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Team Bush intends to 'transform the Middle East'

By Marko Beljac - posted Monday, 17 September 2007


Whatever one may think about the rationale for the invasion of Iraq and the underlying assumptions underpinning policy it is increasingly clear that the invasion has been a disaster.

Generally speaking it is taken to be a fiasco based on the impact that Iraq has had on US regional and global interests. That the invasion has been a disaster for the population, with a high number of deaths as a direct and indirect consequence of the invasion and the large outflow of refugees, is beside the point. Critics intone that they wish the US is able to achieve its objective, creating a stable neo-colonial dependency in the oil rich region, but that reality, unfortunately, intrudes.

It seems that we might be sliding into another fiasco for recent strategic developments in the Middle East can be read as preparation for a two-front war with the United States striking Iran and Israel striking Syria. This would have its ironies given that one of the important factors underpinning the emergence of a strategic partnership between Iran and Syria was US support for Saddam’s aggression against Iran.

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Recent months have seen increasing calls in Washington from hard-line “conservatives” for some form of military action against Iran. President Bush has also sharpened the rhetoric against Iran accusing Tehran of laying the Middle East under a “shadow of nuclear holocaust”. His usage of the term is ironic. During the Clinton administration United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), in a very revealing document on the “essentials of post cold war deterrence”, stated that US nuclear weapons cast a “shadow” over any conflict in which the US is engaged in.

Not much noticed in Bush’s statements is the more ominous declaration that Washington will “confront this danger before it is too late”. This is a clear reference to the doctrine of preventive war that was used to buttress the invasion of Iraq. If the administration is conducting policy with reference to the Bush doctrine then military action is a distinct possibility.

The interesting thing about the ramping up of war-like rhetoric is that it is inversely correlated with what is happening with Iran’s nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in its latest report on the implementation of safeguards in Iran, notes that Iran’s uranium enrichment activities have slowed. The IAEA has revealed that, as of August, Iran has twelve 164 machine gas centrifuge cascades in operation and that the Iranians have fed 690kg of uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) into these cascades over recent months. That is a very low amount and in fact represents a slowing down in Iran’s program.

Speculation is rife about the reasons for this which range from inherent structural limitations on Iran’s centrifuge technology, the purity of Iranian origin UF6 (which tends to damage the centrifuges), to political considerations in order to forestall further sanctions with a combination of these being most likely.

The same slow down has been observed in construction of the IR-40 heavy water moderated research reactor.

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In other words in two of the most sensitive aspects of Iran’s nuclear program Iran has put the brakes on.

Also, Iran has just reached an agreement with the IAEA on a timetable to resolve all the outstanding issues that the agency has with regards to Tehran’s nuclear activities. Initially the fact of the agreement was all that was publicly available and the US was quick to declare it inadequate. Even western diplomats, as quoted by the sober Financial Times, correctly saw this “as an attempt to de-rail the process”. However the IAEA in its safeguards report noted that it represented “significant progress” and greatly increases co-operation between Iran and the agency.

The agreement is not perfect. Although the IAEA has stated that there is no diversion from Iran’s declared nuclear facilities to military programs nonetheless Iran has no Additional Protocols with the Agency, which are directed at uncovering non declared nuclear facilities.

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About the Author

Marko Beljac has been awarded a PhD at Monash University and he has taught at the University of Melbourne. He is interested in the interface between science and global security and currently is writing a book on nuclear terrorism. He maintains the blog Science and Global Security and is co-author of An Illusion of Protection: The Unavoidable Limitations of Safeguards on Nuclear Materials and the Export of Australian Uranium to China.

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