Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Diplomatic Impunity

The Nation

Diplomatic Impunity

Tue Dec 14

Ari Berman

Instead of trying to halt Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program through diplomatic engagement, the Bush Administration seems intent on undermining the most respected international diplomat willing to challenge the mullahs on this issue.

In its bid to stop Mohamed ElBaradei from assuming a third term as chief director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)--the UN's nuclear watchdog--the Administration has tapped his phone and is currently reviewing intercepted calls for signs of favoritism toward Iran, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. "The plan is to keep the spotlight on ElBaradei and raise the heat," an unnamed US official told the Post.

So far, the intercepts have produced no signs of improper conduct. But hard-liners in the Administration remain paranoid. "Some people think he sounds way too soft on the Iranians," another US official said. This charge ignores the fact that ElBaradei sharply criticized Iran in June for "failing to come clean" on the status of their weapons program. Or that a few weeks ago ElBaradei and the European troika of England, France and Germany won a hard-fought deal in which the the Iranians avoided economic sanction by freezing their uranium enrichment program.

The recent Iran rift is simply the most disturbing sequence in an unfolding vendetta against ElBaradei. Just before the election, US officials and right-wing commentators accused the IAEA of timing a leaked story about missing explosives in Iraq to benefit John Kerry. "The people I've talked to in the Administration are absolutely convinced ElBaradei is trying to defeat Bush, and what happened means they will do anything to make sure that he doesn't get another term," said David Albright, president of the DC-based Institute for Science and International Security, at the time.

Unsubstantiated attacks notwithstanding, the Bush Administration's real problem with ElBaradei stems from his pre-war assessment that Iraq possessed no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, and that inspections sufficiently contained Saddam Hussein. Ignoring the accuracy of his claims, top Administration officials (and the press) continued to hype a non-existent WMD threat.

"We believe [Saddam Hussein] has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons," Dick Cheney said before the war's start. "I think Mr. ElBaradei, frankly, is wrong. And I think if you look at the track record of the IAEA in this kind of issue, especially where Iraq's concerned, they have consistently underestimated or missed what Saddam Hussein was doing."

To which ElBaradei replied: "I haven't seen anything on the ground at that time that supported Mr. Cheney's conclusion or statement, so I thought to myself, well, history is going to be the judge."

Now that ElBaradei has been proven right on virtually every claim, he's experiencing how this Administration disarms those who dare to tell the truth.

By firing them.