Opinion: European Liberal Democrat Parties vote against war with Iran

At the 2011 Annual Congress of the European Liberal Democratic and Reform (ELDR) parties in Palermo last week, a major initiative from the UK Lib Dems was the successful tabling of an emergency resolution on the growing likelihood of war with Iran. Media and intelligence reports have described the ‘planned’ action as a multi-pronged attack on Iran by the United States and Israel, with military support from the United Kingdom and Canada. In Palermo, the UK Lib Dem resolution against the war, and against European involvement, was passed with a large majority. The ELDR resolution also condemned Iran for not allowing full IAEA access to its nuclear facilities and for not signing the key ‘Additional Protocol’ – a factor which has led to the IAEA relying more on US-based intelligence information, as much as its own forensic inspections.

The recent step-up in warmongering follows the publication of the latest IAEA report on nuclear weaponisation within the Iranian nuclear industry. This report has been spun as a much stronger indication that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Alongside this media activity are reports of a Western troop build up in the Gulf and the stationing of cruise-missile-enabled submarines off the coast of Iran – and the widely publicised transfer of new ‘super bunker buster’ munitions to the region. Not only does it look like war is on, but it is being spun that the UK is likely to participate militarily.

All of this of course could just be about pressure on the Iranian regime. However, it is more likely that, with echoes of the Iraq war, it is instead the preparation of public opinion for war. The reason why this is more likely concerns the detail of the IAEA report itself. It is more likely for two important reasons, which show that the war rhetoric and the actuality of Iranian nuclear weaponisation have diverged.

First, as the UK Lib Dem resolution explained, the actual November 8th IAEA report does not say what it is claimed it says, and in fact contains very little that is new. The Director General of the IAEA, General Yukiya Amano wrote to the UN Security Council on 17th Nov that,

The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. It also indicates that, prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.

This is in effect agreeing with the United States’ 2007 multi-agency ‘National Intelligence Estimate’ – that Iran has stopped its embryonic nuclear weapons programme in 2003.

Second, the activities which ‘may still be ongoing’ include some potential research studies, and some other supporting evidence which originated with the US military and which has been strongly criticised by international experts – including a former IAEA inspector from the US. This disputed supporting evidence involves a Ukrainian nano-diamond scientist who has denied involvement, components controversially described as nuclear-use-only, and the alleged existence of an explosion chamber supposedly (and implausibly) used for testing nuclear-bomb triggers.

The IAEA’s more credible reports of potentially ongoing post-2003 minor weaponisation activities, however, are consistent with Iran enabling itself to revive its 2003 programme, should it decide to do so in the future. But will it ? President Ahmedinejad may have an objective of trying to bring the world’s attention to Israel’s nuclear weapons and to the fact that it is not a NPT signatory, and he is volatile and prone to inflammatory rhetoric. However, Iran’s Supreme Leader Komenei recently announced a plan to consolidate his power and reduce or abolish the presidency. The Supreme Leader has been critical of Ahmedinejad’s nuclear posturing.

Given the actual contents of the IAEA report, the criticisms of some of its post-2003 evidence, and the power struggle in Iran, the successful UK Lib Dem resolution at ELDR concluded that a large scale war involving 100,000 deaths or many more, could not be justified. It called for Iran to allow the IAEA to do its work and for Iran accept the IAEA’s demand for more inspections and further work, and ratification of the Additional Protocol. It also called for sanctions to be focused more effectively on any potential nuclear weaponsiation programme, as per the UN Security Council sanctions, relative to the more general sanctions applied by the USA and some of its allies.

With respect to UK government policy, any divisions on Iran are less likely to be between the Coalition partners. They are more likely to be between those Conservative factions who wish to see more inspections and the IAEA undertaking more of its own forensic research (official policy), and those who wish to see an attack on Iran regardless, and are happy to see ‘the facts fixed around the policy’. Liberal Democrats should make sure they are on the right side of that debate.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Meral Hussein Ece 30th Nov '11 - 12:30pm

    Paul, thank you for an informative piece about the situation with Iran, and relief that Liberal Democrats across Europe are living in the real world.
    The President of Turkey while on his state visit here in the UK last week, was being pressed about what their position is on Iran and sanctions, and took a far more cautious view than the belicose noises from across the Atlantic – they are neighbours. Iran has actually stepped up the pressure on Turkey with threats:


  • Simon Titley 30th Nov '11 - 2:24pm

    The final sentence of this posting is key: “Liberal Democrats should make sure they are on the right side of that debate.”

    There is a reference to “a multi-pronged attack on Iran by the United States and Israel, with military support from the United Kingdom and Canada.” But how can the UK participate without the blessing of the coalition government?

    I trust that Liberal Democrat ministers and parliamentarians will oppose any participation by the UK in such a disastrous military adventure. If they roll over and accept it, the coalition will have become pointless.

  • Paul Reynolds 1st Dec '11 - 4:56pm

    Matthew Harris expresses the view that arises from the disingenuous spin surrounding the publication of the 8th Nov IAEA report. The report is highly politicised, and the criticisms by former IAEA inspector Robert Kelley (regarded as a hawk on Iran), exemplify the international expert criticism, especially on the possibility of an ongoing weaponsisation programme. Even the IAEA report as it stands provides no credible evidence of a CURRENT nuclear programme, and neither does it say that there has been any diversion of material for enrichment. By contrast, today both Kathy Ashton and William Hague said ‘we cannot accept a nuclear Iran’. I presume they mean a nuclear armed Iran, but clearly neither have read the IAEA report and know the technical context. So why all the fuss and clearly deliberate misreading of the IAEA report ?

    Matthew is right that the USA officially does not want to attack Iran per se, and thus by implication the nuclear issue is a not an Iraq-like pretext for the White House in that sense, at this exact point in time. But that is to speak of the USA as a homogenous entity. It is not on military issues. There are those in the US security institutions and think tanks who have been actually promoting war with Iran, as a specific public & political communication campaign, de-linked from the IAEA facts and the 2007 USA National Intelligence Estimate (readers may recall the ‘oops’ spin from a disappointed Bush when the 2007 NIE was published). And Israel has been using all its political & media influence to persuade Congress and other institutions to back it in a war with Iran, despite a split Cabinet in Tel Aviv on the issue.

    Remember, the first claims of Iranian nuclear weaponsisation go back to 1984, when the US, UK and Israel predicted a nuclear armed Iran by 1986….and this has been ongoing since then. We should also remember that the Iranian nuclear research facility was originally installed by the USA under the Shah. In January 1978 Iran and the United States initialed a ’23 nuclear plant’ agreement in which Iran agreed to safeguards that went beyond ‘IAEA’ requirements. In return, the United States granted Iran ‘most favored nation’ status for nuclear reprocessing so that Iran would not be discriminated against when seeking permission to reprocess USA-supplied fuel.

    The difference between war and military action is that the latter is the expression before the conflict and the former is the expression used after the conflict. Again we start with the gung-ho idea that a few surgical strikes … and all is done and won. Iraq ? Afghanistan ? Somalia ? Iran is a much more difficult foe militarily. The US and Israel may prevail, but at the cost of a long war and 100,000s of lives. The Iranian regime is despicable and brutal. Its support for Syria and militants in the East Med is not conducive to peace. But mature politicians need to stick to the facts and not be duped by the (now) 27 year old campaign on Iran’s nuclear weaponsisation. There are remedies to the problem yet to be pursued. I have referred to these in the article above, and they were featured in the ELDR motion that was passed.

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