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Obama's atomic meeting at UN attempts to level playing field
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by Lucy-Claire Saunders

The decision to refrain from singling out specific countries at the Sept. 24 UN Security Council special meeting on nuclear disarmament will provide world leaders with the opportunity to hit the reset button on an issue fraught with political blame games, according to an internationally renowned scholar and award-winning author.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies at Columbia University, said the time is ripe to address nuclear disarmament in a meaningful and systematic way without targeting specific countries.

"The logic of not laser beaming on any single country, but talking about regional and global disarmament is a perfect strategy of addressing the more fundamental issue -- that it is the entirety of humanity that is in peril of these massive stockpiles," he said.

The special meeting on disarmament and non-proliferation is to be chaired by U.S. President Barack Obama -- the first time a U.S. president has led a UN Security Council session.

According to U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, discussions will highlight arms control and nuclear disarmament, strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime, and denying and disrupting trafficking in and the securing of nuclear materials.

The United States, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, holds the rotating Council presidency in September.

The 15-nation Council is expected to discuss a U.S.-drafted resolution that calls on all signatories of the NPT to begin talks on nuclear arms reduction and to negotiate "a treaty on general and complete disarmament," according to earlier reports.

Since taking office in January, Obama has said that the United States has a responsibility to rid the world of atomic weapons, having been the only country to have ever used them.

The Security Council meeting will help world leaders to reevaluate the strategic use of nuclear weapons in a world where most conflicts are characterized by an asymmetric balance.

"It is very important to keep in mind that the logic of global warfare has changed," said Dabashi. "The United States has massive stockpiles of nuclear warheads and what particular safety has it brought to the U.S. if you consider the events of 9/11?"

"Morally, militarily, politically, and diplomatically they are of no use and these are the facts that will be in President Obama' s discussion," he added.

By having an open discussion on the changing dynamics of warfare and not singling out countries unwilling to give up their nuclear programs -- rightly or wrongly -- Obama's meeting will strengthen international pressure for regional and global disarmament.


Significantly, the special Security Council meeting comes at a time when Western countries have renewed their scrutiny on Iran for its nuclear program. The United States has accused Tehran of developing a nuclear military program and has repeatedly called on the latter to re-engage with the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Iran, which is a signatory of the 1970 NPT -- a treaty to limit the spread of nuclear weapons -- insists that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and justifies it in the context of other nuclear countries, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, that have never signed the NPT but are believed to have large nuclear stockpiles.

Israel has never confirmed or denied its military nuclear program.

"The fact is that Iran is surrounded by military nuclear powers: Israel to one side, Pakistan to another side, Russia to the north, and the massive military buildup by the United States in the Gulf, " said Dabashi. "So who can point their finger at the Islamic Republic and tell them not to develop nuclear capabilities when Iran is surrounded by four nuclear powers and nobody is pointing a finger at them?"

The United Nations and the NPT are being used to stage a game of "political football," he said.

Both are wielded as instruments of partisan foreign policy and until the NPT is substantially strengthened at next year's review conference, both will continue to serve political purposes.


The European Union recently announced that on Oct. 1 Iran's chief nuclear negotiator will meet with the P5 + 1 -- Britain, Russia, China, France, the United States and Germany, renewing hopes for closer cooperation.

But if negotiations do not meet Western expectations, the United States, Britain and France will push for tougher economic sanctions. Iran is already subject to three sets of Security Council sanctions for not suspending its uranium enrichment program.

But Dabashi warned that more economic sanctions would not deter Tehran from continuing on the same path.

"Any sanctions would in fact make the Islamic Republic more belligerent and the horrible effects of economic sanctions will be on the people of Iran, not on the administration, not on the leadership," he said.

Ultimately, sanctions only serve as a "stepping stone" toward U. S. or Israeli military strikes, he added.

Both the United States and Israel have suggested that a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would be a last option.

Dabashi has written 18 books and is the author of over 100 essays, articles and book reviews in major scholarly and peer reviewed journals on subjects ranging from Iranian Studies, medieval and modern Islam, and comparative literature.

He has been a professor for nearly three decades and lives in New York with his wife, the Iranian-Swedish feminist, Golbarg Bashi.

(Xinhua News Agency September 20, 2009)


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