Geneva: Iran establishes the right to enrich uranium

Washington’s disorderly retreat from its earlier vainglorious threats of military intervention against Syria, leaving behind a hopeless tangle of ” red lines“, broken promises and aggrieved “allies“, continues to send shockwaves throughout the Middle East. And nowhere is the humbling of US hegemonic pretensions clearer than in the provisional nuclear deal struck with Iran in Geneva on 23 November.

For years, the US has spread the story that Tehran is hell-bent on producing its own nuclear weapon, despite the fact that neither the IAEA (the UN’s atomic energy watchdog) nor Washington’s own intelligence apparatus have ever found a shred of evidence to substantiate the claim. For their part, the Iranians have always maintained that their nuclear programme is concerned only with meeting the nation’s energy requirements and medical research. To this end, whilst successive Iranian governments have been prepared in the name of peace to tolerate provocative and intrusive international inspection regimes which imperialism and its flunkeys would never for a moment countenance with regard to their own nuclear activities, Tehran has always jealously protected its right to enrich uranium. The reason is simple: without the ability to enrich uranium, thereby generating its own new fuel, Iran’s goal of self-sufficiency in its atomic industry could not be achieved.

US imperialism takes another step backwards

The interim agreement signed at Geneva certainly puts all kinds of impudent restrictions on how much uranium may be enriched and up to what percentage of enrichment, but signally fails to challenge Tehran’s central assertion of the nation’s right to enrich its own uranium. In trying to dress the agreement up as a triumph of US diplomacy, Obama naturally stressed these restrictions. For a period of six months, uranium enrichment is pegged at 5%, and equipment needed to enrich beyond that level is to be dismantled. Undertakings have been given to suspend further enrichment of Iran’s 3.5% stockpile, dilute its 20% stockpile, accept certain limits on the use and installation of centrifuges and suspend construction on the Arak nuclear reactor.

Yet galling as all these restrictions are, made doubly so by the proviso that IAEA inspectors be given daily access to the Natanz and Fordo sites, the really deafening silence at the heart of the agreement is on the principle of nuclear enrichment itself, upon which Iran’s energy security crucially rests. The fact is that, by maintaining silence on this question, Washington is in practice throwing in the towel. However much John Kerry tries to tell the world after the event that “The first step, let me be clear, does not say that Iran has a right to enrich uranium,” the very fact that the agreement bristles with such a parade of restrictions upon the exercise of this right itself constitutes a grudging backhanded endorsement of that very right in principle.

All along, Iran has maintained that, by signing up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (unlike Israel), its right to develop uranium enrichment for ” peaceful purposes” under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards is fully guaranteed. Nor is Iran alone in reading the NPT provisions in this way: Germany, Russia and China share this commonsense view. Hitherto Washington, London and Paris have always “interpreted” the provisions to suit their vendetta against Iran, using hair splitting worthy of medieval scholastics to pretend that the enrichment of uranium, a necessary part of any nationally sustainable atomic energy programme, is somehow “inconsistent” with the NPT’s concept of “peaceful purposes“. And whenever these hypocrites have been challenged on this clearly illogical stance, they have tried to cover their backs by claiming that, anyway, all those resolutions against Iran passed by the UNSC since 2005 render Iran’s protections under NPT invalid!

By its tacit acknowledgement of Iran’s right to enrich uranium, this agreement at a stroke completely vindicates Tehran’s principled position maintained over so many years by successive governments. By the same token, the unlawful character of all those punitive UN resolutions now stands exposed in shameful retrospect. This agreement will come to be appreciated as a milestone in the humbling of US power.

None of these considerations should be taken as minimising the continuing damage being inflicted upon Iran, not least by the continuing cruel and unjust imposition of economic sanctions. Yet whilst the loosening of the economic sanctions imposed upon Iran appears slight, with the $7bn-worth of promised sanctions relief paling beside the $100bn of Iran’s still-frozen foreign assets, and whilst the sanctions relating to oil and banking remain intact, even this tentative step backwards on the economic warfare front is fraught with peril for imperialism. Retreat on the economic front, no less than retreat on the diplomatic or military, can only aggravate the growing contempt and insubordination already on display amongst Washington’s allies – especially now it turns out that Washington has been pursuing its own agenda in secret since at least last March!

Kerry’s secret talks accentuate imperialist splits

The negotiations with Iran officially unfolded under the cumbersome acronym P5+1, comprising the US, UK, France, China and Russia, plus Germany. In theory, every step of the negotiation process was supposed to be taken with the full knowledge and agreement of all the participants. This idyll of happy consensus was shattered however when the Associated Press and the Washington-based Al-Monitor website revealed that secret bilateral talks between the US and Iran had been in progress since as long ago as March this year, and that these shadow talks were running in parallel with P5+1. Comical tales surfaced of Deputy US Secretary of State William Burns holed up with his Iranian counterpart in a hotel down the road from where the official talks were taking place, with Puneet Talwar, the high-flying National Security Staff senior director for Iran, Iraq and Persian Gulf affairs, spotted waiting at bus stops and running between hotels as he frantically shuttled back and forth with the latest hot developments.

Belated explanations from the White House to explain why the US tried to conceal the talks, not only from Russia and China (which was to be expected), but also from its own imperialist allies did little to smooth ruffled feathers. Al-Monitor quoted a US official as he floundered to justify having effectively treated P5+1 as a delivery vehicle for “P1“, i.e. a United States that was rowing back from war with Syria and Iran as fast as possible and wanted out quick, with or without the support of its allies and flunkeys. “You know we have always said that we are open to bilateral discussions with Iran, in addition to the P5+1,” flannelled the official hopelessly. “But this was always with the understanding that the nuclear negotiations were going to be resolved through the P5+1 even if other bilateral channels were going on… All of our bilateral discussions are designed to support and advance the P5+1 process; they have never been designed as a substitute… Everything in the bilateral channel, was to be fed into the P5+1 channel… At the second and third rounds, Burns was present on the margins, to be available to the P5+1 and the Iranians, and to make sure the ideas discussed were integrated back into the P5+1.” The same official told Al-Monitor that the US had notified P5+1 about the secret talks, but refused to divulge at what point it did so, simply blandly repeating that “We briefed them on the bilateral channel at the appropriate time”! So that’s okay then…

Revelations that these secret talks go back as far as March this year, which is to say several months before the arrival of the new Iranian president, incidentally demolishes the spin put upon affairs by the imperialist media, which put it about that the thaw in relations with Iran was all to do with ” extremist” Ahmadinejad leaving the scene and “moderate” Rouhani taking over with his “charm offensive“. This shallow tittle-tattle masquerading as political analysis has but one purpose: to hide the glaringly obvious fact that it has been the steadfastness of Iran’s defence of her national dignity, bolstered by the refusal of her neighbour Syria to bow in the face of imperialist subversion, which has forced the US back to the negotiating table. Iran’s simple assertion of its right to enrich its own uranium remains the same as it ever was. What has changed is the world standing of the United States.

French imperialism: sauve qui peut

In a piece posted on the Global Research website on 10 November (“France Wrecks P5+1 Deal for Arab Money”), Finian Cunningham suggests that the real reason Laurent Fabius initially threw a gallic spanner in the works, refusing to sign an earlier draft agreement on the spurious grounds of “security concerns of Israel,” was “less about appeasing Israel and … more to do with pandering to the Persian Gulf Arab monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates” . He notes that the “French government has been embarking on an aggressive bilateral investment drive with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE” and that French company Veolia (responsible amongst other things for dumping Israeli waste on Palestinian land) recently bagged a $500m contract to build and operate desalination plants in Saudi. France is also eager to sell its Rafale fighter planes to Qatar and UAE, in hot competition with the both Anglo-American and German imperialism. “Qatar’s total investment in France has reached an estimated $15 billion, with shares in flagship French companies, such as energy giant Total, construction firm Vinci, media business Legardere, water and electricity supplier Veolia, and even football team Paris Saint Germain.” Another French company, Areva, is competing to build and operate nuclear plants in the UAE – that is to say, opening the door to exactly the same technology to which Fabius so objects when it comes to Iran!

In short, France’s own competitive interests are being driven into increasing contradiction with the impulse to tuck in behind Washington on the diplomatic front. The Financial Times summed it up on 24 June under the headline “France calls for increased investment from Qatar”, reporting that “Hollande used a weekend visit to Qatar to call for more investment from the gas-rich Gulf state to boost job creation in France.” Indeed, Qatar and France have reportedly set up a $400m joint investment vehicle to channel Qatari petrodollars into French businesses.

Israel and the Gulf States face a bleak future outside US patronage

Paris may hope to make hay out of the soured relations increasingly obtaining between Washington and its Middle Eastern protégés, taking advantage of their discontent to sneak some temporary lucrative deals from under the noses of its rivals. But how long would the corrupt feudal sheikhdoms of the Gulf, or for that matter the bastard state of Israel itself, expect to remain open for business with anyone at all were their petulant declamations over Washington’s humiliating retreat over Syria and Iran ever to translate into an actual divorce? If these troublesome satellites were to reach such a level of disaffection as would seriously interfere with their ability to act efficiently as agents of US imperialist interests in the Middle East, the whole pack of them would very quickly discover the disastrous consequences of forfeiting such patronage.

It is one thing for the rivals of Anglo American imperialism to derive some windfall benefits as US hegemony starts to crumble. It’s quite another thing for some other monopoly capitalist bloc to invent from scratch some alternative grand strategy of regional oppression to take its place. Neither time nor history is on the side of imperialism and its flunkeys.

The declarations from both Tel Aviv and Riyadh with regard to the US Iranian deal express rage and impotence in equal measure. Netanyahu, the prime minister of a mad-dog apartheid state in possession of a large nuclear arsenal, comically agonised that “Today the world has become a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon in the world.”

By contrast, however, many other countries in the region went out of their way to welcome the agreement. Syria hailed the accord as a “historic agreement”. Lebanon’s acting Foreign Minister welcomed the agreement as “a significant victory with regards to Iran’s right to obtain peaceful nuclear technology and to enrich uranium on its soil, a right previously denied by the West”.

Warm support for Obama’s climb-down agreement also came from countries whose subordination to US imperialism increasingly jars with their national interests. Turkey noted that it was “the first concrete positive development related to Iran’s nuclear issue since the Tehran Declaration in 2010” , a pointed reference to an earlier attempt to find a diplomatic solution put together by Iran in concert with Turkey and Brazil. That potential agreement was scuppered back then by the US and its European allies, who preferred to railroad a fourth round of sanctions through the UN. Now, with Syria and Iran standing strong and united and imperialism on the back foot, the times are changing. And the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan, a country whose reward for faithful service to US imperialism has been to see its own sovereignty routinely violated by murderous US drones, also welcomed the Geneva agreement, stressing that, “as a brotherly neighbouring country of Iran, Pakistan has always underscored the importance of finding a peaceful solution to this issue.”

Whilst apologists for Anglo-American imperialism doggedly persist in recycling fairy tales about the West having “finally got its way thanks to keeping up the sanctions and war threats”, even going so far as to claim that Iran’s current choice of government was a consequence of this pressure, the whole world knows that Iran and Syria are the real victors at Geneva, that the agreement establishes Tehran’s right to enrich its own uranium and move towards energy security, and that such an agreement could have been concluded at any time in the past, had Washington genuinely sought peace. The reality is that all the cruel years of punishing economic sanctions inflicted on the Iranian people, vicious war threats from the West and the terrorist murder of Iranian scientists by the West’s Zionist hirelings were inflicted upon Iran solely in pursuit of the domineering agenda of monopoly capitalism in deepening crisis.

What has changed is not Iran’s position, which was always for a peaceful diplomatic resolution of the crisis. What has changed is that the United States, bogged down in one unwinnable war after another and on the brink of economic bankruptcy, has taken the world right to the brink of war over Syria – and then has faltered and taken a step back, to the great relief of the world at large, to the consternation of its most vicious lapdogs in the Middle East and to the lasting detriment of its standing as the world’s pre-eminent imperialist power.

We congratulate Iran on the successful outcome of this stage of the talks, welcome the international recognition of her right to enrich uranium, and express our solidarity with the continuing struggle to free her people from the remaining economic sanctions and Zionist terror threats.

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