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Rudy Perkins: Bad faith diplomacy on Iran

While the resolution claims it is not an authorization for the use of force, this Senate resolution is another dangerous step laying the groundwork for a U.S. “preemptive” attack on Iran — because it categorically rejects a policy of containment. In this context, containment would mean co-existing with a nuclear weapons-capable, or nuclear-armed Iran, but deterring its use of nuclear weapons through the threat of retaliation or other means. Rejecting containment means taking the position that the U.S. must do whatever it takes, including launching a military attack, to prevent Iran from becoming “nuclear weapons-capable.”

Only one U.S. senator voted against this resolution, Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (former presidential candidate Ron Paul’s son). The Friday before the vote, Paul gave a floor speech in the Senate explaining that by rejecting, upfront, a policy of containment, the Senate was in effect committing the U.S. now to launch a so-called “preemptive” war against Iran should it acquire a nuclear weapon. While saying he strongly supported defensive war if the U.S. is attacked, he criticized as dangerous the new U.S. concept of offensive or preemptive war.

Paul reminded his fellow senators how many of them now regretted their similar vote on Iraq a decade ago authorizing that “preemptive” war. He pointed to the dangers to Israel if an attack is launched on Iran, because Iranian retaliatory missile strikes would likely be on Tel Aviv, not the U.S. Paul also reminded the Senate that the U.S. had not gone to war with Russia, China, Pakistan or North Korea when they acquired nuclear weapons, and that in the Russian case, a policy of containment had probably prevented a dangerous, perhaps cataclysmic war.

While I may disagree with Sen. Paul on many other issues, I agree with his opposition to this dangerous Senate resolution. Two small but important points concerning the wording of the resolution:

The Senate resolution repeatedly talks about preventing the Iranian government “from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability” rather than preventing that government from acquiring nuclear weapons themselves. This seems intended to set the U.S. “redline,” which could trigger a U.S. attack, based on when the Iranians have some unspecified weapons-related technology and knowledge (capability), rather than a redline based on Iran actually building a nuclear bomb. This could move us even closer to pulling the hair trigger of war.

Secondly, this Senate resolution calls for increasing economic pressure on Iran until the Iranian government “agrees to and implements ... the full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities ....” Uranium enrichment, done by gas centrifuges or other techniques, is necessary in order to make a form of uranium that is more fissionable than the form found in nature. This enrichment, however, is necessary not just for nuclear weapons. Enrichment is also done for peaceful uses of nuclear energy, such as nuclear power and the production of medical radioactive isotopes.

Iran, like the U.S., is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Under Section IV of the NPT, Iran has the “inalienable right ... to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes ....” Many, if not all, of those peaceful nuclear purposes rely on uranium enrichment. So, we cannot expect Iran to unilaterally surrender its rights to uranium enrichment facilities for peaceful nuclear purposes.

Finally, it is time we look at our own obligations under the NPT, instead of solely criticizing others. Under Article VI of the NPT, the U.S., like other signatories, agreed to “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament ....”

Has the U.S. done that? So long as some countries have nuclear weapons, and others don’t, there will be continued incentive for non-nuclear weapons states to consider development of nuclear weapons to protect themselves. In line with the NPT, general and complete nuclear disarmament should be our active and urgent goal, to safeguard ourselves, our allies and all of our global neighbors.

Decades after tragic war, it is the lone voices in the Congresses and Parliaments opposed to the march to war which are remembered in the history books. While I greatly appreciate Paul’s courage as the sole senator to vote against this ill-conceived Senate resolution, I hope that he will not have occasion to be so honored in the history books after a tragic, costly and deadly U.S. war on Iran.

Rudy Perkins of Amherst visited Iran in 2008 to meet with Iranian Islamic, Jewish and Christian leaders on a “citizens’ diplomacy” trip organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

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