Iran Nuclear Agreement a Slap in Bushís Face
by William O. Beeman
Iranian officials have given the international community almost everything it wants in terms of compliance with nuclear nonproliferation. The agreement was a calculated rap in the chops for the Bush administration, but Washington is not likely to take the hint.
For months now the Bush administration has been trying to bully and threaten Iran over its development of nuclear power. A light-water reactor being built in the city of Bushehr that could never practically be used to generate nuclear fuel was breathlessly declared an international threat. Miniscule amounts of enriched uranium were revealed to the press as harbingers of an imminent nuclear bomb.
The United States pressured Russia unsuccessfully to stop helping Iran with its legitimate development of nuclear power. Though it will never be conclusively proven, it is almost certain that the US put pressure on Japan, Canada and Australia to introduce an impossible resolution before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that would require Iran to prove a negative to demonstrate that they were not developing nuclear weapons. This is the diplomatic equivalent of asking someone to prove that they donít beat their spouse.
The United States should learn that pressure doesnít work with the proud Iranians. Once the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany ≠ Jack Straw, Joschka Fischer and Dominique de Villepin respectively ≠ sat down with Iranian officials and offered carrots and reason instead of sticks and invective, Iran responded in kind. In return for Iranís agreement to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which would pave the way for tougher UN inspections of its nuclear facilities, the three European foreign ministers will pledge to help Iran with an ďassured fuel supplyĒ with technical assistance in modernizing its civil nuclear program.
The Iranian agreement should be welcomed by Washington, but donít count on laudatory comments from the Bush administration. The name of the game in Washington is Iranian demonization. Ever since Iran was named as a component of the ďaxis of evilĒ in US President George W. Bushís 2002 State of the Union Address, the White House neo-con warriors have been looking for any excuse to undermine Iranís clerical establishment. However, with no diplomatic representation and no economic relations with the Islamic Republic, there is little that Washington can exert in the way of leverage.
True diplomacy, as shown by the United Statesí European allies is apparently not dead. Moreover, securing Iranís agreement to the additional nonproliferation protocols was good for everyone. It is good for Iran, where there are legitimate economic and environmental reasons for developing nuclear energy; and good for the region and for the rest of the world in terms of assurances that nuclear development will not soon turn to production of violent weaponry in the region.
The agreement is too new to have engendered the inevitable sour grapes from the losers. Washington has issued a cautious welcome to the agreement. However, assertions that Iran is not serious about fulfilling its part of the bargain, that secret atomic development is still underway and that whatever Iran does, they are not to be trusted, are to be expected both from Washington and from Israel. The world has heard this rhetoric before, and every time, it has proved directly counter-productive in getting Iran to comply.
A few hard-liners in Iran will also chime in with defiant assertions, such as that of Supreme National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani, who declared immediately after the announcement of the agreement that ďall of Iranís peaceful nuclear activities, including enriching uranium, are the Iranian nationís obvious right Ö and nobody can take away this obvious right.Ē
Of course all parties ≠ Iranian and European ≠ must now deliver on their promises. Maintaining an atmosphere of calm and goodwill is the best way to assure that this will happen. It is fervently to be hoped that the United States does not prove to be the spoiler in this delicate period.
Bullying from the White House has clearly been the order of the day for the past two years. The tough stance has made some hard-core right-wing Republicans happy, but it has yielded nothing but misery for Americans and for people throughout the Middle East. Iranís implied message to Washington is that if treated in this insulting and humiliating manner, they will not agree to anything, however reasonable. It is refreshing to see the European foreign ministers behaving like reasonable adults, and demonstrating conclusively that treating a nation like Iran with respect frequently produces a reasonable response.
William O. Beeman teaches anthropology and is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He has lived and conducted research in the region for over 30 years. He is author of Language, Status and Power in Iran, and two forthcoming books: Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to U.S.-Iranian Understanding, and Iraq: State in Search of a Nation. Email: William_beeman@brown.edu.