Backstabbing by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan reached another low-water mark late last week, as Annan worked furiously to undo European and American efforts to bring Iran before the Security Council. Reminiscent of his 1998 comment after visiting Saddam Hussein, “I think I can do business with him,” Annan told reporters on Thursday: “I had a 40-minute conversation with Mr. [Ali] Larijani, the Iranian negotiator of the nuclear issue. …He in turn affirmed to me that they are interested in serious and constructive negotiations…” He later explained, “the negotiations relate to the EU3,” Britain, France, and Germany.
Trouble is, that a few hours earlier the EU3 had issued a statement saying “we have decided to inform the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors that our discussions with Iran have reached an impasse.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had also told reporters: “The United States fully supports the decision announced today by the [E3-EU]…the basis for negotiation is no longer there, because what the Iranians did was to unilaterally destroy the basis on which the negotiations were taking place…”
Following the secretary-general’s news conference, rumor has it that France’s U.N. ambassador complained to Annan directly, but Annan was said to be livid–not at Iran–but at the criticism.
Such a reaction would be par for the course for Kofi Annan, who has done little to hide his bias. He was asked in Friday’s press briefing, “Are you indicating that perhaps it is too early for the IAEA to refer the Iranian dispute to the Security Council?” He answered: “First of all, I think we should try and resolve it, if possible, in the IAEA context. [Mohamed] ElBaradei is working with the parties, doing his best to try and resolve it there.” And he added: “I have been talking to all the parties, doing whatever I can to encourage a negotiated settlement and really keeping people at the table and trying to discourage escalation, and I will continue to do that.”
In other words, as far as Annan is concerned, the problem is not that Iran has escalated the stakes. The problem is that involvement of the Security Council, which is supposed to be the “organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security,” is escalation. The U.N. chief aims to shift the dynamic from taking strong action against an Iranian madman, bent on nuclear proliferation and the obliteration of a U.N. member state, to placing roadblocks in the way of an American-driven effort to stop it.
There is the nagging difficulty of the statute of the IAEA, which mandates a referral to the Security Council in cases such as Iran. The IAEA decided formally in September 2005 that Iran had breached its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that those breaches “constitute non compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the Agency’s Statute.” It also found “that the history of concealment of Iran’s nuclear activities…and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes have given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council…”
Under these conditions the statute of the IAEA makes referral to the Security Council mandatory. Article XII.C: “…The Board [of Governors of the IAEA] shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations.” Article III.B.4: “…if in connection with the activities of the Agency there should arise questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, the Agency shall notify the Security Council…”
Joining Annan in lobbying hard to keep Iran away from the Council has been his sidekick Mohammed ElBaradei, the director general of the IAEA. When the September 2005 resolution was not followed by a reference to the Council, ElBaradei said, “I am encouraged that the issue has not been referred to the Security Council, precisely to give time for diplomacy and negotiation.” When the November 2005 IAEA board of governors meeting also failed to produce such a referral, ElBaradei was pleased: “I still believe that robust verification by the Agency, combined with active dialogue among all concerned parties, is the best way to move forward.”
So now you have it. The top U.N. officials responsible for nuclear nonproliferation are in the business of facilitating Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Annan and ElBaradei will ultimately not be able to prevent the Iranian issue from getting to the Security Council. But with like-minded Council members such as Russia and China, they will continue to work behind the scenes to prevent timely and sufficiently strong Security Council action.
The U.N. will not relieve the U.S. administration from taking responsibility for preventing a nuclear Iran. And there is precious little time to stop pretending otherwise.