Commentary and Newsletters

Anne Bayefsky

Iran and Friends Win Another Round at the UN

Thursday, March 30, 2006

It has been three weeks since the Security Council was undeniably seized of the case of Iran's nuclear ambitions. At the end of it, March 29, 2006, the Council could only manage to produce a non-binding Presidential Statement. They could not agree to adopt a Security Council resolution. They could not agree to state clearly that Iran was in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They could not agree that Iranian behavior constituted a threat to international peace and security. They could not agree on any actions to take against Iran at all. They couldn't even agree that the ball was squarely in the Security Council's court, and not in the hands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA,) where the issue has languished for the past three years.

What could they agree on - in their non-binding statement?

  • They had "serious concerns" (that's one way of putting the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a genocidal maniac) - "that the IAEA is unable to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran." They could not say they had serious concerns on the grounds that the IAEA has already concluded Iran violated its legal obligations.
  • They had a "serious concern" about "Iran's decision to resume enrichment-related activities...and to suspend cooperation with the IAEA..." Translation: "naughty, naughty."
  • And the punchline? The Council "calls upon Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors...which are essential to build confidence."

How about confidence in the Security Council? They could not agree on a single penalty for non-compliance with Iran's treaty obligations. The only concrete Council action was to ask the IAEA to produce another report in 30 days. And even then, they couldn't agree that the report should go only to the Security Council, and sent it both to the IAEA Board of Governors and the Council.

The Russian and the Chinese, however, are not the only ones to blame for the Council's complete inability to satisfy its very raison d'etre of protecting international peace and security. In the middle of Ambassador Bolton pressing a strong case for serious action at the Council, the U.S. administration introduced Iranian-American bilateral talks, ostensibly on Iraq. Bilateral discussions especially between these normally non-conversant parties - at the very moment that America was trying to build a multilateral coalition against its interlocutor, was sure to embolden the Russian and Chinese to hang tough. And so they did.

Security Council first round: Iran 1, human beings against nuclear war 0.

A version of this note appears in the National Review Online.