including for peaceful power-generating purposes.

Iran would be under no obligation to pay attention to these extra-legal UNSC demands save that they are accompanied by the imposition of a financial blockade on Iran that aims at preventing it from selling its petroleum via the international banking system and so at paralyzing the Iranian economy. US unilateral sanctions are far more harsh than the UNSC sanctions, but the US is still the world’s largest economy, and it can usually make its financial policies stick.

The European Union extra sanctions beyond those called for by the Security Council may not be legal. According to Iranian officials, a European court recently struck down third-party sanctions on an Iranian firm. This ruling should not be surprising, since the legal case for sanctions on Iran is weak to non-existent.

The sanctions and threatened blockade have brought Iran to the negotiating table. But the Iranian state, as opposed to the Iranian people, is not terribly worried about the Western sanctions, since its petroleum income is sufficient to buffer the government from unrest at anything above $54 a barrel, well below the current price. The state, in short, is still getting rich even with the sanctions, and can evade the blockade by using soft currencies like the Indian rupee and by resorting to barter trades (oil for wheat, e.g.). The Iranian state probably is sufficiently cushioned from the sanctions that state actors will not be harmed by even the stringent US sanctions. Thus, Tehran doesn’t absolutely need to make urgent concessions, though it does want to show some flexibility, in hopes of getting the sanctions dropped or at least softened (especially the UNSC sanctions, since Iran wants to separate out the uber-hawkish US government from its United Nations Security Council colleagues.

The main good thing about the talks is that as long as they continue, they make it hard for anyone to start a war.

25 Responses

  1. If Iran can afford the luxury of imprisoning and executing people for political and religious reasons, then Iran must afford also the luxury of not selling petroleum.

    • What’s our and Israel’s and Saudi Arabia’s and our Other Global Current Pre-Dominated Partner Nations’ excuse, then, and don’t say that “we” don’t do it, or that “we’re exceptinoal.”

    • It is 100% impossible to prevent Iran from selling its oil.

      Oil is very fungible and the “nationality” of oil is easily “changed” with a few low cost bribes (just the cost of doing business). As a result, as Professor Cole notes, Iran will easily be able to make a nice profit on their oil for a very long time because it is impossible, short of a global financial collapse and massive starvation, for the price of oil to decrease very much. Currently, the global demand for oil is more than 90% of the global supply of oil and there is NO SPARE CAPACITY. Without Iranian oil on the market, the global demand could quickly exceed the supply causing massive price increases for EVERYONE on earth.

      As for Iran having the “luxury of imprisoning and executing people for political and religious reasons,” that accusation applies to ALL COUNTRIES on earth, INCLUDING the USA. Iran is no worse than any other country.

  2. If Saudi Arabia can afford the luxury of imprisoning and executing people for political and religious reasons, then Saudi Arabia must afford also the luxury of not selling petroleum.

    • Yes. Saudi Arabia is so bad that it even justifies internationalizing the Saudi petroleum.

      • Would that, one wonders, involve “EU” (pronounced “EEEewww?”, formerly the Band-aid Fig Leaf known as “NATO”) attacks on the House of Saud? Which would presumably involve, among other futilities, a chance, finally, to see whether the F-22 (and the F-35, if it’s ever allowed to cross the street and go around the block without being tied to a huge tail of contractor dandling) and the missiles attached thereto and “avionics” contained therein, is “better” in aerial combat than the F-16s and other stuff “our” MIC has so lustily sold to the Saudi military? Or can it all be done as a keyboard exercise, by “sanctioning” the sale of “Saudi oil?”

  3. Thanks for the explanation. This raises a question for me, though: What justification is the USG using to justify sanctions? If it’s so self-evident that Iran is not enriching uranium to weaponizable levels, and that Iran has every right to a civilian nuclear program, and that sanctions against Iran are extraordinarily unlikely to accomplish what they’re meant to accomplish, what is the argument from the US side other than outright denial of reality? Is there a good case to be made for the other side? Or is the Obama administration just plugging its ears, squeezing its eyes shut and yelling, “LALALALALALA AXIS OF EVIL”?

    Of course, they hate our freedoms and they want to kill Israel and military industrial complex and so on, but the hawkishness on the part of the USG still seems unjustifiable. I know a lot of bright people at State — admittedly none who work on Iran, but some who work on Af/Pak, and they have similar problems of perception — and I just don’t understand how they see this issue so differently from Professor Cole.

    True of a lot of issues, I guess.

    • “Justification? We don’ neeed no steeenkin’ justification!!! Weee dooooes what weee want!”

      Want a couple of great examples of how the real “gulf war,” the one between careerist and self-aggrandizing neocon “perceptions” and what the sheeple are led to believe and worship, on the one hand, and the reality of GIs killing and being killed and then killing some more and all the while billions and going on trillions of Real Money dollars are just disappearing into the fog of war, on the other? Read, with an ever so slightly jaundiced eye, CIA sneak Gary Schroen’s marvelously oblivious tract on his summer vacation in Notagainistan, “First In: An Insider’s Account of How The CIA Spearheaded The War On Terror In Afghanistan.” link to en.wikipedia.org . then maybe read, if you can find it, “Long Rifle,” by LeBleu, a “troop’s” experience with The Freakin’ Brass and dedicated people learning that they are doing stupid stuff decreed by liars and fools. And follow that with Jon Krakauer’s “Where Men Win Glory,” link to articles.latimes.com , about the macho and brave life of football notable Pat Tillman, and his idiocy-induced, fraudulently miscast death, on accounta the massive, disgusting inertia and momentum of that enormous bloated grasping bureaucracy that is pulling its branches together to force all of us into a war-ized endgame in the Great Networked Battlespace (here’s just one slightly dated pitch that captures a little bit of the whole sick spirit of the thing: link to boeing.com )

      And this is going to change just how, again? for anything but the worse? because of all those people who are “invested” in More Of The Same Stupid?

      At some point, if what I hope to be the case is true, all these folks are going to run out of the last vestiges of “legitimacy,” and people are going rear up and say “NO MAS!” Wonder if that will be before or after we run out of petroBTUs, and before or after our current net direction as a species has made the place uninhabitable…

  4. Lord, I just realized I typed “justification…using to justify.” Chalk it up to a long day.

  5. I listened to most of the interview on PBS last evening. As I did, I had to ask myself why it was that Iran, which although not 100% compliant, but has allowed periodic IAEA inspections is the center of attention. Why it is we’re so adamant about 100% compliance/submission to our demands, yet in the background are Pakistan, India, and Israel — all countries who have already developed nuclear weapon capacity, are not signatories to the non-proliferation treaty, do not comply with IAEA demands, and which we have evidently assisted in development of their nuclear capacities. Additionally, in the case of Israel we also send them around $3 billion/year in largely military aid. But Iran is the boogeyman, right?

    • yet in the background are Pakistan, India, and Israel

      That horse left the barn long ago. The Bush administration actually did put sanctions on Pakistan and India, but it was too late: they’d already developed actual, deployable nuclear weapons by the time we found out about them, so they eventually gave up.

    • I could be wrong about this, but, my understanding is that the biggest gripe that can LEGITIMATELY be made against Iran…other than them “not being like us”…is that they are not in full compliance with the NPT, in which case the various “inducements” they have been provided with for peaceful development of a nuclear program, would be withdrawn.

      Iran would then be no different than Pakistan, India, Israel, etal, and free to do whatever else any sovereign state is entitled to do within its own borders. However, with existing sanctions it isn’t as tho their participation in the NPT is doing them any good anyway.

      So why all the falderol? Why indeed. If the intent is to change their general behavior and power in the region, the nuclear issue will be revealed to be more of a smokescreen. Iran is not going to forfeit their sovereignty, and that is what it appears is being demanded of them. Hence, you are unlikely to see anything substantive coming out of these talks: what is at stake is Iran’s presence and power in the region, completely aside from the nuclear issue.

      • Iran is not at present in contravention of the NPT. The major breach was that it didn’t tell the UN it was starting an enrichment research program, which became public in late 2002 and was then acknowledged by President Khatami. Since that acknowledgment, Iran has been in compliance with the NPT. The UNSC has demanded that it sign the ‘additional protocol,’ which is voluntary to NPT members. Iran’s behavior has been exemplary compared to Israel, Pakistan, India.

  6. Now those who spend years condemning Chamberlain’s and Molotov’s diplomacy before WW2, have their time. This is exactly the same kind of diplomacy, very little to do with anything close to international law, pure demonstration of force.

  7. I don’t understand why Iran doesn’t announce that a “nuclear weapons free Middle East” is the basis of their negotiation position. Of course, some western countries will fume and sputter but the reality of the situation will finally get discussed. Why do the Iranians participate in the conspiracy to ignore the elephant in the drawing room?

      • I do not hear Iranian negotiators ask “What is the US plan for a nuclear weapons free Middle East” every time they get before a microphone. It would need to be a public campaign, not something mentioned privately at the negotiating table.

        One wonders what the Middle East would be like if the Iranians were as good at PR as the Israelis.

        • Patently, there is no “us plan for a nuclear weapons free Middle East,” or “Near East,” or “Far East.” the Big Toys are for the Big Boys, because that “massive retaliation” and “glassification of nations” is fundamental to our rulers’ behaviors.

          What kind of weapons do you think are in the lockers on the carriers and other major vessels, and of course what’s on the noses of all those Trident missiles in all those “silos” in all those submarines, over there in the eastern Med and Persian gulf? And of course the Game is currently dominated by a significant linkage between the keepers and coddlers of the 200 or 400 nukes that parts of the Israeli structure built and keep adding to, and our own “Bomb,bomb Iran-ers.”

          By the way, anybody seen this little fun item? “Iran To Sue Google Over Dropping Persian gulf Name.” link to huffingtonpost.com Kind of like those villages and cities in the Soviet Union that just “disappeared” from one year’s version of the national maps to another — having been either irradiated or gassed or bio-weaponed out of habitability.

  8. “The main good thing about the talks is that as long as they continue, they make it hard for anyone to start a war.”

    IMO Israel wants a war with Iran, Israel controls the US Republican party, therefore Israel will get what it wants.

    After Iran is devastated, Israel will go to war to expand it’s territory, that’s what Netanyahu wants, and it would appear that most Zionist billionaires are happy to go along with that all the time denying it.

    Israel is run by a bunch of fascists who care not one jot about anything other than expanding territory by illegal settlements or land conquered in war.

  9. Good diary.
    Regarding Parchin (reports):
    # explosive chamber installed 2000
    # used 2003?
    # two IAEA visits 2005

    Iran is playing the US like a fish. Benefits? They got Iraq as an ally, Afghanistan is next.

  10. This is entirely a power play by the US and Israel.

    If Israel is afraid an “unstable” Muslim county might target Israel with a nuclear weapons, then Israel should be worried about Pakistan instead of Iran.

    Pakistan …

    - has nuclear weapons – they have demonstrated them for the entire world, including Israel, to see.

    - Has missiles capable of reaching Israel – they have demonstrated them for the entire world, including Israel, to see.

    - is a somewhat “unstable” Muslim country – they have demonstrated this for the entire world, including Israel, to see.

    - can NOT be controlled in any manner by the US – they have demonstrated this for the entire world, including Israel, to see.

    In other words, Pakistan is everything Israel says that Iran is, but actually isn’t!

    Israel’s delusional paranoia is going to cause it a lot of problems in the coming years, especially as the US loses the capability of protecting Israel from the consequences of its actions.

  11. Prof Cole, I enjoy your column and your insights. Re: the negotiations, I think the progress will not take place before the US elections because there is no way, Mr Obama can show any flexibility lest the whole Israeli and the right-wing lobby will go after his hide. Iran is not going to totally capitulate, which is the only outcome Mr Obama can accept before the election.

    Note: where did the chief negotiator fly to directly from Baghdad; to Israel to report to the Grand Master Netanyahu!!!

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