What Obama and Romney Didn't Say At the Debate: 9 Things You Should Know About Iran's Nuclear Program
On October 12, Politico posted a copy of the predetermined topics of discussion for the third and final presidential debate in Boca Raton, Florida, the focus of which will be foreign policy. The debate took place on Tuesday, October 23.
One of the topics was, naturally, "Red Lines - Israel and Iran."
You'd be forgiven for thinking this might mean that the two candidates discussed what sort of limitations - identified by non-negotiable trigger points and definable events - the United States would set on Israeli war crimes, colonization, human rights violations and warmongering, but that would just mean you're a logical, thinking person who doesn't pay attention to the world in which we actually live.
No, instead, two grown men vying to be the most powerful person on the planet, tripped all over themselves to prostrate themselves at the altar of Israel fear-mongering, gloating about how much Iranians are suffering because of US-imposed sanctions, cyberattacks, sidewalk executions, covert operations, industrial sabotage, economic hardship and hyperinflation and threatening to launch an unprovoked military attack if Iran doesn't do as its told by the United States. These actions are intended, we will hear from President Obama, to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; or, in Romney's case, to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability - that is, the point at which Iran will have the technical, technological and scientific ability to theoretically begin the process of assembling a single atomic bomb, if the leader of the country were to ever make that decision, which at this point everyone agrees he hasn't done and probably won't ever do.
We heard Romney clam that "Iran is now four years closer to a nuclear weapon" and watched Obama insist that "all options are on the table" when it comes to confronting Iran over its national rights. We heard that Iran's nuclear program poses a great - if not the greatest - threat to not only Israel and its neighbors in the region, but to Europe, the United States and the entire world.
So, even though the show is over, it might be best to keep some things in mind:
1. Iran has no nuclear weapons program.
United States intelligence community and its allies have long assessed that Iran is not and never has been in possession of nuclear weapons, is not building nuclear weapons, and its leadership has not made any decision to build nuclear weapons. Iranian officials have consistently maintained they will never pursue such weapons on religious, strategic, political, moral and legal grounds.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Ronald Burgess, President Barack Obama, his National Security Council, and Vice President Joe Biden have all agreed Iran isn't actively building nuclear weapons.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and Military Intelligence Director Aviv Kochavi have also said the same thing.
Furthermore, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continually confirms - that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program and stated it has "no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons program." (emphasis added)
2. Iran has never violated its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran is a signatory, and charter member, to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which affirms (not grants, merely acknowledges) the "inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty."
Under the terms of the treaty, non-nuclear weapons states such as Iran are fullyentitled to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and must have a safeguards agreement in place with the autonomous IAEA, the "exclusive purpose" of which is the "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 never been found to have breached its NPT obligations as such a violation could only occur if Iran began "to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons."
With regard to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, Iran - while in the past had beenfound in non-compliance for its "failure to report" otherwise totally legal activities due to the deliberate policy of obstructionism of the United States - has never been found to have diverted any nuclear material to weaponization.
"Claims of an imminent Iranian nuclear bomb are without foundation," IAEA spokesman Georges Delcoigne stated on May 9, 1984. In 1991, then-IAEA Director-General Hans Blix explained that Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear technology was "no cause for concern."
Twelve years later, in November 2003, the IAEA affirmed that "to date, there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities referred to above were related to a nuclear weapons programme." And the following year, after extensive inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities were conducted under the auspices of the IAEA's intrusive Additional Protocol (implemented voluntarily by Iran for two years) the IAEA again concluded that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."
In 2007, then-IAEA Director-General Mohammad ElBaradei confirmed, "I have not received any information that there is a concrete active nuclear weapons program going on right now," adding, "Have we seen Iran having the nuclear material that can readily be used into a weapon? No. Have we seen an active weapons program? No."
After agreeing on a "Work Plan" to "clarify the outstanding issues" between Iran and the IAEA, by February 2008, ElBaradei was able to report, "We have managed to clarify all the remaining outstanding issues, including the most important issue, which is the scope and nature of Iran's enrichment programme" and the IAEA continued "to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."
"As long as we are monitoring their facilities, they cannot develop nuclear weapons," ElBaradei said. "And they still do not have the ingredients to make a bomb overnight."
In September 2009, ElBaradei told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that "the idea that we'll wake up tomorrow and Iran will have a nuclear weapon is an idea that isn't supported by the facts as we have seen them so far," continuing, "Nobody is sitting in Iran today developing nuclear weapons. Tehran doesn't have an ongoing nuclear weapons program," adding that "the threat has been hyped."
The following month, ElBaradei stated:
"The only time we found Iran in breach of its obligations not to use undeclared nuclear material was when they had experimented in 2003 and 2004 at Kalaye. Those were experiments. And I have been making it very clear that with regard to these alleged studies, we have not seen any use of nuclear material, we have not received any information that Iran has manufactured any part of a nuclear weapon or component. That’s why I say, to present the Iran threat as imminent is hype."
The "alleged studies" ElBaradei referred to are alleged documents supposedly obtained from a mysterious stolen Iranian Laptop of Death, the authenticity of which has long been known to rest somewhere on the spectrum of dubious to fabricated, and which was provided to the IAEA by the United States by way of the MEK by way of the Mossad and has never been made fully available to the IAEA itself, the press, the public or even Iran itself to investigate, authenticate or assess. In fact, reportedly, the laptop's "information does not contain any words such as nuclear or nuclear warhead."
Furthermore, a 2007 report from The Los Angeles Times revealed that, according to IAEA officials, "most U.S. intelligence shared with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has proved inaccurate, and none has led to significant discoveries inside Iran" and confirmed that its inspectors "have found no proof that nuclear material has been diverted for use in weapons." A senior diplomat at the IAEA was quoted as saying, "Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that's come to us has proved to be wrong."
Despite the appointment of Yukiya Amano, the America's man in Vienna (and self-declared as "solidly in the U.S. court on every key strategic decision"), as IAEA Director-General, the agency has continued to verify Iran's safeguard commitments.
3. The IAEA safeguards and inspects all nuclear facilities in Iran.
Iran's nuclear sites, facilities, and centrifuges are all under 24-hour video surveillance by the IAEA, subject to IAEA monitoring and bimonthly inspections, and material seal application. Though not required or authorized under Iran's Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, since March 2007 the IAEA has conducted dozens of unannounced and snap inspections of Iran's facilities.
"There is no truth to media reports claiming that the IAEA was not able to get access" to Iran's nuclear facilities, IAEA spokesman Marc Vidricaire affirmed in 2007. "We have not been denied access at any time."
The IAEA has consistently confirmed - often four times a year for nearly a decade - that "all the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for, and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities."
Parchin is not a nuclear facility. It is a military facility not safeguarded by the IAEA and therefore off-limits legally to its inspectors. Iran voluntarily allowed two rounds of inspections of Parchin by IAEA personnel in 2005. No traces of nuclear weapons work were found.
4. Iran, by default, already has "nuclear weapons capability."
Iran, with its operational enrichment facilities and a functioning power plant, theoretically already has such "capability," as do at least 140 other countries that "currently have the basic technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons.” Additionally,according to Green Peace, "[o]ver 40 countries have the materials and knowhow to build nuclear weapons quickly, a capacity that is referred to as 'rapid break-out.'"
In May 2010, the 189 member nations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - including Iran - agreed to "the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction." In response, Israel denounced the accord, describing it as "deeply flawed and hypocritical," and declared, "As a nonsignatory state of the NPT, Israel is not obligated by the decisions of this Conference, which has no authority over Israel. Given the distorted nature of this resolution, Israel will not be able to take part in its implementation."
The document called upon Pakistan, India, and Israel (the only three states never to have signed to NPT, each of which has a nuclear arsenal unmonitored by the IAEA) to all sign the treaty and abide by its protocols "without further delay and without any preconditions," and demanded that North Korea (which withdrew from the NPT in 2003) abandon "all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs."
Nevertheless, both President Obama and National Security Adviser General James Jones condemned the resolution (which the U.S. signed) as unfairly "singl[ing] out Israel." Obama added that the U.S. would "oppose actions that jeopardize Israel's national security." Considering Obama's alleged determination to address the issue of global nuclear proliferation, this statement and the absence of any high-level U.S. government personnel at the summit speaks volumes.
Early in his presidency, in April 2009, Obama delivered a major speech in Prague about nuclear weapons and proliferation. In it he declared, "clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," shortly thereafter reaffirming that "the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons."
While Obama set out parameters to strengthen the NPT, stating his vision that "countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy," he name-checked both North Korea and Iran, while never once mentioning Israel's stockpile of hundreds of deliverable nuclear warheads.
In October of that year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced that the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize would be "awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples," continuing that, "[t]he Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."
After Obama convened and presided over a Nuclear Security Summit in April 2010, he gave a press conference in which he noted that "[w]hen the United States improves our own nuclear security and transparency, it encourages others to do the same," adding, "When the United States fulfills our responsibilities as a nuclear power committed to the NPT, we strengthen our global efforts to ensure that other nations fulfill their responsibilities."
Scott Wilson of the Washington Post asked Obama whether, in his effort "to bring U.S. policy in line with its treaty obligations internationally" and "eliminate the perception of hypocrisy that some of the world sees toward the United States and its allies," he would "call on Israel to declare its nuclear program and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty" and "if not, why wouldn't other countries see that as an incentive not to sign on to the treaty that you say is important to strengthen?" Obama replied,
Well, Scott, initially you were talking about U.S. behavior and then suddenly we’re talking about Israel...
And as far as Israel goes, I'm not going to comment on their program. What I'm going to point to is the fact that consistently we have urged all countries to become members of the NPT.
So there’s no contradiction there.
This non-answer harkens back to the president's very first White House press conference in February 2009, when veteran correspondent Helen Thomas asked Obama a painfully simple question: "Mr. President, do you know of any country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons?"
In response, the new commander-in-chief responded, "With respect to nuclear weapons, I don't want to speculate. What I know is this: that if we see a nuclear arms race in a region as volatile as the Middle East, everyone will be in danger. And one of my goals is to prevent nuclear proliferation generally."
Clearly, though a world without nuclear weapons may be a goal of Obama,maintaining Israel's posture of "nuclear ambiguity" appears to be a presidential obligation.
Exactly a week before the Nobel Committee announced Obama as its Peace Prize laureate, it was reported on October 2, 2009 by Eli Lake of the Washington Times that, in May of that year, Obama had "reaffirmed a 4-decade-old secret understanding that has allowed Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal without opening it to international inspections." Lake explained, "Under the understanding, the U.S. has not pressured Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could require Israel to give up its estimated several hundred nuclear bombs."
A Senate staffer familiar with the secret agreement told Lake:
What this means is that the president gave commitments that politically he had no choice but to give regarding Israel's nuclear program. However, it calls into question virtually every part of the president’s nonproliferation agenda. The president gave Israel an NPT treaty get out of jail free card.
6. Sanctions are the West's other weapon of mass destruction.
During the debate, Obama praised his policy of collective punishment of a civilian population over a nuclear weapons program even he has admitted doesn't even exist while Romney called for even more destructive measures to hurt the Iranian people. Sanctions target Iran's citizens with the hope of causing enough suffering to instigate regime change. That won't happen. In the meantime, the Iranian people suffer for a crime their government isn't even committing.
During the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden boasted, "These are the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions, period, period."
While Mitt Romney surely scolded the president for "not supporting" the so-called Iranian opposition following the election in 2009 (even though no dissident leader or group asked for "help" from the U.S.; quite the contrary), we won't hear that Iranians across the political spectrum uniformly oppose sanctions and wholly support their country's indigenous nuclear energy program.
Just today, AFP reports, "Some six million patients in Iran are affected by Western economic sanctions as import of medicine is becoming increasingly difficult" because restrictions on Iran's banking sector "severely" curtail "the import of drugs and pharmaceutical devices for treatment of complex illnesses."
As sanctions mount and more are promised, thought should be given to thelethal effects of a decade of similarly draconian measures on Iraq following the Gulf War.
In 1995, The New York Times reported, "As many as 576,000 Iraqi children may have died since the end of the Persian Gulf war because of economic sanctions imposed by the Security Council." When, the following year, Leslie Stahl interviewed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 60 Minutes about these tragic and genocidal effects of brutal economic U.S. sanctions against Iraq and asked, "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Nonplussed, Albright immediately replied, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it."
Despite the uninformed lip-service both candidates pay to caring about the welfare of the Iranian people, there is no doubt both Obama and Romney believe the current sanctions on Iran are also worth it.
"In many ways, the sanctions on the Iraqi people were worse than the war because the economy was taken back decades and the health service deteriorated massively," Carne Ross, former British Foreign Office diplomat and the UK's Iraq expert at the United Nations Security Council, has said.
But deliberately causing a humanitarian disaster that destroys the lives of an entire civilian population isn't an alternative to war. It is one.
7. Attacking Iran is not only immoral, it is uncontrovertibly illegal.
Any military campaign against Iran would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians.
As journalist Marsha Cohen pointed out earlier this year, a 2009 study produced for theCenter for International and Strategic Studies briefly addressed "the human and environmental human catastrophe that would result just from an attack on the Iranian nuclear power plant in Bushehr," and determined:
Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.
A devastating new analysis on "The Human Cost of Military Strikes Against Iran's Nuclear Facilities" has determined "it is highly likely that the casualty rate at the physical sites will be close to 100 percent" and continues:
Assuming an average two-shift operation, between 3,500 and 5,500 people would be present at the time of the strikes, most of whom would be killed or injured as a result of the physical and thermal impact of the blasts. If one were to include casualties at other targets, one could extrapolate to other facilities, in which case the total number of people killed and injured could exceed 10,000.
David Isenberg, in a Time article on the report, writes that "attacks at Isfahan and Natanz would release existing stocks of fluorine and fluorine compounds which would turn into hydrofluoric acid — a highly-reactive agent that, when inhaled, would make people 'drown in their lungs.' Fluorine gases are more corrosive and toxic than the chlorine gas used in World War I. Once airborne, at lethal concentrations, these toxic plumes could kill virtually all life forms in their path."
Aside from the fluorine, the uranium hexafluoride itself also poses dire consequences. The report estimates that if only 5% of 371 metric tons of uranium hexafluoride produced at the Isfahan facility becomes airborne during or after an attack, the toxic plumes could travel five miles with the Immediately Dangerous to Life or Health (IDLH) level of 25 milligrams per cubic liter spreading over 13 square miles:With prevailing wind directions and speeds at 9.4 miles/hour moving towards the city, in about one hour, this plume could expose some of the 240,000 residents in Isfahan municipality’s eastern districts, particularly districts 4 and 6. At a 20% release, the IDLH plume will travel 9 miles covering 41 square miles and could expose some of the 352,000 residents, mainly in districts 13, 4, and 6, as well as residents in the region north of district 4. If we assume a conservative casualty rate of 5 to 20% among these populations, we can expect casualties in the range of 12,000-70,000 people. [emphasis in original]
Not only would such an attack by unconscionable for moral reasons, an assault on Iranian nuclear facilities, military installments and civilian infrastructure would in no be considered legal.
All so-called "preemptive" military attacks are illegal and explicitly forbidden by Chapter I, Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter. The Charter also makes clear that it recognizes the "inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations," (Chapter VII, Article 51), which undoubtedly rules out any and all "preemptive," "precautionary," "anticipatory self-defense," or "preventative" military actions of one State against another.
Moreover, following World War II, the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg described the willful initiation of a "war of aggression" as "the supreme international crime," a defining tenet of current international law.
"Preemptive self-defense is clearly unlawful under international law," law professor Mary Ellen O'Connell wrote in 2002. In her extensive analysis, "The Myth of Preemptive Self-Defense," O'Connell explains, "The right of self-defense is limited to the right to use force to repel an attack in progress, to prevent future enemy attacks following an initial attack, or to reverse the consequences of an enemy attack, such as ending an occupation" and also points out that "the United States as a government has consistently supported the prohibition on such preemptive use of force."
O'Connell continues, "the reality is that the United States has no right to use force to prevent possible, as distinct from actual, armed attacks. The further reality is that the United States does not advance its security or its moral standing in the world by doing so." Throughout her paper, O'Connell stresses that all nations are bound by these same rules.
"There is no self-appointed right to attack another state because of fear that the state is making plans or developing weapons usable in a hypothetical campaign," she states, elaborating that "a state may not take military action against another state when an attack is only a hypothetical possibility, and not yet in progress—even in the case of weapons of mass destruction" since even "possession of such weapons without more does not amount to an armed attack."
Also, the simple act of attacking any nation's nuclear facilities is in itself unquestionably illegal.
On September 21, 1990, the IAEA General Conference adopted a resolution during its 332nd plenary meeting which addressed "measures to strengthen international co-operations in matters relating to nuclear safety and radiological protection."
The resolution specifically and unconditionally called for the "Prohibition of all armed attacks against nuclear installations devoted to peaceful purposes whether under construction or in operation."
The resolution refers to an earlier IAEA document which maintains that "any armed attack on and threat against nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes constitutes a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter, international law and the Statute of the Agency" and that warns that "an armed attack on a nuclear installation could result in radioactive releases with grave consequences within and beyond the boundaries of the State which has been attacked."
Furthermore, the resolution "[r]ecognizes that attacks or threats of attack on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful purposes could jeopardize the development of nuclear energy; [c]onsiders that the safeguards system of the Agency is a reliable means of verifying the peaceful uses of nuclear energy; [r]ecognizes that an armed attack or a threat of armed attack on a safeguarded nuclear facility, in operation or under construction, would create a situation in which the United Nations Security Council would have to act immediately in accordance with the provisions of the United Nations Charter; [and e]ncourages all Member States to be ready to provide - if requested - immediate peaceful assistance in accordance with international law to any State whose safeguarded nuclear facilities have been subjected to an armed attack."
It is important to note that while Israel is not a signatory of the NPT, it has however been a member of the IAEA since 1957 and therefore such a resolution is just as binding upon Israel as it is upon all other member states.
The illegality of any Israeli or American attack on Iran is clear. It would not only be a war crime in the truest sense of the term as articulated by the Nuremberg Tribunal, but it would also constitute a grave crime against humanity due to the inevitable and unavoidable cost of human lives and suffering such an attack would cause. That both Israel and the United States are naturally aware of such consequences would make any attack all the more despicable and its crimes deliberate.
8. This is really about maintaining unchallenged American and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East.
The scariest thing for proponents of American empire and Israeli impunity is the prospect of the U.S. and Israel not being able to invade, occupy, overthrow bomb, blockade and murder at will. Glenn Greenwald recently pointed out that the real fear over the Iranian program is that "Iranian nuclear weapons would prevent the US from attacking Iran at will, and that is what is intolerable."
In his December 2011 call for the United States to soon launch an unprovoked attack on Iran, Matthew Kroenig wrote in Foreign Affairs that a "nuclear-armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East. With atomic power behind it, Iran could threaten any U.S. political or military initiative in the Middle East with nuclear war, forcing Washington to think twice before acting in the region."
The same month, hawkish American Enterprise Institute maven Danielle Pletkaadmitted, "The biggest problem for the United States is not Iran getting a nuclear weapon and testing it. It’s Iran getting a nuclear weapon and not using it."
Yet even the mere "breakout capacity" is what worries Israel the most. Writing in Asia Times this past summer, Richard Javad Heydarian explained that "the Iranian nuclear issue is fundamentally about the balance of power in West Asia. Israel is essentially concerned with the emergence of a 'virtual' - possessing a 'break-out' capacity to develop a warhead on a short notice - nuclear-armed state in Tehran, eliminate Israel's regional nuclear monopoly. This would undermine Israel's four decades of strategic impunity to shape the regional environment to its own liking," adding, "Thus, it is crucial for Israel to prevent any Iran-West diplomatic compromise, which will give Tehran a free hand to enhance its regional influence and maintain a robust nuclear infrastructure."
9. What we won't hear.
The reason we were subjected to a quarter-hour of Obama and Romney talking about our unbreakable, sacrosanct, unique special bond and unflinching commitment to Israel's security, how the United States will never allow Iran to threaten our "number one ally in the region," how bumbling, bipolar used-car salesman are deployed by an evil regime to assassinate our best friends' ambassadors and how Iranian leaders threaten Israel withgenocidal destruction, is because, that way, we won't hear the words "Palestinian human rights," "Israeli war crimes," "apartheid," "occupation," "Gaza," "colonial settlements," "African migrants in internment camps," or "ethnic cleansing."