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NPT review to produce verbal fireworks
By Musa Keilani May 01, 2010
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Iran’s nuclear activities are expected to be the focus of a periodical review of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at the UN this week. That should indeed be the case, given the hue and cry the US-led West and Israel are raising, suggesting that the Iranian nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weapons.

The contention might indeed be true, given the hard-line pursued by Iran since the ouster of the shah in 1979 and assumption of power by a theocracy-driven regime in Tehran. And the government of Iran headed by hard-talking President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been fuelling Western frustration over the issue and giving more than enough pretext for Israel to carry out a military strike against Iran along the lines of what it did against Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981.

On the other hand, in the absence of concrete evidence that Iran is indeed engaged in a nuclear programme to develop atomic weapons, there is little in international law that provides for punitive measures against the country.

Assumptions are not enough. That puts the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme at a level where everyone is convinced that it would eventually go for atomic weapons but nothing could be done to check the country before it reaches weaponisation stage.

The measures against Iran include international sanctions that are already in place, but the world has seen that they are not really working. Further tougher measures sought by the US - even in unlikely event that they are endorsed by the UN Security Council - are not going to have the kind of desire effect.

The bottom line is clear: Iran will not desist on its own from pursuing its nuclear programme and Israel will not rest until it wrecks Iranian nuclear activities. The confrontation will have to play out on its own, with unpredictable consequences.

In the meantime, the focus on Iran at this week’s NPT review would eclipse attention of Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and its refusal to abide by international law.

Egypt has been spearheading efforts to bring Israel under NPT purview for many years, but the US always thwarted the effort. Despite the strain in US-relations this time around, Washington could be expected to continue to extend the same protective umbrella to its “strategic ally” in the Middle East.

At this week’s NPT review, Egypt is expected to present an argument that establishing a Middle East nuclear-free zone is the key to resolving the nuclear standoff with Iran.

“Success in dealing with Iran will depend to a large extent on how successfully we deal with the establishment of a nuclear-free zone” in the Middle East, according to Egypt’s UN Ambassador Maged Abdel Aziz.

The international community could not agree with him more when he says that the existence of any nuclear weapons in the Middle East cannot be accepted whether it is in Iran or Israel.

That is indeed the essence of a 1995 resolution calling for establishment of a nuclear-free Middle East. However, Israel remains aloof to all calls for abiding by the resolution (Not that Israel has a record of implementing any UN resolution that goes against its interest).

The NPT review is an excellent forum for all those who want Iran to suspend its nuclear programme to pressure Tehran by seeking the implementation of the 1995 resolution. However, there would not be any movement unless Israel joins the effort by declaring its willingness to sign the NPT and allow inspection of its nuclear facilities as the initial steps to turning the Middle East into a nuclear weapons-free region.

Israel is the last country that could be expected to comply. It will continue to maintain its “nuclear ambiguity” and stonewall all efforts to hold itself internationally accountable, and Washington will continue to be its guardian angel (By the way, American diplomats bristle at the description of their country as the guardian angel of Israel, but they are at a loss to explain how else could the US-Israel relationship be described).

So the question remains where do we go from here and how do we work on making the Middle East a region free of nuclear weapons. In simple terms, it is an impossible mission under the present geopolitical features. Israel, which only says that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the event of an armed conflict in the region, will never give up its nuclear arsenal even if Iran abandons its atomic pursuit.

Israel considers its atomic weapons as the key to maintaining its military superiority in the Middle East that helps it get away with gross violations of international agreements, conventions and code of conduct and pursue its expansionist ambitions.

That determination is not directly linked to the Iranian nuclear programme except that Israel fears that its military domination of the region would be set back if the Iranians were to possess an atomic weapon.

And the Iranians are equally determined in their nuclear pursuit. Hence, all diplomatic jargon aside, the logical conclusion is that this week’s NPT review will only produce a lot of verbal fireworks and the delegates returning to their home countries with little to show for the UN conference.

Of course, the ideal approach will be determined effort to bring pressure to bear upon both Iran and Israel in equal measures with no ambiguity over the goal of making the Middle East a nuclear-free region. However, idealism exists only in paper. We know that Iran will find itself under immense heat at the NPT conference - not that we would be upset over that. But we would not like to see Israel getting away with its nuclear weapons.

So why waste the time and effort?

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