Wednesday, April 23, 2008

India Interdicts Graphite Shipment to Iran

In the last two days, The Times of India had two pieces on Iran worth pointing out.

The first appeared on April 22 exposes a Mumbai firm caught trying to export 1,150 kg of nuclear graphite to Iran, which is illegal under UN Security Council Resolutions because it can be used for dual purposes. Graphite is an important material for the construction of nuclear reactors as it is one of the purest material manufactured at industrial scale and it retains its properties at high temperatures.

The director of Nickunj Eximp Enterprises Pvt Lt, the company caught trying to export the nuclear graphite, Nickunj Shah, claims that he was unaware of the Indian Commerce Ministry’s notification of September 7, 2007 listing goods banned from being exported to Iran. Nickunj Shah also supplies electric discharge machine wires and graphite parts to Bhabha Atomic Research Centre and sells explosive and narcotic detectors to police agencies and army outfits in India.

Indian customs officials followed the trail and the graphite bound for Iran was procured from local dealers. But, It was imported at 50 Rupees per kg (about US$1.25) from China and was being exported to Iran at 2,000 Rupees per kg (about US$50). So, 1,150 kgs at $50 per kg = $57,500 roughly. That’s a pretty big mark-up.

In an editorial on April 23, The Times of India says the seizure is a clear message to the world of where India stands in respect of Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapon capability. The editorial then went on to highlight the hypocrisy of nonproliferation policy in the West. According to the editorial:

“However, India is unable to go along with the US, UK, France and Germany in applying coercion on Iran, without demonstrating that they have done all that is possible to stop proliferation of materials and technologies from their own countries to Iran. After all most of the Iranian enrichment programme was developed with the initial support of Pakistani nuclear scientist A Q Khan and subsequent help from Western European contractors who have been the resource base for Khan's network and earlier for Iraq and South Africa in the apartheid era. Nor has the US been forthcoming in revealing its stakes in Khan during 1975-2003 when it had intervened twice with the Dutch authorities, according to former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers, to let the arrested Khan go free. ”Surely Iran cannot sustain its uranium enrichment programme without continuing support from the European industry.

“There has so far been no transparency on the past and present proliferation of Western European firms and action undertaken by states concerned to stop that proliferation. Such transparency will be a major step in slowing down and halting Iranian and other proliferation. Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has testified to increasing cooperation by Iran with the IAEA but not yet given Iran a clean chit. At the same time he has expressed his disagreement with coercive measures directed against Iran. The western approach of holding only the recipient of the nuclear weapon technology responsible while being permissive of suppliers' activities is not only unfair but has so far proved counterproductive. ”India should support the IAEA and advise Iran to abide by international obligations it voluntarily accepted. It should, at the same time, oppose military coercion to stop proliferation. It would be a mistake on the part of the West to present a binary choice of military action against Iran or a nuclear Iran. India is already living with two nuclear neighbours, one of which constantly asserts that its weapons are India-specific. The most effective way of halting Iranian nuclear weapon proliferation is tightening up the controls over European nuclear industries and doing it transparently, while enlisting the cooperation of Russia and China in this effort.”

I admire that The Times of India somewhat taunts Iran “to abide by international obligations it voluntarily accepted.” At least it isn’t hypocritical since India has nuclear weapons but refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty. I couldn’t agree with the editorial more on the issue of a false binary choice between military action or a nuclear Iran. I would only add what IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei has said many times, nonproliferation and disarmament are two sides of the same coin. If the nuclear weapons states, and the world for that matter, are serious about preventing proliferation, then they better get serious about disarmament as well.

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