10 Jun 08    Threatening Iran, NYT, editorial


10 June 2008

Threatening Iran

Israeli leaders spent last week talking tough about Iran and threatening possible military action. The United States and the other major powers need to address Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but with more assertive diplomacy — including greater financial pressures — not more threats or war planning.

The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who is bedeviled by a corruption scandal that could drive him from office, led the charge. “The Iranian threat must be stopped by all possible means,” he said in Washington, a day before meeting President Bush at the White House.

Then Israel’s transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, who is jockeying to replace Mr. Olmert as head of the ruling Kadima Party if the prime minister is forced to resign, declared that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites looks “unavoidable.”

We don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors in Washington — or what Mr. Olmert heard from Mr. Bush. But saber-rattling is not a strategy. And an attack on Iran by either country would be disastrous.

Unlike in 1981, when Israel destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor at Osirak, there is no single target. A sustained bombing campaign would end up killing many civilians and still might not cripple Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran also has many frightening ways to retaliate. And even Arab states who fear Iran shudder at the thought of America, or its ally Israel, bombing another Muslim country and the backlash that that could provoke.

Mr. Olmert may be trying to divert attention from his political troubles. Still, there is no denying a growing and understandable sense of urgency in Israel, which Iran’s president has threatened with elimination. A recent report by United Nations inspectors on Iran’s nuclear progress, and worrisome links to military programs, has only fanned those fears.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is scheduled to visit Tehran later this month to discuss, in more detail, an incentives package first offered in 2006 by the United States and other major powers. It is likely to fall far short — both in incentives and punishments — of what is needed to get Tehran’s attention.

There is no indication it will contain tougher sanctions — including a broader ban on doing business with Iranian banks and bans on arms sales and new investments. It also needs a stronger commitment from Washington to lift sanctions and to fully engage Iran if it abandons its nuclear efforts. The United States is the only major power not sending a diplomat with Mr. Solana.

Senators Barack Obama and John McCain disagree on holding direct talks with Iran (Mr. Obama would; Mr. McCain would not). But last week, both endorsed enhanced sanctions, including limiting gasoline exports to Iran. That is an idea well worth exploring. Iran relies on a half-dozen companies for 40 percent of its gasoline imports. The United Nations Security Council is unlikely to authorize a squeeze, but quiet American and European appeals might persuade some companies to slow deliveries, and it would grab Tehran’s attention.

On his trip to Europe this week, President Bush is expected to press the Europeans to further reduce Iran-related export credits and cut ties with Iran’s financial institutions. He also must make clear that America will do its part on incentives. We wish he had the will and the skill to propose a grand bargain — and to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to deliver it. Unfortunately, there’s no sign of that. At a minimum, he should send a senior official with Mr. Solana to Tehran.

If sanctions and incentives cannot be made to work, the voices arguing for military action will only get louder. No matter what aides may be telling Mr. Bush and Mr. Olmert — or what they may be telling each other — an attack on Iran would be a disaster.

Iconoclast comments (10.6.08    05.19 pm):

What about SCR 255, "protecting" have-nots also against nuclear threats?

Going a bit further - and deeper into the archives - in the direction of Richard Young's blog 168, those also concerned with the fate of the system of law and the principle of pacta sunt servanda may want to know the legal implications notably for the United States of a nuclear attack or a "threat of such aggression against a non-nuclear-weapon State". For in order to achieve a politically sufficient appearance of balanced rights and obligations, the Nuclear Weapon States UK, US and USSR participating in the elaboration of the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the UN Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee offered to the have-nots a paper "guarantee" against nuclear attacks and related threats in the form of a Security Council Resolution (S/Res/255 of 19 June 1968), stating that the Security Council (with Algeria, Brasil, France, India and Pakistan abstaining in the 10 to 0 vote):

    1. Recognizes that aggression with nuclear weapons or the threat of such aggression against a non-nuclear-weapon State would create a situation in which the Security Council, and above all its nuclear-weapon State permanent members, would have to act immediately in accordance with their obligations under the United Nations Charter;
    2. Welcomes the intention expressed by certain States that they will provide or support immediate assistance, in accordance with the Charter, to any non-nuclear- weapon State Party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons that is a victim of an act or an object of a threat of aggression in which nuclear weapons are used;
PS: those wishing to see the - curiously twice-suppressed - blog outlining some Swiss lawmakers' efforts to help resolve both some apparent and some hidden problems in US-Israeli/Iranian relations may consult it at: www.solami.com/nytiran2.htm

Swiss lawmakers' good offices

   Meister Eckhart drew papal condemnation on his writings because he “wanted to know more than what was permitted to know" ("plura sapere voluit quam oportuit ", Pope John XXII, Bull In Agro dominico, 27 March 1329: www.solami.com/eckhart.htm). At that time it was considered to be politically correct, and it was to be enforced strictly urbi et orbi, i.e. in Rome’s entire sphere of influence: “In the field of the Lord over which we, though unworthy, are guardians and laborers by heavenly dispensation, we ought to exercise spiritual care so watchfully and prudently that if an enemy should ever sow tares over the seeds of truth (Mt. 13:28), they may be choked at the start before they grow up as weeds of an evil growth. Thus, with the destruction of the evil seed and the uprooting of the thorns of error, the good crop of Catholic truth may take firm root."
    Today, 373 years after the condemnation of Galileo by the Inquisition, it is as if the Age of Enlightenment had passed its apogee and given way to the twilight and forces of darkness, with disciples of the flat earth theory gaining the upper hand. Essential discoveries, principles and achievements are called into question or slighted. This includes deeply-rooted international rights and obligations which are the hallmark of sovereign states. And it pertains to fundamental rights and corresponding trade-offs which honourable members of the family of nations have mutually and conventionally agreed to, notably in the field of peaceful nuclear energy research, development and application (.../NPT.htm).
    Concern thus arises from the growing imbalance between related  rights and obligations. It is indicated actively to reduce corresponding tensions and to prevent related conflicts. And it is in line with Switzerland's tradition to avail itself accordingly, and to point out useful facts, ideas and opportunities. Reference may thus be made to the model of volontarily and conventionally submitting a politically sensitive national facility to sovereign control by a friendly foreign country. This model draws inspiration from the U.S./Swiss agreement providing for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission to exercise exclusive control over the operation of the Saphir demonstration reactor exhibited during the Atoms for Peace Conference held at Geneva in 1955 (.../Saphir.tif). Another example of imaginative diplomacy may be brought to bear by way of an unprejudicial partial or complete suspension of contested nuclear activities until after a promptly-held follow-up to the 1968 Geneva Conference of Non-Nuclear-Weapon States.

    For the reasons detailed below, I not only share the Times' concern about the high probability - my current estimate stands at 95% - of an attack against Iranian nuclear installations. But I have not given up hope either for principled, visionary and competent statesmen and diplomats to unlock the apparently engaged automatic pilot into disaster and to enlighten in time the apprenti-sourcerers and flat earth fellows which seem to be in command here and there.
    The Iranians and their Russian allies have long ago accepted the idea of applying US President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace 1955 treaty with Switzerland to the contested Iranian enrichment facilities by placing them under Russian souvereignty (first proposed in a letter to the UN Secretary General of 31.1.06, .../iranmail.htm, then taken up in a parliamentary motion supported by 24 Swiss lawmakers "Good Offices on Current Nuclear Energy Matters", .../3103.htm). Israel's and US' apparent rejection so far suggests other, hidden agendas which have little if anything to do with nuclear matters. President Putin was quoted of  responding to a Western query on a possible attack on Iran by saying darkly: "Don't even think of it!"
    Switzerland has a long-standing obligeing tradition of armed neutrality and good offices. Since the traumatic take-over of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979 by "uncontrolled" Iranian students (.../edouardbrunner.htm), the Swiss flag hangs over that embassy. Since then, Swiss good offices represent US interests in Iran and Swiss diplomats serve as go-betweens (and more, if desired). Not accustumed to limit themselves to post-disaster white flag operations, some Swiss lawmakers have become experts in parallel diplomacy - though occasionally provoking the ire, envy and contempt by the official gardians of the holy grail, i.e. the pretended-to-be holders of the monopoly for good ideas.
    Neither discouraged nor derailed by such unhelpful, short-sighted and self-damaging official reactions to their mostly unorthodox ways, means and initiatives, Swiss lawmakers, in the case of the Iranian/US-Israeli dispute, have thus continued to search for practical avenues towards resolving legitimate concerns, and for setting up confidence-building long-term cooperation projects. One such idea has been introduced at Israel's recent presidential birthday party: A pipeline for transporting Kasakhstan oil via Iran, Northern Iraq, Jordan and Israel to Asia (.../app.htm). And in light of the war drums swelling again, Swiss lawmakers are currently pondering the politically uncorrect against-the-grain out-of-the-box idea of a joint Israeli/Iranian r&d program on NPT-compatible contained nuclear micro-explosions (laser fusion, involving a Swiss patent initiated in 1973: .../NPT.htm). And though this may sound like another non-starter, this might build on and evolve from the reportedly on-going (sic!) Israeli/Iranian contacts/cooperations in nuclear science under the direct sponsorship of the Jordanian King (www.sesame.org.jo/Contact/mail.aspx).

Auszug aus der NPT-Botschaft 12083 des Bundesrates vom 30.Oktober 1974 (BBl 174 II 1009-1065)

312     Die Entschliessung Nr. 255 des Sicherheitsrats
    Am 19. Juni 1968 hat der UNO-Sicherheitsrat eine Entschliessung (S/Res/255) verabschiedet (vgl. Beilage 2), die eine Garantieerklärung gegen atomare Drohungen oder Angriffe der Kernwaffenmächte gegen Nichtkernwaffenstaaten enthält. Dieser Entschliessung waren entsprechende Garantieerklärungen der USA, der UdSSR und Grossbritanniens vorausgegangen (17. Juni 1968).
    Rechtlich verpflichten sich die erwähnten Staaten dadurch nur zu dem, wozu sie als Mitglieder des Sicherheitsrats gemäss der UNO-Charta ohnehin schon verpflichtet sind; denn in den Garantieerklärungen und in der Entschliessung wird jeweils auf diese bestehenden Pflichten Bezug genommen. Die ganze Problematik der UNO-Sanktionen - Blockierung des Sicherheitsrats durch ein Veto - bleibt somit erhalten. Diese Auslegung wurde auch in den Verhandlungen des amerikanischen Senats verschiedentlich unterstrichen.
    Eine rechtliche Folge ist allerdings mit der Resolution insofern verbunden, als sie den politischen Spielraum der drei Kernwaffenmächte einschränkt. Diese werden nämlich verpflichtet, gegebenenfalls sofort nach den ihnen durch die UNO-Charta auferlegten Pflichten zu handeln, was sonst ihrem Ermessen unterstellt ist. Am Endresultat wird dadurch jedoch nichts geändert.
    Im Zusammenhang mit der Sicherheit der Nichtkernwaffenstaaten ist noch auf Punkt 12 der Präambel hinzuweisen, worin auf die entsprechenden Bestimmungen der UNO-Charta Bezug genommen wird. Daraus ergibt sich, dass die Anwendung von Gewalt unter den Vertragsparteien als Vertragsbruch betrachtet werden kann. Eine Garantie gegen solche Aktionen ist jedoch dieser Bestimmung nicht zu entnehmen.