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Diplomatic Miscalculations and the Threat of War: Part 3

Shirin Shafaie presents an exclusive interview with Peter Jenkins regarding Iran’s nuclear issue and the failure of Western diplomacy in dealing with it. Mr. Jenkins was the UK Permanent Representative to the IAEA in Vienna from 2001 to 2006. This is the last of three parts. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Shafaie: You mention that the IAEA is not a political entity. But we read in reports by The Guardian, which refer to the American diplomatic cables, that Mr Yukiya Amano is “solidly in the US court on every key strategic decision” including on Iran’s nuclear program. What do you think about that? And how can that jeopardise the IAEA status as a professional and unbiased entity? 

Jenkins: Well, I think that diplomats often imagine that people to whom they have been talking to are more sympathetic to their point of view than they really are. So the fact that an American diplomat reported that Mr Amano was sympathetic to the American position is not for me adequate evidence that he is. I knew Mr Amano when I was still serving; I worked alongside him and I never saw any sign that he was anything other than a loyal employee of the Japanese government. So I think that his first loyalties have always been to Japan but now that he is the head of an international organisation, I suspect that his first loyalties are to that organisation.

I nonetheless have questions in my mind about the report which the IAEA produced in November. I think that it is very difficult to form a judgement about the validity of the findings it contains because the IAEA secretariat do not spell out in sufficient detail where the information they are using has come from. And it is that failure to make clear where the information has come from that makes the objective and impartial reader a little uneasy. Because one can imagine that certain countries may be trying to use the IAEA for their own purposes.

Shafaie: Namely Israel; would you agree with that?

Jenkins: I haven’t been a diplomat for 33 years for nothing, so I am not going to answer that!

Shafaie: Now a question that I am particularly interested in. The NPT provides for a withdrawal option. You can give three months notice and come out of the NPT.

Jenkins: Yes, exactly,

Shafaie: And North Korea in fact has used that option. One reason that Iran still remains a signatory to the NPT is because it does not want to give ample excuse to some countries who are more than ready to attack Iran to say: “look Iran has come out of the NPT so they certainly have a nuclear weapons program”. But in the disastrous event that there is an attack against Iran, many speculate that Iran would actually withdraw from the NPT, because there is no reason for it to remain a signatory where there is already an attack (considering that Iran does not currently benefit from any of the other aspects of the NPT, for example in terms of cooperation and knowledge sharing in the peaceful nuclear energy field). 

What do you think Iran’s withdrawal would mean for the NPT in general as a meaningful treaty? Do you think that would lead to the collapse of the whole concept of the NPT if there is an attack against Iran?

Jenkins: I hope not. I think provided Iran could point to a threat to its supreme interests it is entitled to withdraw from the NPT, and I think many NPT parties, if they saw that there was a genuine threat to Iran’s supreme interests, would not necessarily be shocked. Therefore, they would not themselves feel that the NPT was worthless. What would be a very serious blow to the NPT would be if Iran were to withdraw in the absence of a real threat to Iran’s supreme interests, which is in effect what North Korea did. When North Korea withdrew, there was no threat to North Korea from anyone and certainly not a threat to North Korea’s supreme interests. So that was a very cynical use of the withdrawal clause by North Korea. I hope Iran would never make such cynical use of the withdrawal clause.

Shafaie: Yes, and let’s also hope that there is no threat to Iran’s supreme interests either! Following on that note, you know that there is a religious decree in Iran, a Fatwa, which bans the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and any weapons of mass destruction for that matter, by the Iranian supreme leader. That came in 2005 when you were serving at the IAEA. And this Fatwa does not provide for a withdrawal option. Of course this Fatwa is not a part of international law but it is an indigenous religious decree which carries a lot of importance and is legally binding for Iranians. 

So how was this announcement by the Iranian Supreme Leadership reflected at the IAEA? And why was that rejected or dismissed by the so-called international community? This is while other statements by lower ranking Iranian officials, are constantly twisted, mistranslated and then magnified in the media to portray an aggressive or irrational picture of Iran.

Jenkins: You know the West well enough to know how secular we have become. We find it hard to believe that the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution would be deterred by a religious injunction like a Fatwa. I only began to realise the significance of the Fatwa when an Iranian diplomat explained to me that because the Supreme Leader has issued this Fatwa, if the Guardians, for instance, were to ignore the Fatwa this would tend to undermine the authority of the Supreme Leader. So I now understand that the Fatwa does not just have religious significance, it actually has very real political significance. Not enough people in the West understand that.

Your last point, however, is very fair. Some in the West exaggerate the importance of statements that bolster their claims and allegations and ignore statements that point in an unwelcome or inconvenient direction.  I have no patience for that kind of dishonesty.  Still, if I were an Iranian leader I would try to make the lives of these Westerners harder by refraining from ever making statements that could potentially be construed as “aggressive” or “irrational”.  In fact I would try to confound them by taking an initiative that the world’s media could not ignore and that was a clear indication that in future Iran will always remain committed to its NPT obligations.

Shafaie: Finally, can you please tell me what motivates you to engage in a discussion on Iran’s nuclear case now that you are not working with the IAEA anymore?

I fear Western mis-handling of this problem could lead to a war, involving the loss of many innocent lives and a detrimental effect on global living standards.  I am far too unimportant a person to prevent that.  But at least, if I speak my mind, drawing on all the knowledge and experience I have had a chance to acquire through my service as a diplomat, a few important people may notice and start to think again about whether existing Western policies are as wise as they could be.

I am also reacting against the twisting of truth and the indifference to reason that I see in certain influential quarters.  I believe that truth and reason lie at the heart of our civilisation, and that they must be fought for (metaphorically) if our civilisation is to survive and prosper.

Shafaie: Mr Jenkins, thank you very much for sharing your views with us.

With special thanks to Farid Marjai and CASMII.org for arranging this interview.