ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 43
Columns - Inside the glass house

Toothless Iran resolution a fig leaf for Washington

By Thalif Deen at the united nations

South African ambassador to the United Nations Dumisani Kumalo talks about amendments his country is proposing to the Iran resolution during a news conference on Thursday at the United Nations headquarters. AP

NEW YORK -After three weeks of intense closed-door negotiations, the UN's five big powers — the US, Britain, France, China and Russia — along with Germany, produced a draft resolution to penalise Iran for its nuclear enrichment programme. The resolution, which is expected to be adopted sometime next week, is not as strong and punishing as the Western powers hoped for.

The slew of reservations expressed by Russia and China — both with economic and military interests in Iran — forced the four Western nations to dilute the resolution by dropping some of the harsher penalties they originally envisaged. But still, all four claim victory boasting they have won a second round in their ongoing battle with Iran, the first one being an equally weak resolution adopted by the Security Council in December last year.

The current resolution stands out not for the punishment it imposes on Iran, but for the punishment it does not — or fails to. There are no sanctions on Iran's oil exports which account for over 60 to 70 percent of the country's foreign exchange earnings. And there are no calls for a travel ban on Iranian officials — both of which the Western powers were keen on imposing.

Perhaps, equally important, there are no cut-offs in export credit guarantees, given mostly by European nations to companies trading with Iran. Just as the Russians were protecting their arms sales to Iran, and China its oil purchases, the Europeans sought protection for their business firms trading with Tehran.

And as expected, the resolution does not impose a mandatory arms embargo on Iran — as it did against Iraq after its military invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. The resolution tamely calls on the 192 member states to "exercise vigilance and restraint" in the sale of weapons, including fighter aircraft, helicopters, warships, missiles and battle tanks.

Not surprisingly, Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, was candid enough to admit that the resolution would have no impact on his country's economic (or military) interests. "The new sanctions do not affect our interests," he said last week. "The proposed restrictions do not relate to the previously signed contracts (with Iran) and do not limit their funding, even if carried out through companies on the sanctions list."

Russia was apparently set to veto any resolution that imposed a mandatory arms embargo on Iran. And in order to avoid the Russian veto, the four Western powers dropped their demands for military sanctions. The resolution, as it stands, imposes a ban on all Iranian arms exports and freezes the financial assets of 28 officials and institutions, including high ranking officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Additionally, it calls upon all member states and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance and concessional loans, except for humanitarian and developmental purposes. According to the Stockholm International Research Institute, Iran was the world's 10th largest arms importer during 2001-2005, but was ranked only 62nd among arms exporters. So, the ban on arms exports from Iran will only have a minimal effect on the country's economy.

The Washington Post quoted Flynt Leverett, a former Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, as saying: "I think this (resolution) is a kind of a fig leaf for the United States." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who plans to address the Security Council next week, says he is not unduly worried about the impact of the resolution on his country.

"If all of you gather and also invite your ancestors from hell, you will not be able to stop the Iranian nation," he told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) last week. Iran continues to maintain that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes but the Americans argue that Iran's enrichment programme could lead to the production of nuclear weapons.

South Africa, which is a non-permanent member of the Security Council with no veto powers, has proposed several amendments to the resolution arguing that punitive measures should be directed only towards the nuclear programme. "Sanctions should never be adopted in haste when other tracks for the peaceful resolution of a situation should be addressed," it warned.

The proposed amendments have postponed a vote on the resolution. Although the amendments may not find acceptance, South Africa's intervention has threatened to break up the consensus in the Security Council. Asked if the US was resorting to its usual tactic of putting pressure on the government in Pretoria, the South African Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo told reporters: "If you put pressure on us, it won't work."

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