Iran accuses US of nuclear threats

Tehran criticises US' nuclear threats. Victory likely for Bashir after controversial Sudanese elections. Peshawar stuck by twin suicide attacks. Ethnic violence threatens Kyrgyz interim government. All this and more in today's update.
Andrea Glioti
20 April 2010

During a conference on civilian nuclear energy convened in Tehran on Saturday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei criticized the US for hypocritically preaching non-proliferation while preserving its atomic arsenal. On the same occasion, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the US as a ‘bullying and aggressor regime’ which had not abided by its commitment to disarmam, as sanctioned by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Ahmadinejad stressed that Iran has no nuclear weapon ambitions, whereas the United States and its nuclear allies should be expelled from the directory board of the IAEA. To free the agency of alledged pro-American bias, Khamenei’s protégée suggested the creation of a new international panel to monitor nuclear disarmament.

Ahmadinejad reminded the audience that the US have utilised atomic waste weapons in Iraq and they are still the only “atomic criminal” in world history. The allegations went further, targeting the un-democratic nature of the UN Security Council. According to Mohammad Marandi, the head of the North American Studies department at the University of Tehran, Iran is voicing the widespread concerns of the Global South about the ingrained bias of international organisations.

The Iranian leadership intentionally chose to ignore the US-Russia deal on nuclear disarmament signed on 8 April by Medvedev and Obama for the disposal of tons of weapons-grade plutonium within seven years. The deal came within days of the US Nuclear Posture Review, which restricted the US from using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-armed NPT members, though implicitly excluded Iran and North Korea.

The US was further accused of double-standards on account of the tolerance accorded by the UN to Israel’s obscurantist nuclear program. The foreign ministers of Syria, Iraq and Lebanon backed Iran’s stances on the issue at the conference, demanding UN inspections in Israel, which is not a signatory of the NPT.

The congress, named “Nuclear Energy for Everyone, Nuclear Weapon for No One”, took place in Tehran, following a parallel conference held in Washington a few days previously where powers discussed the possibility of further sanctions on Iran. No European deputation attended the Iranian summit, but both China and Russia sent delegates, in spite of US pressure.

The Islamic Republic is preparing the stage for the UN Non Proliferation Treaty review, scheduled for May 2010, at which Tehran will demand more guarantees on the right to uranium enrichment.

The openSecurity verdict: Despite limited restrictions on the first-strike use of nuclear weapons outlined in the US Nuclear Posture Review, the Obama administration has not precluded the nuclear option; as Gates made clear, “we essentially carve out states like Iran” for whom “all options are on the table”.

By rasing the possibility of a first-strike, nuclear or otherwise, the US continues to provide Iran with the rhetorical ammunition to attack the US' credibility on nuclear issues, as illustrated by Iran’s UN ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, who recently claimed that the White House’s threats were infringements of the non-aggression principles of the UN charter.
Iran’s hand includes a set of similar counter-points, ranging from the US assisted nuclear program initiated by the Shah in the 1950s and the right to pursue uranium enrichment for civil purposes, as sanctioned by article four of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In addition to the lack of pressure placed on Israel, with its undisclosed nuclear arsenal, such weaknesses expose the UN agencies to claims of pro-western bias, on the basis of which Iran can draw on the backing of than 170 countries as a spokesman for the concerns of the global south.

While such posturing may bring Iran more support, it is unlikely to sway the US cabinet, whose inclination towards negotiations and its capacity to exert pressure on international organizations has greater weight. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, made clear in a recently disclosed January memorandum that it was necessary to ready a long-term strategy for dealing with Iran and to be prepared for military action at a pre-determined stage of Iran’s nuclear development. In the last IAEA report, Yukiya Amano, the new general director, targeted Iran’s past and current lack of transparency on suspected bomb-making, thus distancing himself from El-Baradei’s cautious approach. Such developments only increase the liklihood of a more aggressive response to Iran's nuclear development, including the prospect of further sanctions.

After three sets of UN sanctions on Iran without significant gains made in the negotiations, Obama, like Bush, still believes that coercive isolation and the threat of military intervention can regulate US relations with lesser powers perceived to be damaging US interests. But sanctions have proved to be detrimental to US interests in both Iraq and Palestine, hurting the civilian population without helping to prevent conflicts there. Should sanctions be imposed and not prove effective, there is no guarantee that the US or Israel will not opt to militarily bypass the UN or the advice of the IAEA (as the US did in Iraq in 2003). Given this scenario, and the liklihood that Ahmadinejad’s appeals for restructuring international organizations will remain unheard, it is Russia and China that hold the balance on how the UN will deal with Iran.

Bashir ahead in fraud-ridden Sudanese elections

The Sudanese state media reported a clean victory for Omar Hassan al-Bashir, leader of the ruling National Congress Party, in recent elections. Both the EU and the Carter Center complained last week about voting irregularities, while refraining from emphasizing the scale of fraud for fear of igniting the opposition’s allegations. The two main opposition parties, the Umma Reform and Renewal and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, denounced vote manipulation in the north, deciding to boycott the elections. Political analysts are convinced that Bashir intends to make use of his victory to continue to defy the International Criminal Court’s verdict on his implication in the Darfur genocide.

One of the most prominent political figures of the National Congress Party, Nafie Ali Nafie, warned last Thursday that the opposition was planning to riot after the election results. Nevertheless, violent episodes have been marginal so far and both the Umma Reform and Renewal and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement have denied any intention to stage violent upheavals. Opposition and independent candidates have protested against physical assaults by National Congress Party members all over the country, leading Veronique de Keyser, the chief of the EU monitoring commission in Sudan, to highlight cases of intimidation.

Bombings kill at least 24 people in Peshawar.

Two consecutive bombings devastated Peshawar on Monday evening. The first detonation occurred in front of a high school, killing an eight-year-old boy and injuring approximately ten people. The head of the Khyber Teaching Hospital, Dr. Khizer Hayat, is convinced that the aim was to massacre children, whereas police sources believe that the target was the Police Public School, hosted in the same building.

The latter explosion took place in the crowded bazaar of Qissa Khawani, right after Jamat Islami protesters gathered for rallying against inflation and power shortages. The provincial information minister, Iftikhar Muhammad, pointed out that, despite having granted security to the demonstrators, suicide attacks are almost unavoidable. Peshawar Deputy Superintendent of Police Gulfat Hussain was among the victims of the blast, suggesting sectarian motivations for the attack on account of his Shi’ite faith. The suicide bomber has been identified as a fourteen-year-old boy.

Suicide attacks in the North West Frontier Province have claimed the lives of 73 people in the last three days.

Ethnic clashes break out after Kyrgyz interim government replace Bakiyev.

There are growing concerns of an escalation in ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, after five people were killed on Monday during clashes in the suburbs of Bishkek. Several witnesses have reported that Kyrgyz citizens sacked Russian and Meskhetian Turkish tenancies in Mayevka village. Meanwhile, in former president Bakiyev’s homeland, Jalalabad, his supporters proclaimed the province’s autonomy by appointing a sympathetic governor.

Ethnic tensions overlap with political division in Jalalabad, where the Uzbek minority was prevented from participating in a pro-interim government public gathering. Some fear the possibility that Uzbeks could take over local institutions, but it is unclear whether such sentiments extend beyond Bakiyev’s followers. What is certain is that both the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz would prefer to avoid reviving the ‘ghosts of the past’, namely an ethnic massacre which occurred in the town of Uzgen in 1990.

Following these events, the temporary cabinet, headed by the ex-foreign minister, Roza Otunbayeva, sent troops to the troubled outskirts of Bishkek. The recently formed government successfully removed Bakiyev from office after riots on 7 April and promised to call new elections and institute reforms. However, despite the government’s efforts and the closure of the borders with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan for security reasons, the situation remains highly unstable. There has been no update on where Bakiyev went after leaving Kazakhstan, where he escaped to a few days ago.

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