AnalysisUN body approves measure advancing Iran's nuke program

Published 17 June 2011

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), over a strenuous U.S. opposition, approved a measure committing the UN to supporting what the Iranians call a “disaster information management center”; the United States managed to defeat the Iranian proposal for the center several times in the past, but this time Iran, exploiting concerns about climate change, repackaged its proposal and tied it to a broader UN effort to help Asian countries prepare for climate change-induced natural disasters; the technologies with which the center will be provided — technologies which are otherwise unavailable to Iran because of the UN sanctions imposed on the country — will give Iran much-improved satellite-imagery and missile-control capabilities; these technologies will dramatically bolster Iran’s target selection, target-destruction, and bomb-damage-assessment capabilities; as is the case with any other new nuclear weapon state, Iran will initially have very few nuclear bombs in its arsenal; the technologies approved by ESCAP for delivery to Iran will allow the ayatollahs to make a much more efficient — and effective — use of their small arsenal — and make their threats to use this arsenal more credible

A little-known but influential UN body has given Iran a major diplomatic victory the other day. This victory will not only undermine the economic, technological, and diplomatic sanctions the UN has imposed on Iran in order to pressure it to give up its nuclear weapons program – it will actually help Iran nuclear weapons program by materially strengthening its satellite-imagery and missile-control capabilities.

Fox News, which broke the story, reports that on 25 May, without a vote, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), which describes itself as the “regional development arm of the United Nations for the Asia-Pacific region,” approved Iran’s plan to build what Iran calls a “disaster information management center.” Officially, the center is supposed to help the Iranian government prepare for and cope with natural disaster such as earthquakes and rock slides. As is the case with many other things in Iran, the capabilities the center will acquire will also help Iran better to coordinate missile attacks on its neighbors, including Israel, and countries in Europe.

ESCAP, aware that the decision to support Iran’s plans would be controversial, did not mention its decision in the press release which followed the 25 May meeting.

Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security advisor in the George W. Bush administration and currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. told Fox News:

This is a very clever move by Iran. It’s outrageous that a country that has been denounced repeatedly by the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency should be rewarded in this fashion…. We are trying to make them into a pariah state, and this sends the opposite message… It will require lots of visits to Iran by other governments. And there are always concerns that some aspect of this will help their military or intelligence agencies.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the UN, told Fox News that the decision was “unbelievable”:

This puts Iran in a very high profile. What technology Iran will get as a result I don’t know, but it would give their people more experience with satellite imagery. It’s like being involved with peaceful nuclear power: just having your people involved gives you more experience that can be turned to non-peaceful uses.

The Iranian argued that their country has relatively low capability in sending and receiving satellite observation data, especially in disaster recovery situations, and that this