May 5, 2006 | WebMemo on Iran
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on April 28 issued a mildly worded and understated report to the United Nations Security Council on Iran's failure to comply with the Security Council's March 29 statement. That statement urged Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and fully cooperate with the IAEA. The IAEA's kid-glove treatment of Iran, after two decades of Iranian deception and duplicity concerning its nuclear program, is inconsistent with the IAEA's mandate to serve as a watchdog on the nuclear programs of non-weapons states under the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA did not issue a hard-hitting report detailing Iran's failure to comply with international demands to curtail its uranium enrichment program and failure to honor its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Iran's failures in these regards are clear and incontrovertible. The report, both in its content and tone, is more consistent with an attempt by the IAEA to position itself to mediate or arbitrate the disagreement between Iran and Western powers, primarily the United States, France, Great Britain and Germany, over Iran's nuclear program. This makes it consistent with the IAEA's past behavior regarding Iran's nuclear program.
The IAEA's behavior, unfortunately, is also consistent with what is becoming a habit among international organizations to stray from their mandates in service to an ambition to assume the trappings of global government. In this regard, it is critical to remember the specific mandate the NPT assigns to the IAEA. Specifically, Article III of the NPT states,
Each non-nuclear weapons State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agency's safeguard, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
Iran has violated this safeguard agreement. The IAEA report acknowledges this fact, but it flinches from the direct condemnation that would be consistent with its NPT-mandated role as a watchdog against nuclear weapons proliferation.
As important as what the NPT says about the IAEA is what it does not say. The NPT does not assign the IAEA a role of mediation or arbitration. IAEA Director General ElBaradei should stick to his job, to provide timely warning of Iranian attempts to divert nuclear energy programs to weapons purposes. It is not his job to set himself up as some kind of diplomatic facilitator to defuse the long-simmering crisis over Iran's nuclear duplicity.
Iran already has made clear that it will continue to defy international demands that it comply with its legal obligations under the NPT and the IAEA safeguards agreement. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proclaimed on April 28 that Iran will continue its nuclear program despite the possibility of U.N. Security Council sanctions, saying that Iran "won't give a damn about such useless resolutions."
The United States should cite such contemptuous Iranian statements as yet another reason that the Security Council must confront Iran's irresponsible behavior and not relegate the issue to the IAEA, the U.N.'s toothless watchdog, as Russia and China have advocated. The United States and its allies should
The U.S. government, not the IAEA or the U.N., is responsible for safeguarding the nation's security, and the Iranian attempt to obtain nuclear weapons is a major threat to U.S. security. Accordingly, the U.S. should look to international institutions such as the IAEA and the United Nations to help rein in Iran, but cannot rely on them to meet vital national security requirements. The nation's leaders cannot afford to let the political ambitions of the leaders of international institutions limit U.S. security options. These international leaders have no responsibility or inclination to protect the American people and cannot be expected to do for the U.S. what the U.S. does not do for itself: act to provide for the national defense.
Baker Spring is F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and James Phillips is Research Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.