Arab Reaction to IAEA Resolution on Iran

Arab Reaction to IAEA Resolution on Iran

 CAIRO: On November 27, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) voted to censure Iran’s nuclear program and forward the issue to the United Nations Security Council. While even China and Russia, countries that have been hesitant to criticize Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the past, voted in favor of this resolution, the response from the Arab world has been confused and at times, completely absent.

The problem for Arab governments is deciding how to deal with the nuclear ambitions of Iran, a country that, unlike many of its neighbors, is neither Arab nor Sunni Muslim. On the one hand, nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians represents a security threat to Arab nations, especially those in the Arabian Peninsula. At the same time, any government that supports sanctions against Iran could be seen as ignoring the issue of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.

The IAEA representative from Egypt, the only Arab government represented in the organization’s board, displayed this indecision during last week. He abstained from voting along with the representatives from Afghanistan, Brazil, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey. Cuba, Malaysia and Venezuela voted against the resolution. Out of the 35-member board, 25 representatives voted in favor of adopting the resolution.

Two days after the vote, Hossam Zaki, a representative from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry voiced his government’s concerns about the IAEA resolution. “The resolution on the Iranian “nuclear dossier” does not take into account its regional aspect,” he said, adding that the IAEA should have mentioned Israel’s nuclear potential in the region.

Mr. Zaki’s comments echo wider sentiments of the governments in the Middle East that there is an international double standard with regards to nuclear proliferation in the region. The logic goes that while Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty, is constantly chastised for its use of nuclear technology, resolutions that focus solely on Tehran’s actions overlook Israel’s long-suspected arsenal.

Without naming Israel directly, Zaki added that other non-declared nuclear countries in the Middle East, “threaten Egypt’s national security and the region on the whole.”

At the same time, many governments in the Middle East feel threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. Should Iran’s use of nuclear technology turn out to be for less than peaceful purposes, the Shiite state could pose a threat to Sunni majority nations like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Arab governments, “are certainly afraid of a nuclear Iran,” said Arash Aramesh, a research associate “This would change the game in the region.”

In response to the perceived threat of a nuclear-armed Iranian state, Arab countries have increased their spending on defense. As part of what has become a regional arms race, Saudi Arabia is procuring long-range strike fleets, refueling capabilities, standoff weapons, and 72 fighter aircraft.

Even now, many security experts believe Saudi Arabia is engaged in a proxy war with Iran in Yemen, with Saudi and Yemeni military forces battling Iranian backed Houthi fighters. This conflict now joins Lebanon and Iraq, among other locations, where the two regional powers are suspected of supporting ideologically liked-minded belligerents.

The IAEA resolution called on Iran to suspend all enrichment and halt construction on their recently declared uranium enrichment facility. On Sunday Tehran announced that it would instead build 10 new sites to enrich uranium. Iran claims that it has been fully cooperative with the IAEA and the Nonproliferation Treaty.

The reaction from the West to Tehran’s action was to threaten further sanctions against the Islamic Republic if it refuses to cooperate with the IAEA by the end of the year.

With regards to negotiating an agreement between Iran and the international community, the Arab world’s reaction turns from confusion to silence. Even with the prospect of two nuclear-armed states in the Middle East, “as far as the nuclear issue is concerned,” said Aramesh, “Arabs are not involved [in negotiations].”

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