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Iran: The coup that never came off

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    US backing precludes Alexander Downer from the top disarmament job, writes Marian Wilkinson. Iran: The coup that never came off:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 3, 2005
      US backing precludes Alexander Downer from the top disarmament job,
      writes Marian Wilkinson.

      Iran: The coup that never came off:
      December 17, 2004

      Alexander Downer should be counting his blessings. If some
      hardliners in the Bush Administration have their way, next year the
      Australian Foreign Minister could find himself being asked to
      deliver the rationale that would justify a pre-emptive military
      strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

      The extraordinary plan by some US officials to back Downer as the
      next director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency is,
      in great part, being driven by the nuclear crisis in Iran. The Bush
      Administration wants more options to confront the crisis and is
      frustrated with the cautious approach being taken by the current
      agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei.

      And, much to the alarm of America's European allies, there is
      serious debate in Washington over whether ultimately the US should
      launch a limited bombing raid on Iran's nuclear sites.

      The Bush Administration knows ElBaradei is unlikely to produce a
      report that could be used to justify such drastic action. So far, he
      has not produced a report that has allowed the US to force the
      crisis to the Security Council where it wants to push for sanctions.

      The White House decided months ago it needed a more supportive
      candidate at the agency. Downer was near the top of Washington's
      list. But the revelations this week of the crude intelligence
      operation to help oust ElBaradei has all but ended this ambitious
      plan and any hope of Downer moving to Vienna.

      Reports that US officials were combing the transcripts of bugged
      telephone conversations between ElBaradei and Iranian officials
      searching for damaging material has greatly boosted his chances of
      staying on for a third term.

      "What the US was doing was childish and counterproductive," an
      Iranian specialist, George Perkovich, who believes that ElBaradei
      will now almost certainly be re-elected, told the
      Herald. "Australia, Israel and a few loyal allies might be
      sympathetic," said Perkovich, "but the rest of the states are not in
      any mood."

      The Europeans are particularly worried about John Bolton, the
      hardline Under Secretary of State for Disarmament and now one of the
      most powerful voices in the Bush Administration on the twin crises
      of Iran and North Korea.

      He is strongly supported by the Vice-President, Dick Cheney, and
      both have little time for ElBaradei.

      Cheney famously slammed ElBaradei's finding before the Iraq war that
      Saddam Hussein had no active nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei was,
      of course, proved correct but this did not help him in Washington.

      What is still unclear is just what role Australia is playing in the
      moves to oust ElBaradei and whether we, too, would ultimately
      support a pre-emptive strike against Iran. Downer's ducking and
      weaving this week told us very little about where Australia stands
      either on ElBaradei or how heavily we are backing the US strategy
      for dealing with Iran.

      After days of silence Downer conceded he had spoken to US officials
      about ElBaradei's job but revealed nothing of the
      conversations. "I've not taken up the opportunity to demonstrate a
      great deal of interest in this job," was the convoluted answer on
      what was said in his discussions with unnamed US officials.

      Downer now says: "I would rule it out. I don't think there is a
      circumstance where I would go for a job like that." But this is
      academic. Now Downer, as the US-backed candidate, would be unlikely
      to have a chance.

      Two big questions remain unanswered. One concerns the intelligence
      operation against ElBaradei. No one in Washington or at the atomic
      energy agency headquarters is surprised that ElBaradei's telephone
      is bugged. Eavesdropping is routinely carried out against senior UN
      officials by the US National Security Agency in co-operation with
      Britain's GCHQ and Australia's Defence Signals Directorate. Details
      of a similar bugging operation on Kofi Annan were leaked by a GCHQ
      translator before the Iraq war.

      What is more dubious, as James Bamford, an expert on the National
      Security Agency, pointed out, is using the product not for national
      security purposes but to manipulate the selection of a senior UN
      official. Downer brushed aside the bugging operation at a press
      conference this week, saying the story was "just an attempt to
      attack the Bush Administration".

      No it was not. US officials leaked the story and it exposed an
      intelligence operation that most likely used Australian assets for
      an end that potentially involved Downer.

      While no one seriously expects Downer or any Government official to
      discuss the bugging operation, the Howard Government's position on
      whether ElBaradei should stay or go should be clear. Downer saying
      Australia "was not getting involved" is bizarre.

      We almost certainly knew of the intelligence operation against
      ElBaradei and we are on the IAEA board and where we will most likely
      vote is as a loyal US ally.

      Australia's position on ElBaradei is, more importantly, vital to
      understanding to our position on Iran.

      US officials, including Bolton, are deeply upset by ElBaradei's
      efforts with the agency board that led to Britain, France and
      Germany signing an accord last month with Iran, offering economic
      inducements in exchange for Iran freezing its nuclear program.

      The US has refused to endorse that accord. On November 29, it
      delivered its response to the deal in a lengthy statement that said,
      in part: "We believe Iran's nuclear weapons program poses a growing
      threat to international peace and security and the global
      nonproliferation regime."

      It warned the agency board and the Europeans that the US
      reserved "all its options" to go to the Security Council on Iran. It
      concluded: "We are all obliged to do whatever we can to persuade
      Iran to make the right choice."

      At the same time, US officials leaked a string of damaging stories
      on ElBaradei accusing him of withholding evidence damaging to Iran
      from the agency board and "whitewashing Iran". The leaks appear to
      be based, at least in part, on the bugged phone conversations.

      Perkovich believes ElBaradei may have "trimmed" some of the
      reporting on Iran. But he may have felt completely justified in
      doing so. "Other states are worried about what might flow from a
      negative report on Iran. The US has been such bullies that much of
      the rest of the world is afraid of what the US is planning to do on

      ElBaradei denies keeping any detail out of the reporting on Iran
      that was relevant. But there is no doubt his reports and his efforts
      have kept Iran in the diplomatic game and forestalled a crisis.
      While he has angered the US, he has left many other countries

      In reality, there are few good military options for dealing with the
      Iranian crisis.

      Key nuclear sites are hidden, the bombing would likely kill hundreds
      of innocent civilians, unite the country behind the hardliners and
      prompt Tehran to retaliate, probably in the form of terrorist

      Yet despite these obvious drawbacks, in Washington the military
      option appears to be gaining some ground. And if push comes to
      shove, will Australia support a pre-emptive US military strike
      against Iran? It is critical to know where the Howard Government
      stands in this crisis whether or not the Foreign Minister goes to



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