Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency and its chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The award was a slap at George W. Bush, who had pressed for ElBaradei’s removal just months before. It was also a blow to Bush’s policies of dealing with nuclear issues unilaterally, and the US focus on non-proliferation to the exclusion of disarmament – both of which are required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The Bush administration tried to engineer the ouster of ElBaradei after the IAEA chief refused to endorse Bush’s claims that Saddam Hussein had restarted Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. The US also perceived ElBaradei as too soft on Iran, a charter member of Bush’s axis-of-evil.
A month before George W. Bush invaded Iraq, ElBaradei told the United Nations, “We have to date found no evidence of ongoing prohibited nuclear or nuclear-related activities in Iraq.” John Bolton, then Undersecretary of State for Disarmament, now United States ambassador to the UN, responded that ElBaradei’s statement was “impossible to believe.” Dick Cheney said, “I think Mr. ElBaradei frankly is wrong.”
But it turned out that ElBaradei was right about the absence of nukes in Iraq, and his refutation of Bush’s allegation that Iraq had bought tons of enriched uranium from Niger has also been corroborated.
A few days before Bush launched “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” ElBaradei revealed that the US had relied on fabricated documents to support its Niger claim. This revelation raised the ire of Bush, who had included the false Niger assertion in his state of the union address in order to whip up support for his impending illegal invasion of Iraq.
In the run-up to the war, ElBaradei said, “No, we are not finding any evidence of weapons of mass destruction.” He added courageously, “No, we are not going to give the US the kind of report they wanted that would have served as a legal justification for war against Iraq.”
ElBaradei is the first UN official to call for Israel to eliminate its secret nuclear weapons program. He advocated a nuclear-free Middle East, consistent with Security Council Resolution 687 that ended the Gulf War in 1991. In Article 14, the resolution spells out the need to create a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction across the Middle East. Ironically, this US-crafted resolution created enhanced powers for the IAEA and arms inspection verification.
“We must abandon the unworkable notion that it is morally reprehensible for some countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction,” ElBaradei said, “yet morally acceptable for others to rely on them for security – and indeed continue to refine their capacities and postulate plans for their use.”
ElBaradei was likely referring to the hypocrisy of the United States, which continues to expand its nuclear arsenal and promulgate policies that would allow it to pre-emptively use its nukes, all the while setting its sights on countries like Iran and North Korea for their nuclear programs.
The Pentagon’s March 15th “Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” provides for the US to use nuclear weapons to counter potentially overwhelming conventional adversaries, to secure a rapid end of a war on US terms, or simply “to ensure success of US and multinational operations.”
By standing up to the mighty United States, ElBaradei showed uncommon courage, leading the Nobel Committee to describe him as “an unfraid advocate of new measures to strengthen” the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The US and ElBaradei are squaring off again, this time over Iran. ElBaradei says there is no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program. In an attempt to discredit him, the US eavesdropped on dozens of phone calls between ElBaradei and Iranian diplomats, according to the Washington Post.
But the United States’ efforts to collect ammunition against ElBaradei were unsuccessful. When his re-election was put up for a vote, 34 of the IAEA countries voted for ElBaradei to continue as head of that organization. Only the US voted no.
Although the IAEA recently passed a resolution that discusses the possibility of sending the issue of Iran’s nuclear capacity to the Security Council, the Nobel Prize may embolden the IAEA to stand up to US pressure to refer Iran to the Council, according to Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC.
“The fact that the United States government doesn’t like the government of Iran doesn’t give them the right to impose their own version of what the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty] requires and doesn’t require,” Bennis said on Democracy Now!
The latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, whose highly classified findings were disclosed by the Washington Post, reported the intelligence community’s consensus judgment that Iran remains 6 to 10 years away from the threshold of nuclear weapons capability.
Dr. Vojin Joksimovich, a nuclear engineer in San Diego, told me that Iran is not violating the NPT by its civilian use of nuclear power. Although there is no right to enrich uranium to 90 percent or more, which would be weapons grade material, Iran is enriching to 3 to 5 percent for fuel for nuclear power plants, according to Joksimovich. Brazil, he said, is also enriching uranium using the centrifuge technique that Iran wants to use. But the US doesn’t challenge Brazil; Bush seeks to build a case for war with Iran.
In a dejá vu from the run-up to “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Bush began rattling the sabers against Iran in August. He declared on Israeli television that “all options are on the table” if Tehran does not comply with international demands.
Bush might think that attacking Iran would bolster the Republican Party’s showing in the 2006 mid-term elections, by distracting attention from his failed Iraq war. Ironically, the Bush administration is supporting Iraq’s Shiite government, which has close ties to Iran.
ElBaradei said in August that the only way to resolve the situation with Iran “is through negotiation.” German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder responded to Bush’s threatening comments by saying, “Let’s take the military option off the table. We have seen it doesn’t work.”
Russia agrees that diplomacy is the answer. A statement on the ministry’s web site said, “We favor further dialogue and consider the use of force in Iran counter-productive and dangerous, something which can have grave and hardly predictable consequences … We consider that problems concerning Iraq’s nuclear activities should be solved through political and diplomatic means, on the basis of international law and Tehran’s close cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”
Bennis hopes the peace prize will encourage ElBaradei to call directly on the five nuclear powers (who also happen to be the veto-bearing members of the Security Council), and particularly the United States, to give up their nuclear arsenals, as required by the NPT.
Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, countries that don’t have nuclear weapons agree not to acquire them, in exchange for the promise from nuclear states to progressively disarm. Disarmament and non-proliferation are two sides of the same coin or two contractual promises exchanged. Thus, when the Bush administration unilaterally decides not to disarm, but instead to develop and even contemplate using new nukes, it is in flagrant violation of the NPT. The US cannot “choose” non-proliferation over disarmament.
Tragically, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation were omitted from the Outcome Document at last month’s UN Summit that marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. It was the Bush administration that insisted on the omission.