Kommersant: Iran Needs Chance to Save Face


Luxembourg hosts the Conference on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. More than fifty leading experts in the field of disarmament from 14 countries gathered in the Grand Duchy last Thursday.

Last week Luxembourg hosted the International Conference on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. As the name of the event suggests, the conference pursued the ambitious goal of elaborating a detailed plan for suppressing escalating nuclear threats and encouraging world leaders to implement the plan. Kommersant correspondent GENNADY SYSOEV went to Luxembourg to see what came of the whole idea.

The idea of convening a forum in Luxembourg emerged earlier this year, when 18 Nobel laureates from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Board issued an ominous warning. The scientists declared that a nuclear catastrophe could happen at any time and that the world is just five minutes from Doomsday. This announcement served as the catalyst for gathering the most authoritative experts from around the world to articulate specific proposals to influence leading nations’ policies instead of merely discussing the issue again.

As a result, more than 50 experts in the field of disarmament representing 14 countries gathered in Luxembourg last Thursday. “These people are the top experts and the brightest minds of human civilization. They are the very people who directly influence the decision-making process in the three global centers – the United States, Europe and Russia,” said Viatcheslav Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Fund and the chairman of the Conference Organizing Committee.

Most of the conference debates took place behind closed doors. However, according to information obtained by Kommersant, the discussion focused on three issues: the threat of nuclear terrorism, the danger of complete failure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea. The experts concluded that the nuclear deterrence concept, which has somehow managed to preserve the peace for more than half a century, is no longer effective. Clearly, no terrorist in possession of a nuclear weapon will be deterred by the threat of assured destruction.

Still, as many participants of the conference admitted to Kommersant, Iran remains the most acute problem. This is not surprising, as the Luxembourg conference coincided with the expiration of the UN Security Council’s two-month ultimatum to Tehran. Iran has not shown any intention of complying with the requirements of the world community as regards its nuclear program, a fact confirmed by IAEA in its last report. IAEA director general Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei explained the essence of the report for Kommersant’s correspondent at the Luxembourg conference: “Iran is expanding its uranium enrichment capacities, and we cannot exercise total control. That is what gives rise to confrontation.”

Behind the scenes, the rumor was circulating that the United States may launch a strike against Iran as early as late June. However, many experts do not believe this scenario is inevitable. “Until war breaks out, there are still grounds for hope,” believes Alexei Arbatov, head of the Center for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “We must help Iran find a way out of this deadlock that helps it save face while forcing it to restrict its nuclear program.”

The IAEA’s ElBaradei delivered a speech in Luxembourg that many are calling revolutionary. In his words, “We cannot bomb our way to security. A security strategy rooted in ‘us versus them’ is no longer sustainable. The solution lies in creating an environment in which nuclear weapons are universally banned.” This speech does much to explain the negative U.S. reaction to the IAEA’s last report on Iran.

The conference expected to receive a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was in Luxembourg at the same time on an official visit; however, Putin’s visit to the Grand Duchy lasted for only a few hours and he was unable to make an appearance at the conference. Instead, he sent a welcome message to conference participants in which described terrorists’ increasing access to nuclear weapons as the key threat. In his message, the Russian president remarked on another destabilizing element, what he called “the trend towards increasing importance of the force factor in global affairs,” as a result of which “some countries are tempted to choose a nuclear scenario.” In essence, Putin indicated that the U.S. is responsible for the escalating nuclear threat.

Putin’s address was read by Sergey Kirienko, head of the Russian Federal Agency for Atomic Energy, who came to Luxembourg to advocate for Moscow’s initiative to establish an international center for uranium enrichment in Russia. According to Kommersant sources, Kirienko discussed the general points of this idea with Elbaradei and received positive feedback.

The key proposals of the Luxembourg Conference will be outlined in its official declaration, which is expected to appear within the next ten days. The declaration will be circulated to the leaders of the great powers and the heads of important international institutions. According to Kantor, the conference’s organizer, “all participants insisted that the declaration should be a breakthrough. That is the only way to achieve a real effect.”

“Resolutions adopted by the conference are sure to influence global policy,” said William Perry, the former U.S. Secretary of Defense. “One can not simply ignore the opinion of fifty top experts.” This view is supported by Arbatov of the Center for International Security: “Of course, I cannot guarantee that world leaders will abandon their other efforts and rush to implement our recommendations. However, the Declaration will push their thoughts in the right direction.” Should this be the case, the organizer’s idea of creating a permanent Luxembourg Forum may become a reality.