Amano 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Muammar Gaddafi’s abandonment of Libya’s nuclear weapons program in 2003 may, in
retrospect, be a blessing for the region. However Libya’s tragic saga ends,
Gaddafi’s last stand will not involve the first use of nuclear weapons in the
Yet the nuclear threat is very much alive elsewhere. Popular
uprisings across the Arab world have diverted the attention of policy-makers and
media from what until only a few months ago was considered the major security
threat – Iran’s nuclear program.
For the fallen Mubarak regime, as well
as for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, an Iran with nuclear capability was
seen as a strategic threat greater than the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. The international community largely concurred, as economic sanctions
were imposed by the US, European and other countries, and the UN Security
Council adopted four resolutions against Tehran.
Now, Arab governments
have shifted their sights to deal with the demands of their own citizens
yearning for reform. As Washington and European capitals assess and respond to
the political earthquakes in key Arab countries, they should not lose sight of
the repercussions of a nuclear breakthrough.
Iran and Syria top the
agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting in Vienna this
week. IAEA Director-General Yukiya Amano has already demonstrated – in sharp
contrast to his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei – real concern about Iran’s
nuclear program, as well as the need to press Syria to reveal its nuclear
Iran continues to produce uranium “steadily, constantly,”
Amano told The Washington Post
last month. In other words, despite the
increasingly stringent sanctions, the reportedly harmful impact of the Stuxnet
worm and the mysterious murders of Iranian nuclear scientists, Tehran is staying
Intelligence agencies may continue to debate (as they have
for years) when exactly Iran will cross the nuclear threshold, and when its
first atomic weapon will be ready, but there is international consensus that
Iran intends to complete its nuclear mission no matter what.
SEPTEMBER, the IAEA called Iran’s refusal to cooperate an “urgent
matter.” It said it cannot “confirm that all nuclear material in Iran is
in peaceful activities” because Tehran has refused to provide information
requested, forbidden access to nuclear sites and barred two IAEA inspectors from
entering the country.
Syria’s lack of cooperation is similarly urgent.
Its secret program came to light after Israel destroyed a nuclear reactor in
2007. The IAEA dispatched an investigative team to Syria the following year.
That was the last time President Bashar Assad allowed IAEA inspectors to visit.
Meanwhile, Syria has reconstructed the destroyed al-Kibar nuclear site, and has
built at least one more.
The defiance of Iran and Syria – both
signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which requires cooperation
with the IAEA – is enormously frustrating for Amano. As he told The Washington
Post, he is determined to be “the guardian of nonproliferation.”
goal aligns with US President Barack Obama’s call in 2009 for “a world without
Confronting the obvious proliferation efforts under way
in an increasingly unstable, yet economically and strategically vital region is
essential to this goal.
Others in Washington have also raised concerns.
“If we’re going to keep America and our allies safe, we need to know the status
of Syria’s nuclear activities, and Syrians need to know that there will be
consequences if they are engaging in illicit nuclear activities,” said Sen.
Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and
cosponsor of a bipartisan congressional letter to Amano urging inspections of
Syria’s nuclear program.
Iran, a radical Shi’ite theocracy, and Syria, a
Sunni nation ruled by its Alawite minority, may not appear to be natural allies.
But both regimes share a penchant for dictatorial, repressive rule, in which the
abuse of human rights and the denial of free expression are the norm. Both
support Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. Both love
interfering in the affairs of other countries, notably Lebanon, where the
Iranian-Syrian alliance with Hezbollah forced a bloodless coup. Both threaten
Israel and other US interests. Last month’s visit of Iranian warships to Syria
is further evidence of this tightening relationship. If either goes nuclear,
changing their views or policies will become even more difficult.
should reassert leadership and step up coordinated international efforts to
persuade Damascus and Tehran to desist. If either country truly wants a purely
civilian nuclear program, then the United Arab Emirates’ deal with Washington
may be a model.
Otherwise, whatever direction political changes across
the region take, the nuclear threat will continue to hover
dangerously.The writer is director of communications for the American