Iran vs. West: the nuclear and the unclear
NEW YORK - The world’s five declared nuclear powers — the US, Britain, France, China and Russia — continue to swear by the old cliche: Do as we say, but not as we do. And more importantly, nuclear non-proliferation, Yes. But nuclear disarmament, No.

So while holding onto their huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, the five big powers just don't want others to have any. The argument would be more valid if they dismantle all what they possess, and declare the world should be nuclear-free.

All five countries, holding veto powers as permanent members of the Security Council, refused to penalize Israel, Pakistan and India for going nuclear. But they are now going ballistic over Iran, and taking a more measured and cautious approach over the wildly-belligerent North Korea, which may be closer to achieving nuclear capability.

The US and the European Union are leading the anti-Iran campaign despite Iran’s assertion that it is developing a civilian nuclear programme, not nuclear weapons.

At a media briefing last week, Secretary-General Kofi Annan was pointedly asked about the nuclear double standards. Annan said that at the World Summit in New York last September, he couldn't get a single paragraph in the summit declaration on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament. “It was a real disappointment and a real disgrace,” he said.
The attempt to throw in a paragraph was stalled by member states, including the major nuclear powers. Annan admits that “the nuclear issue is one of the difficult issues facing the international community today”.

“So if leadership is not shown, and we are not sending around the message that we mean business when we talk of nuclear non-proliferation and we mean business when we talk of disarmament, we are going to be confronted with these problems. So I would hope that all is not lost and that member states will still find some way, some energy and creativity in reverting to this issue of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, even during the course of this General Assembly session. It is not too late”.

But Annan knows well that this will not come to pass because at least two of the nuclear powers — the US and Britain — are continuing to fine-tune and strengthen their nuclear arsenals, not diminishing their weapons.
Last week, France went one step further. President Jacques Chirac openly declared that he would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons against any state-sponsored terrorist strike against his country.

According to reports coming out of Paris, this is the first time that a French President had openly declared the possibility of a nuclear retaliation for state-sponsored terrorism. Although he did not name names, the threat was presumably directed at Iran which, according to the US State Department, is on list of “terrorist states”.

The New York Times quoted the French anti-nuclear group Sortir du Nucleaire as saying that “far from ridding France of nuclear weapons, the president is, on the contrary, considering the actual use of nuclear bombs”. The threat can also, in effect, encourage non-nuclear states to go nuclear either for their own defence or their own survival.

There is also a right wing neo-conservative view that the Bush administration may be justified in using nuclear weapons against Iran to prevent the country going nuclear. The argument sounds paradoxically bizarre. But you cannot count anything in — or anything out — among war mongers in the US.

The Iranian nuclear issue will come up before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Geneva on February 2. If the 35-member IAEA Board decides to act against Iran, the matter will be referred to the Security Council in New York.

But the clincher will be at the Security Council where the US, Britain and France are set to act against Iran. But both Russia and China, the other two veto wielding members, are playing hard ball.

Since both countries have strong economic and military ties with Iran, it is difficult to perceive that either Russia or China will vote for sanctions against Iran. Every member state at the UN gives the highest priority to safeguarding its own national interest. But this can often fall by the wayside under political, diplomatic or economic pressure.

Conscious of the difficulties in getting Security Council blessings for economic and military sanctions against Iran, the Bush administration is testing the waters.

Iran has already proclaimed it will not be intimidated because it can survive UN sanctions. The Iranians have also warned that an oil embargo will boomerang on the West triggering a hike in oil prices in the world market and hurting Western economies. If Iraq is to be taken as an example, economic sanctions in Iran could provoke more anti-Western and anti-US resentment inside the country.

“A heavy-handed sanctions approach is going to hurt an awful lot of Iranians that we don’t want to alienate,” a State Department spokesman was quoted as saying last week. “We’re going to have to be more surgical”.

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