'Non-Aligned' Solidarity Crumbles on Iran Referral

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A show of international solidarity greeted Saturday's vote by the U.N. nuclear watchdog to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear activities.

Not only did permanent Security Council members Russia and China vote for the resolution -- at odds with their stance on the long running dispute until just a week ago -- but so did half of the 16 "non-aligned movement" (NAM) states represented on the 35-member International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors.

NAM countries voting for the resolution against Iran -- a fellow NAM member -- included two Muslim countries, Egypt and Yemen. The others were Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, India, Singapore and Sri Lanka.

The resolution passed by 27 votes to three (Cuba, Venezuela and Syria), while the remaining five members of NAM -- Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya and South Africa -- abstained.

In a statement acknowledging the diplomatic achievement, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the strong majority in favor of the measure represented "all regions of the world [and] underscores the concern of the entire international community."

"We hope the Iranian regime will heed this clear message," she said. "The world will not stand by if Iran continues on the path to a nuclear weapons capability."

NAM, a 115-strong bloc that frequently criticizes Western policy, issued a statement earlier declaring that all member states had the right to develop and use atomic energy peacefully, "without any discrimination." The statement also praised Iran for its "cooperation" with the IAEA.

Against the background of that statement, the decision of eight of the 16 NAM members represented on the board to nonetheless vote to send Iran to the Security Council was significant.

Of particular interest was the position of India, a heavyweight among the developing nations, which voted for the resolution despite strong support for Iran from powerful left-wing parties at home, some of whose support the government depends on to survive.

New Delhi's vote against Iran for the second time -- the first was last September, when an IAEA resolution criticized Tehran but stopped short of Security Council referral -- was the clearest indication yet that India is taking U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions seriously.

Since the September vote, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government has been under pressure from domestic critics and the Iranian government.

From the other side, members of the U.S. Congress have urged India to continue to support the West's position on Iran, with some suggesting that failure to do so could cost Delhi an important civilian nuclear cooperation agreement offered by President Bush last summer -- a deal Congress will have to approve.

The Times of India described the decision as India having "abandoned its non-aligned allies" in the interests of its civilian nuclear energy agreement with the U.S.

As left-wing parties protested the government's decision, an analysis article on the website of the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar pointed out that China - "a country that the left always looks up to" -- had also voted in favor of the resolution.

The writer said it was important "to make Iran see that the entire international community is virtually unanimous on this issue and it is not merely a conspiracy of the Great Satan U.S.A."

Conflicting signals

Iran carried out a secretive nuclear program for almost two decades before it was exposed by critics of the regime in 2002.

Since then, the U.S. -- which believes the ostensibly civilian program is a cover for efforts to make atomic bombs -- has favored the Security Council taking up the matter, but agreed to give a European Union (E.U.) negotiation initiative a chance.

The resolution passed on Saturday does finally instruct the IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei to report Iran to the Security Council, but also agrees to hold off any council steps against Tehran until March 6, when ElBaradei is due to deliver a comprehensive report on the matter at the next IAEA board meeting.

A State Department spokesman said earlier that "much of how the Security Council responds to this referral will be based upon what Iran does" over the next month.

"We believe that the Iranian regime finding itself before the Security Council may put their decision-making process into a different context, that they have been trying to avoid being referred to the Security Council for quite some time," said Sean McCormack.

So far Iran's response to the resolution has been to send out conflicting signals.

It declared that it would no longer allow snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities and ordered the resumption of uranium enrichment. Enriched uranium can provide fuel for either civilian nuclear power plants or nuclear weapons.

At the same time, however, Tehran agreed to go ahead with previously-planned talks with Russian officials to discuss a Russian compromise proposal that would enable Iran to enrich uranium, but on Russian soil to ensure the Iranians were not producing weapons-grade fissile material.

Earlier, Iran had said that if it was referred to the Security Council, it would no longer consider the Russian offer.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a press conference on Sunday that "if the Russian proposal makes itself compatible with the new conditions, it can be negotiated ... the door for negotiations is still open."

Washington and the European Union have expressed support for the Russian proposal.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow