It has been three weeks since the Security Council was undeniably seized of the case of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At the end of it, the Council could only manage to produce a non-binding presidential statement. They could not agree to adopt a Security Council resolution. They could not agree to state clearly that Iran was in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They could not agree that Iranian behavior constituted a threat to international peace and security. They could not agree on any actions to take against Iran at all. They could not even agree that the ball was squarely in the Security Council’s court, and not in the hands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA,) where the issue has languished for the past three years.
What could they agree on in their nonbinding statement? They had “serious concerns…that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran.” Well that’s one way of putting the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a genocidal maniac. Evidently, they did not have serious concerns arising from the fact that the IAEA has already concluded Iran violated its legal obligations. They also had a “serious concern” about “Iran’s decision to resume enrichment-related activities…and to suspend cooperation with the IAEA…” Translation: “naughty, naughty.” And the punch line? The Council “calls upon Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors…which are essential to build confidence.”
How about confidence in the Security Council? The Council did not adopt a single penalty for noncompliance with Iran’s treaty obligations. The only concrete action the Council took was to ask the IAEA to produce another report in 30 days. And even then, there was no consensus that the report should go only to the Security Council, so they sent it both to the IAEA board of governors and the Council.
The Russian and the Chinese, however, are not the only ones to blame for the Council’s inability to fulfill its very raison d’etre of protecting international peace and security. In the heat of negotiations, with Ambassador John Bolton pressing a strong case for serious Council action, the U.S. administration introduced Iranian-American bilateral talks–ostensibly on Iraq. Bilateral discussions–especially between these normally nonconversant parties–at the very moment that America was trying to build a multilateral coalition against its interlocutor, was sure to rattle feckless European allies and embolden the Russian and Chinese to hang tough. And so it did.
Security Council first round: Iran 1; nuclear-war opponents 0.
–Anne Bayefsky is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and at Touro College Law Center. She is also editor of www.EyeontheUN.org..