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January 12, 2009

A Serious Crisis With Iran?


by Gordon Prather

Last month the Congressional Commission on Strategic Posture issued an interim report, on the basis of which one of its co-chairmen, former Secretary of Defense William Perry, publicly predicted this week that President-elect Obama will soon face a "serious crisis with Iran."

Iran?

Now, Perry was SecDef in the early 1990s when the International Atomic Energy Agency – which was negotiating the Safeguards Agreement with North Korea, required as a condition of its being a signatory to the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – concluded North Korea was not accurately "declaring" the amount of plutonium which could be recovered from the spent-fuel elements being subjected to IAEA Safeguards for the first time.

The IAEA wanted to do chemical diagnostic assays of those spent-fuel elements, and the Koreans refused.

The IAEA then reported the refusal to the IAEA Board of Governors and to the UN Security Council, as required by the IAEA Statute.

On March 12, 1993, North Korea announced its intention to withdraw from the NPT, its principal stated rationale being its claim that the United States had threatened its national security by, inter alia, strong-arming the IAEA Board of Governors into adopting on Feb. 25, 1993, a resolution requiring Korean officials to open military sites to inspection, sites that North Korea claimed were not related to NPT-proscribed materials storage or to activities involving the physical or chemical transformation of such materials.

But NPT withdrawal would never do, since President Clinton had hoped to make his legacy getting every nation – including India, Pakistan, and Israel – to become signatory to the NPT.

The NPT was viewed – then and now – as having three "pillars":

  • A promise by the NPT nuke-states to eventually dispose of nukes.
  • An affirmation of the inalienable right of all other NPT states to the peaceful uses of nuclear energy "without discrimination."
  • A mechanism for verifying that nuclear energy was not being diverted from peaceful to military purposes.

Soon after taking office, President Clinton had begun to pledge at UN conference after UN conference that he would honor the NPT commitment to dispose of our nukes, soon, rather than eventually.

Hence, the Clinton-Gore-Perry-negotiated Agreed Framework [.pdf] of 1994, under which North Korea agreed to not only remain an NPT signatory, but to "freeze" the operation and construction of its Soviet-designed-and-built plutonium-producing reactors and related facilities, subjecting all to IAEA lock, seal, and oversight.

Next, at the 1995 NPT Review Conference, Clinton got all signatories to agree to its indefinite extension.

Now all this nuke disarmament activity upset some Republicans in Congress more than somewhat. So Clinton had then SecDef Perry draw up a contingency plan to "take out" the North Korean nuclear facilities should North Korea either refuse to sign the Agreed Framework or cease to abide by it.

Whereupon, Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Bolton came to power, intent upon reversing the "globalist" nuclear disarmament policies of Clinton-Gore-Perry and establishing, instead, American hegemony.

However, Bush-Cheney-Wolfowitz-Bolton realized that the only rationale most Americans would accept for establishing that American hegemony – forcibly effecting regime change in Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and elsewhere – would be for those regimes to actually have nuclear weapons and a willingness to supply them to terrorists.

Then came the second attempt by the Islamic jihadists – this time armed with box-cutters – to bring down the World Trade Center Twin Towers.

So, according to then-Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz, the obvious and necessary thing for Bush-Cheney to do was deliberately discredit – even destroy – the NPT-associated nuke-proliferation-prevention regime with which Iraq, Iran, Syria, and North Korea were then in total compliance.

It is important to note that, as of this writing, no evidence has surfaced that at that time Iraq, Iran, Syria, or North Korea were diverting NPT-proscribed materials to a military purpose. Furthermore, as of this writing, no evidence has surfaced that Iran has ever diverted NPT-proscribed materials to a military purpose.

Now, according to the commission, the Soviet Union did pose "an existential threat" to the United States, but its dissolution dramatically reduced that threat, permitting us to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons.

However, a new threat has "come to the fore – that of catastrophic terrorism." Hence the commission's proposed four "security imperatives":

  • To reduce and provide better protection for existing nuclear stockpiles of weapons and fissile material.
  • To keep new nations from going nuclear.
  • To provide effective protection for the fissile material generated by enrichment activities, reprocessing facilities, and commercial nuclear reactors.
  • To improve our tools to detect clandestine delivery of nuclear weapons and to disable and otherwise defend against them.

Now, presumably commission members know the difference between nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

So when Perry et al. declare one of our "security imperatives" to be keeping new nations from "going nuclear," the commission must mean keeping them from acquiring anything "nuclear," peaceful or otherwise.

"The efforts to keep other nations from going nuclear are obviously multinational. The 6-party talks have had limited success to date in dealing with North Korea but may ultimately be successful. However, there is no similarly comprehensive diplomatic approach to Iran, which has constructed a major facility for enriching uranium.

"It appears that we are at a 'tipping point' in proliferation. If Iran and North Korea proceed unchecked to build nuclear arsenals, there is a serious possibility of a cascade of proliferation following. And as each new nuclear power is added the probability of a terror group getting a nuclear bomb increases."

Well, there you have it. Iran has constructed and is operating – subject to IAEA Safeguards – a major facility for enriching uranium.

Since Iran is unquestionably within its rights – under the NPT, the IAEA Statute, and the UN Charter – the commission is correct in noting that there is no "comprehensive diplomatic approach" to forcing Iran to give up those "inalienable" rights.

So what does former SecDef Perry mean when he predicts that Obama will soon face a serious crisis with respect to Iran?


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Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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