Right on schedule, the Iranian government announced today that it will stop cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency on certain critical disclosure safeguards. On Sunday night, the Iranian government spokesman explained :
“After this illegal resolution was passed against Iran last night, it forced the government to act based on parliament’s decision regarding the cooperation level with the agency and suspend parts of its activities with the agency,” Elham told Iranian state television.
“The government in a cabinet meeting today decided to suspend code 1-3 of minor arrangements of the safeguards.” He was referring to the part of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s code which specifies that countries should inform the agency of any new steps and decisions made in its nuclear programme.
He said Iran would only reconsider this decision if its nuclear case was returned to the IAEA from the UN Security Council where the file is now being handled. “This will continue until Iran’s nuclear case is referred back to the IAEA from the UN Security Council,” he said.
A couple of points: First, the Iranian position is now that the Security Council resolution is a violation of the U.N. Charter, which is preposterous. The Council has absolute authority to determine threats to the peace and take action to prevent and remove them. Further, Iran is bound by its membership in the United Nations to obey Council pronouncements. Second, the demand that Iran’s case be “referred back to the IAEA” is especially galling: The only way it could happen is if the Council agrees that it is no longer interested in the matter because it has verified the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, which it is hardly going to do if Iran has refused to comply with the Council’s demand to suspend uranium enrichment.
We have known for months that suspending cooperation with the IAEA was the next logical step for Iran in its nuclear breakout. It is an important strategic redline, because if Iran now draws a veil over its nuclear program, we will have no way of knowing what the scope of its nuclear activities is. We will from that point forward be facing an intolerable uncertainty.
Here is where the seizure of the British sailors takes on its most intriguing — and ominous — aspect. The U.S./British/French naval buildup in and around the Persian Gulf is a clear warning to Iran. Now that those navel assets are there, and leaning pretty far forward (the British sailors were apparently in disputed waters) the options for responding to Iran’s IAEA maneuver are many. There are many things we can do now to increase the military pressure on Iran without firing a shot. The seizure of the British sailors complicates all of them.
The British sailors are unlikely to be released before the west has made it clear that Iran’s partial abandonment of the nonproliferation treaty will not carry serious consequences. The problem is that Iran’s abandonment of the nonproliferation must carry serious consequences–whether that abandonment is comprehensive or incremental.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has not issued a single warning about what it will do if Iran stops cooperating with the IAEA. What a fine way to start the 21st century: With no clearly understood strategic defense perimeter.