31 October 2012

Akbar Etemad on the Iranian nuclear program and the West

A couple of weeks ago a tweet from Reza Marashi, (twitter handle @rezamarashi ), Research Director of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, broadcast a link to a 2008 Time article based  on an interview with Dr Akbar Etemad, who ran the Iranian nuclear program from its establishment in 1974, under the Shah, until just before the Shah departed the country in early 1979.

This awakened some strong memories, because I knew Dr Etemad quite well. He led an Iranian Atomic Energy Commission delegation to Canberra in about May 1978 to commence negotiation of the nuclear safeguards agreement which would govern the exports of Australian uranium to Iran. We made good progress but our stipulation that prior consent would be required Australian uranium could be enriched, reprocessed or transferred was difficult for most countries to accept and while the Iranians did not suggest that this would be a deal breaker they wanted time to think about it, and wanted to get to know us a little better so that they would have a better idea of what these prior consents would mean in practice.

At the end of a very cordial couple of days’ discussions Dr Etemad reiterated the desire to get a better understanding of how we work and for us to get a better understanding of Iran’s objectives, and suggested that if any of the senior people in the Department were heading to Europe in the near future they should call in to Tehran – “and don’t just spend a few hours at a meeting and get back on the plane, spend a few days and get to know us better”.

It happened that I was already scheduled to travel to Europe in June, and the then Secretary of the Department of Trade and Resources, without a moment’s hesitation, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Paul is off to Europe next month and he will call in to Tehran on his way home”.

So I found myself heading to Tehran for four days, which involved some meetings with Dr Etemad and others from IAEC, but also involved some sightseeing around Tehran and a trip to Bushehr on the Persian Gulf to see the nuclear power station that was at that stage being constructed by Kraftwerke Union, and was finished only a few years ago by the Russians. “Is there anything you wanted to see while you are in Iran?” I was asked, to which I replied “I have always wanted to go to Isfahan”. No problem, Senior Trade Commissioner, Tehran Greg Burns and I were taken in an executive jet to see Isfahan and Bushehr, and I have to say that a couple of hours in Isfahan lived up to my expectations.

The Shah’s regime collapsed in 1979. Dr Etemad had resigned his position and left the country a couple of months beforehand, an event which had nothing to do with the imminent collapse of the regime. He moved to Paris where he established a private consultancy business, and I saw him a couple more times – he came to Australia a couple of times and we had him home for dinner when he visited Canberra.

Although he was a senior official (title Deputy Prime Minister) in the Shah’s regime, the comments in the Time article do not surprise me at all and I would expect that they would be widely shared across the political spectrum:

“The Europeans say stop enrichment and we'll talk, but the Iranians already did that and nothing happened," said Dr. Etemad. "At the time of the Shah, we signed contracts with both France and Germany and even then they didn't deliver. If I were in the current regime, I wouldn't trust the West. They don't even give Iran civilian airplane parts, which is costing hundreds of lives; why should they believe that they will give them enriched uranium?" If that's the position of a liberal critic of the regime, it's likely that the stance of the current Iranian leadership on the nuclear issue enjoys widespread support among Iranians.  

“For years now, they are threatening us with an attack," Dr. Etemad said, adding, "This is humiliating. We are not ants," referring to an Esquire interview with Admiral William Fallon about Iran back in March, in which he is reported to have said, "These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them."

"If you're weak, they attack you," says the scientist. "If you're not weak, they won't attack you. We have to be a strong country and end these humiliating threats. And being strong means not listening to the foreigners."

If that is the attitude of Iranians who have no reason to love the current regime, there is little prospect of Iran, under any likely leadership or political evolution, agreeing to give up its program.

Read the full Time article here.

For one of many previous posts on this subject see What should we make of Iran's nuclear program?

UNHCR on excision of Australia from its own migration zone

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, does not leave any doubt where it stands in relation to the scandalous legislation being enacted in our Parliament today, with the support of all the major parties. To quote from today’s media release on the subject:

UNHCR's longstanding view is that under international law any excision of territory for a specific purpose has no bearing on the obligation of a country to abide by its international treaty obligations which apply to all of its territory. This includes the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party.

What could be plainer than that? I am pleased to have my own longstanding understanding of the law confirmed, but would be even more pleased if our nation’s “leaders” had the moral fibre to do the right thing and head in the opposite direction, returning Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands and Ashmore and Cartier Reef to the migration zone.

UNHCR’s media release is short and to the point, so I reproduce it below in full.

UNHCR Statement: Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012

31 October 2012 
UNHCR Statement
Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill 2012

UNHCR's longstanding view is that under international law any excision of territory for a specific purpose has no bearing on the obligation of a country to abide by its international treaty obligations which apply to all of its territory. This includes the 1951 Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a party.

UNHCR's preferred position has always been for all asylum-seekers arriving into Australian territory, by whatever means, and wherever, to be given access to a full and efficient refugee status determination process in Australia. This would be consistent with general practice, and in line with the principle of non-discrimination.

If asylum-seekers are transferred to another country, the legal responsibility for those asylum-seekers may in some circumstances be shared with that other country, but such an arrangement would not relieve Australia of its own obligations under the Convention.

In this respect UNHCR considers it imperative that all asylum-seekers affected by the '13 August' arrangements be provided with a fair and effective asylum procedure, with due process, as soon as possible, and that any detention of asylum-seekers be strictly in accordance with Australia’s refugee and human rights law obligations.

UNHCR is increasingly concerned about the unresolved status of the more than 5,700 people who have arrived in Australia since 13 August and who are being held in detention in Australia and Nauru. This effective suspension of processing raises serious legal issues, as well as concerns for the health and wellbeing of those affected.

Read the original on the UNHCR website here.

30 October 2012

Petro Georgiou on playing the asylum seeker card

Let's hear it from former Liberal MP Petro Georgiou on the Government's scandalous and unprincipled intention to excise the whole of mainland Australia from the migration zone. Do not adjust your screen, this is not a typo, the Government wants to excise the whole of mainland Australia from the migration zone. That way boat arrivals will have no rights under the Refugee Convention (they could be apprehended walking down Martin Place and for the purposes of the Migration Act they would be deemed not to have arrived here).

That way the only people who would have any claim on us would be people who can successfully lie their way onto a plane by saying they want to come for a holiday or business, and then asking for asylum on arrival.

We would be more honest if we just denounced the Refugee Convention and said we are not interested in helping refugees anymore. Almost as sickening as the Government’s approach to asylum seekers is the way Ministers intone that we will abide by our obligations under the Refugee Convention. Don’t be taken in – we don’t go within a bull’s roar of abiding by a Convention that stipulates that people with a well-founded fear of persecution in their own country have a right to flee and claim asylum in a state that is party to the Convention; that detention will be used only as a last resort, that they will be able to ply their trade or profession at the going rate, that they will have access to the courts etc.

Far from excising the mainland from the Migration Zone, we should be returning Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands and Ashmore and Cartier Reef to the Zone, so that in respect of all territory under our jurisdiction we accept the responsibilities as well as claiming the rights. We are happy to draw 200 mile circles around tiny specks of land and claim any fish, oil, gas or minerals therein, but please don’t ask us to regard them as part of Australia when it comes to our obligations under the Refugee Convention.

29 October 2012

Governing the Global Drug Wars

Since 1909 the international community has worked to eradicate the abuse of narcotics. A century on, the efforts are widely acknowledged to have failed, and worse, have spurred black market violence and human rights abuses. How did this drug control system arise, why has it proven so durable in the face of failure, and is there hope for reform?

This IDEAS Special Report contains is a superb set of essays about the origins of global drug prohibition and the current policy debate. It was launched at The Global Drugs War event.

Richard Farmer on the Asia White Paper

I find it hard to disagree with Richard Farmer’s pithy commentary on the White Paper on the “Asian Century” which the Prime Minister released yesterday, published in today’s edition of Crikey:

Round we go again. Australia's "awakened Asia-mindedness" was what the Japanese Prime Minister Kishi called it back in 1957. The Australia-Japan Agreement on Commerce signed on July 6 that year was talked of as a growing realisation that our future prosperity was tied inextricably to the future of the Asia Pacific region. And 55 years later we still have a government talking as if there is something bold, significant and new about developing relations with the countries to our north.

Listening to the Prime Minister being interviewed on the subject by Fran Kelly on Radio National this morning, I didn’t hear her saying anything that we weren’t talking about at length just a bit under thirty years ago, in the early years of the Hawke Government. And there is nothing in the track record of the current government that gives me confidence that it will develop and sustain an implementation plan for any of this. Tactical manoeuvring for short term gain is more its style than the development and implementation of long term policy based upon a coherent intellectual framework.