Australia and Iran


by guest
31st October, 2009 at 10:35 pm    

This is a guest post by Sandra Hajda

Australia is in the news after brokering a meeting attended by officials from both Iran and Israel. According to this article a recent meeting organised by the Australian Foreign Ministry unexpectedly became a Capital E ‘Event’ when both Israeli and Iranian representatives deigned to attend.

It was a feat even the UN has found hard to pull off – at the most recent UN General Assembly ‘both delegations made sure they were not in attendance when the leader of the other side spoke’.

Iran has subsequently denied that it attended the secret meetings, taking the opportunity to emphasise that it ‘does not recognise’ Israel as a state and considers Israel responsible for violent atrocities in Palestine and general insecurity in the Middle East.

Delegates from Egypt and Australia maintain that there was an exchange between Iran and Israel (one described the cross-table discussions as ‘polemical, with accusations’) and a round of diplomatic ‘high-fives’ has been exchanged worldwide.

The interest of energy bodies has been roused. Why? The meeting was in fact brokered by the International Commission on Nuclear Non- Proliferation and Disarmament, a body founded by Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

At first glance this appears to be little more than a minor think-tank (plenty of low-level diplomatic meetings have been organised, and a lot of well-meaning articles about disarmament commissioned), but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it is responsible for preparing ‘the next five-yearly review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is under a lot of economic pressure to increase uranium mining in Australia (for export to the rest of the world), and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place (in other words, to ensure that Australia’s uranium is used for peaceful purposes). This article by a Japanese think tank (Japan is a co-founder of the ICNND) argues that Australia is a bearer of ‘grave responsibility for the world’s nuclear fuel cycle’ because it has access to the world’s largest uranium deposits and because it enjoys protection by the so-called ‘nuclear umbrella’ – it is an ally of the US and depends upon US nuclear weapons.

In other words it is in the enviable position of:

1) standing to benefit economically from uranium exports
2) having the authority (because it is a non-nuclear weapons state) to preach about disarmament; and
3) knowing that it is safe under the US nuclear umbrella.

It is important to place this in the context of the recent administration change. In early 2007 the Australian Labor party (still an opposition party) unceremoniously abandoned its policy of blocking new uranium mines (a policy it had held since 1982). At the time the move was said to be a bit of pre-election posturing. Apparently Labor insiders feared the Howard government would use the ‘no new mines’ policy to embarrass them. The ‘embarrassing’ policy was dropped like a hot potato just before Australia went to the polls.

Of course, Labor was victorious. On November 24th 2007 the Rudd government came into power. They honoured the ‘new mines’ policy change after their election win, and continue to do so today. Exports to countries like Russia are on the agenda, and the government has even developed a fascinating FAQ-style web page designed to ease public fears about this.

This year reporters reacted with shock when Labor Minister Peter Garrett announced his support for a new mine in South Australia, suggesting that many failed to even notice the 2007 policy backflip. Prime Minister Rudd was forced to comment that Labor had “transparently and democratically … changed our policy” in 2007.

“You can’t get more transparent than that” he said.

So a public and media backlash continues – uranium is a hot topic. The ICNND’s achievements at the next Non-Proliferation conference will have huge ramifications for the future of Australia’s uranium.

There is a lot of money at stake here. If Australia can convince the world (and its domestic voters) that uranium can safely be exported (and mined) then a lot of people stand to profit. So maybe we are about to witness the unthinkable: a push for international security motivated by the desire to capitalise on natural resources.


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  1. pickles

    New blog post: Australia and Iran http://www.pickledpolitics.com/archives/6373


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  1. Naadir Jeewa — on 1st November, 2009 at 12:20 am  

    What I’ve never understood is why Iran can’t be provided by energy from abroad, by say, a regional electricity grid running from Russia to Iran via Azerbaijan (National Grid would love to get the contract, I’m sure). Is there some technical / geological reason why this isn’t possible? And, what’s the political blockers? Does Iran want to be purely self-sufficient energy wise?

    I can’t find anything relevant in the literature except for one paper on possible Iran-Turkey energy trading and another from February this year stating that Iran’s in negotiation with Russia for an electricity link.* I’m sure a bunch of private energy analysts know better.

    * Both papers behind paywall.
    Iran’s energy network as of 2005 looks like this: http://dl.getdropbox.com/u/2073312/Misc/Iran%20Interconnections.jpg

  2. douglas clark — on 1st November, 2009 at 6:00 am  

    What I have never understood is why Iran should not be allowed nuclear power generation. As long as it agreed to IAEA guidlines. Clearly, if it broke them it should be sanctioned. Or worse.

    A decent inspection regieme should reassure you both…

    And agreement to that ought to be a precursor to any agreement with Iran, whatsoever.

    And why should Iran buy in it’s energy exactly, Naadir?

  3. Auntie Vera — on 1st November, 2009 at 6:51 am  

    The obvious tragedy is that the meeting was in Cairo rather than somewhere with a name like Dingo Springs or Birdsville.

    History Books of the future need an opportunity to move away from the old place names [Dayton was a good start] and feature secret meetings in, and Peace Treaties signed in, such places as Dildo, Newfoundland and Eigg.

  4. MaidMarian — on 1st November, 2009 at 1:28 pm  

    Australia needs desalination – especially in states like Victoria. Desalination of water is very effective and the technology is there, it’s just that it is a very energy intensive process, hence Howard had real reservations about Kyoto.

    Douglas Clark – Iran is less of a worry to me and I agree that there are ways of supplying Iran for energy purposes. I’m far, far more worried by a nuclear North Korea, but no one really seems to want to talk about that.

  5. Naadir Jeewa — on 1st November, 2009 at 2:32 pm  

    Auntie Vera, you forgot the groundbreaking “Camp David”.

    Don’t think Kyoto’s a blocker to desalination for Australia. It’s generally accepted that the next generation of desalination plants will be nuclear powered, but the problem is that the M. East also needs them.

    Doug, I guess it’s my commitment to liberal internationalism that says it doesn’t matter where the energy is, as long as it’s the right price.
    Iran did offer to have an internationally built and maintained nuclear power station, but the US rejected as too open to risk, with a scenario where the international companies are ejected and Iran takes control of the station for military purposes.
    Perhaps Russian regional ambitions and the EU tensions they’re creating are the big blocker to supplying Iran with nuclear energy – namely, the fight over the transit countries for the Nabucco gas pipeline.

  6. Christina Macpherason — on 2nd November, 2009 at 7:08 am  

    Australia has a huge conflict of interest in playing an important role in disarmament talks.

    It is bad enough that Australia is going all out to sell uranium. But, even worse, Gareth Evans has publicly suggested that in the interests of disarmament, Australia should take back international nuclear wastes.

    There is a view, held by some prominent persons based in London, and in Australian capital cities, that Central Australia is just a worthless empty desert, – and that people such as themselves could make an awful lot of money by an international nuclear waste importing business.. After all, it’s only the abos who might be affected, and they don’t count. If they make difficulties, we’ll be sure to find a few bribable abos.

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