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When President Bush needed a rationale for invading Iraq, he told Congress that Saddam Hussein posed “a continuing threat to the national security of the United States” by “actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability, and supporting and harboring terrorist organizations.”

Now, every member of Congress knew – or should have known – that Saddam was not actively seeking a nuclear weapons capability. Just days before Bush invaded Iraq, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei had reported to the Security Council that “after three months of intrusive inspections, we have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program in Iraq.”

The IAEA is an agency of the United Nations whose original mission was to facilitate the international transfer of nuclear technology, equipment and materials for peaceful purposes.

But the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – which went into force in 1970 – required signatories to make certain materials, facilities and activities subject to the IAEA-NPT Safeguards and Physical Security regime. The IAEA regime thereby became responsible for assuring the Security Council that “declared” materials are not stolen or diverted to the production of nukes.

Then, in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, the IAEA discovered that Iraq had been enriching small quantities of uranium but not declaring it. Worse, they discovered that Iraq actually had a well-funded, but chaotic, nuke development program.

Failure to declare the very small quantities of low-enriched uranium was a violation of Iraq’s Safeguards agreement. But the Iraqi program the IAEA uncovered – to produce large quantities of very highly enriched uranium for use in nukes – was a violation of the NPT, itself.

Hence, under the terms of the Gulf War cease-fire resolution, Iraq was required by the Security Council to cooperate with its agent – the IAEA Action Team on Iraq – in transparently destroying or rendering harmless every vestige of the Iraqi nuclear programs.

The IAEA Board of Governors then asked all NPT signatories to voluntarily negotiate an Additional Protocol to their existing IAEA Safeguards agreements. The IAEA’s safeguards regime was to be transformed, thereby, from a quantitative system – focused on accounting for declared materials and monitoring of declared activities – to a qualitative system, capable of forming a comprehensive picture of a state’s nuclear and nuclear-related activities, including all nuclear-related imports and exports.

Each Additional Protocol also provides the IAEA the authority to visit any of the signatory’s facilities to investigate questions about – or inconsistencies in – the signatory’s nuclear declarations.

Iran signed an Additional Protocol to its Safeguards agreement and immediately invited the IAEA to conduct the exhaustive two-year inspection of Iran’s nuclear and nuclear-related activities just completed.

Result?

As was the case with Iraq in the months immediately preceding Bush’s invasion, the IAEA has found no evidence that NPT-proscribed materials have been stolen or diverted, nor that Iran is engaged in any NPT prohibited activity. In particular, there is no evidence that Iran has been enriching uranium in the facilities it has constructed or is constructing.

Now, without question, the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq, in spite of the no-nuke report by the IAEA Action Team, dealt a severe blow to the credibility and effectiveness of the NPT-IAEA regime.

And, if Bush-Cheney can get the Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran – or worse – in spite of the no-nuke report by the IAEA, the NPT-IAEA nuke proliferation-prevention regime may be dealt a fatal blow.

This week, retiring Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared to be developing a rationale for launching – or condoning – a Bush pre-emptive attack against Iran, just as he did just before Bush launched his pre-emptive attack against Iraq.

Powell had “seen some information that would suggest that they [Iranians] have been actively working on delivery systems.”

“I’m not talking about uranium or fissile material or the warhead,” Powell said. ” I’m talking about what one does with a warhead.”

Powell suggests Iran already has nukes that are small enough and light enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile. Worse, Powell implies the IAEA is not competent – even with Additional Protocols in place – to detect such massive and flagrant NPT violations.

Two years ago Powell had this to say:

“The NPT can only be as strong as our will to enforce it, in spirit and in deed. We share a collective responsibility to be ever vigilant, and to take concerted action when the Treaty – our treaty – is threatened.”

The NPT is being threatened. And guess who’s threatening it.

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