09/23/2007 04:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

El Baradei's Mistakes on the Iran Issue

Intentionally or unintentionally, the position by the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Iranian nuclear issue met the two chief objectives of the Islamic Republic. These are: buying time while Tehran continues to enrich uranium and block the UN Security Council on additional sanctions on the country, by moving the "file" from the Security Council in New York to the IAEA in Vienna. The danger of the role being played by the IAEA and its director general, Dr. Mohammed El Baradei is not limited to the repercussions of bending to an Iranian strategy, which is based on stalling, blocking and going ahead with nuclear aspirations, themselves related to goals of regional dominance. The danger lies in the possibility of a provocation, which comes as a military response to the efforts at bringing the sides together, which is hoped for by the IAEA and its director general, will speed up military actions to stop Tehran's nuclear efforts and head off its regional objectives. Thus, it would be good for Dr. El Baradei to halt his support for the position of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government and of the Supreme Guide, Ali Khameini, who decisively rejects meeting the demands of UN Resolutions that require a "suspension" of uranium enrichment, whatever the reservations of observations about this demand. It is not permissible, under any circumstances, for the director general of the IAEA to contradict the resolutions and demands of the Security Council, or encourage any state to reject complying with resolutions or outmaneuvering them. Moreover, El Baradei, an Egyptian and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, should know what lies behind Iran's regional policy, especially particularly regarding Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. This policy is based on funding and arming militias against the state, or to weaken the Palestinian Authority, so El Baradei should stop restricting the Iranian issue to the US-Iranian formula, as if he is getting revenge for Iraq in Iran. He is too smart to let himself stumble on the Iranian issue by treating the Iranian issue in terms of America. Also, he is too aware of the dangers of letting Iran gain time while playing tricks with nuclear capability and other tools of sabotage in the Arab world's chief issues. If El Baradei wants to play a historic role in the Iranian issue, it would be useful for him, and Iran's relations with the US and the Arab world, to deprive Tehran of the tools of stalling. He should advise Iran to comply with calls for dialogue and halt the strategy of ruinous regional blocks.

Certainly, in his position on the Iranian nuclear issue, Dr. El Baradei is acting based on his desire to see a political and diplomatic treatment of the disputes and help the region avoid another military adventure, such as the US one in Iraq. He accompanied all details of the countdown to the American war in Iraq, including Washington's attempts to use international resolutions and the IAEA and UNMOVIC weapons inspection commission, as well as its resorting to fabricating and falsifying evidence in some cases. He opposes, in principle, the types of treatment of crises and doubts about the state's possession of nuclear capacities through military means. Here, he has the complete right to do this and should be admired for these positions. However, the problem today is that El Baradei is not convinced about the soundness of the resolutions on Iran. These were set down as a starting-point, on the condition that Iran suspends its enrichment of uranium, which it can use in peaceful nuclear programs or military ones. El Baradei sees this condition as a mistake made by members of the Security Council, including permanent members the US, the UK, France, China and Russia. For a while now, he has acted to "correct" the mistake and deviation, searching for a formula that will lead to dismantling the situation put in place by the UN resolutions that adopted this condition. Here, he is completely mistaken, no matter how he justifies his actions by saying that the resolutions have been ignored.
The memorandum of understanding recently signed between the IAEA and the Islamic Republic of Iran completely ignores the aspect of the Security Council's demand that uranium enrichment be halted. Because of this, the IAEA has overstepped and ignored UN Security Council resolutions and reflected the stance of its director general, Mohammed El Baradei on the uranium enrichment issue. This development is not in the interest of the IAEA; it actually harms the agency and its director general. It is a precedent that cannot be accepted by the European countries or the US, and in fact might lead to military reactions.

In return for merely suspending uranium enrichment, the Security Council will offer Iran a number of rewards, covering bilateral US-Iranian dialogue, the readiness of the US and European states to provide assistance in building peaceful nuclear equipment systems, and incentives for cooperation that would constitute a qualitative jump in Iran's relationship with Europe and the US. Therefore, Mohammed El Baradei's sympathy with Iranian anger over being labeled by US President George Bush a member of the "axis of evil" does not require him to come up with new international policy that imposes a different type of US-Iranian relationship. His attempts to create this desired relationship involve, realistically speaking, forcing the US to accept the Iranian regime and pledge not to topple it. This, truly, is not the job of the director general of the IAEA, no matter how much he wants to play this role. The reason is that he is constrained by his professional duties and responsibilities, which are limited to his position, while what determines the US-Iranian relationship is not only the nuclear issue, but also involves Iran's regional roles. The bundle of enticements and rewards deals with the element of US-Iranian bilateral ties, and there is no need to reinvent them.

If Dr. El Baradei were able to go beyond his high-level position and deal with the regional Iranian issues, he would be very much welcome to play an effective and bold role, demanding that Tehran not intervene in Palestinian decision-making, use of Palestinian suffering as part of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric, or help enhance Hamas' ability to do away with the Palestinian Authority. If it were part of his prerogative to take such positions, then Dr. El Baradei would be asked to clarify his stances on Tehran's financing of Hizbullah in Lebanon and providing it with weapons and rockets - through Syria - to bring down the legitimately elected government of Lebanon and strengthen the establishment of a state within a state, through militias whose disbandment is demanded by UN Security Council resolutions. If El Baradei's prerogatives permitted him to take such positions, perhaps he would have spoken with the Iranian leadership in a decisive tone regarding its policies, which are based on fueling the deadly sectarianism in Iraq. The director general of the IAEA might also have been able to convince the mullahs' regime in Tehran to stop sending the morals police to harass women, convince the Revolutionary Guards to allow Iran to return to a natural life and stop exporting extremism, supporting terror and intimidating people, in order to behave in authoritarian fashion. None of this is part of the IAEA director general's brief. His work, officially, is limited to nuclear matters. Thus, the European - and not just American - reservations about the memorandum of understanding that Iran signed with the IAEA should be "inspected," in the interests of accountability. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has used the memorandum as an excuse and reason to declare that the Iranian nuclear "file" with the IAEA has "been closed." He said that his country "has become a nuclear state that has the technology and the complete range for nuclear fuel," reiterating that there would be no retreat from this accomplishment, and that there was no way to stop uranium enrichment.

This agreement in principle between Tehran and the agency includes the use of the term "complete solution" for the matter of experiments on dual-use plutonium, which has generated European criticism and calls by Britain, France and Germany and the US on El Baradei to use language with Iran that is less conciliatory and less in line (with the regime's interests).

What provoked the outrage of these countries even further was the "time-table" that complied with Iran's strategy of stringing things out until the end of the year, in a policy of stalling that is principally aimed at preventing the Security Council from issuing a new resolution that imposes additional sanctions on Tehran, since it has refused to submit to the Security Council's demands. The first of these demands is suspending uranium enrichment. The IAEA and its director general have become a party with Iran in destroying the consensus that has guided resolutions on Tehran, even if in stages. Russia and China are repeatedly trying to evade this consensus, which Iranian stances and behavior have imposed upon them. Thus, the IAEA and its director general have arrived, waving the banner of salvation, via the memorandum of understanding, to blunt the push toward additional sanctions, and to retrieve the Iranian "file" from New York to Vienna, where there is no accountability or sanctions in the event of stalling or going ahead with nuclear activities in defiance of UN resolutions.

The new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is completely right in saying that the weak international insistence on Tehran's adherence to UN resolutions will lead either to Iran's possessing a nuclear bomb or the bombing of Iran. It would be useful if all of those concerned with the Iranian issue look closely at the content, background and reasons for this statement by the French president, which is closer to the American thinking about US options toward Iran. It would be useful as well to all of those concerned, with the IAEA at their head, to remain partners of the Security Council, and not its competitors, in pushing the Islamic Republic toward rationality. The Security Council will impose additional sanctions if Iran's obstinacy continues, no matter how much Russia and China behave stubbornly and try to derail things. If they insist on exiting the consensus and abandon their international commitments, the US might be alone this time in confronting Iran militarily, if forced to.

The Iran issue does not exclusively involve the IAEA in Vienna, under any circumstances. Iran's strategy is based on benefiting from time periods with flexibility here and steps toward partial cooperation there. This strategy does not guarantee that Tehran will be able to avoid things. The IAEA should not be complimented for helping Iran stall. The IAEA has a duty and prerogative to head off any buying of time, and time, in such cases, might provoke a confrontation. The protest here is not over the method of step by step, or setting down a time-table to settle outstanding issues by December, as the agreement stipulates. Certainly, the protest here is not over the logic of the IAEA and its director general, which is based on the necessity of avoiding a military solution and an insistence on making every effort in support of a diplomatic and political treatment of nuclear crises. The protest is certainly about ignoring, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the meaning and content of Iran's methods and stances and the IAEA's deviation toward a suspicious relationship with the Islamic Republic, which harms the professional relationship between the IAEA and the UN Security Council.

If the agency and Director General Mohammed El Baradei are truly determined to prevent the Middle East's transformation into an arena of competition for possessing nuclear military capabilities, or an arena for wars to prevent certain states from possessing nuclear weapons, they should be more bold and decisive and set about discussing Israel's military nuclear capabilities on the negotiating table, in a serious fashion. It's not enough to raise this difficult matter from time to time, just to record a scolding. What's needed is a clear, openly-declared, creative and realistic strategy, imposed by Dr. El Baradei on the international scene to deal with Israel's possession of the nuclear bomb. This will help transform the Middle East into a nuclear-free region, and not cooperate with Iran in covering the agency's failure to confront Israel, to avoid a conflict with the US.

There's no doubt about the start of good relations and El Baradei's capabilities, as he deserved and still deserves the Nobel Peace Prize; he is above suspicion and accusations. However, this doesn't deny the correctness of the criticisms of the policies that he has adopted and which help, deliberately or not, in encouraging Iran to commit grave transgressions. These regional and nuclear plans and aspirations deserve and require positions by El Baradei that are considerably different than ones he has taken toward Tehran, in excessive fashion, based on good intentions. A global view is necessary, and is tasks, in the end, are limited to measures that only involve nuclear monitoring, in partnership with the UN Security Council, and not imposing a view of bilateral relations between states, or issuing permission to flee from resolutions and punishment for violating them. Thus, he is gambling on pushing matters to the very confrontation that he is trying to avoid. Caution is warranted.