Thursday, July 11, 2013

Relax, Iran Isn't Going to Withdraw from the NPT

An article in The Cairo Review of Global Affairs by Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former ambassador who served as spokesman for Iran's nuclear negotiating team from 2003 to 2005 under Hassan Rouhani, outlines five options for addressing the stand-off between the United States and Iran over the latter's uranium enrichment and nuclear energy program.

After an clear distillation of "the evolution of Iran's nuclear program and the core dispute with the West," Mousavian suggests the "new administration has five options for handling the nuclear stalemate and thereby also alleviating the effects of sanctions on the country."  Continued diplomacy, shuttering its nuclear facilities, whether the storm of sanctions and economic warfare, and actually weaponizing its nuclear program to force a change in regional and global power dynamics resulting in containment and deterrence are all addressed and essentially dismissed.

The fifth option Mousavian floats is that Iran could potentially "[w]ithdraw from the NPT and all WMD treaties" and merely "substitute the treaties with the supreme leader's religious fatwa banning all WMDs."

"This move," Mousavian writes, "will relieve Iran of its treaty obligations, which have been used by the West to place further sanctions on Tehran," adding, "Withdrawing from the NPT has become an increasingly attractive option within the decision-making circles of the country."

Moreover, the article explains - and rightly so - that the "history of Iran's nuclear evolution and the blatant use of double standards by the world powers to limit Iran's nuclear progress and deny its rights render the "non-compliance" [with the NPT] argument as yet another excuse to punish Iran."

But Mousavian goes even further.  "[S]ince the 1979 Revolution, the NPT has proven more harmful than beneficial for Iran," he states. "Instead, the NPT has effectively become a national security threat, whereby the West has used it as an instrument to bring Iran to the United Nations Security Council."

As such, he concludes that, after leaving the treaty, "Iran can therefore lay a new foundation for non-proliferation, based on Islamic values and principles, embodied in the supreme leader's fatwa, and not on the NPT or other WMD conventions. In this way, the credit would go to Islam. As a goodwill measure, Iran would provide unfettered access to inspectors and declare its peaceful intentions. This would ensure Iran no longer permits the West to use the NPT and other WMD conventions as a means to press Iran and inflict economic, social, and political harm."

This argument, surprisingly coming from such a consistently reasoned and rational diplomat like Mousavian, doesn't actually make much sense.  In fact, while it's essentially the same suggestion that various Iranian parliamentarians have been making for a decade now out of frustration with Western duplicity and arrogance, Iranian policy towards the NPT has been consistent: as a charter member of the treaty, Iran abides by its tenets and will continue to do so.

Iran has been a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty since it was first introduced in 1968. The treaty was ratified by the Iranian Parliament in 1970 and has been in force ever since. Over the past 45 years, Iran has never been found to have breached its NPT obligations.

As I have detailed before, notions of Iran leaving the NPT surface whenever the nation is subject to nakedly politicized IAEA reports or threatened with sanctions and military attacks.  And, like clockwork, when a politician makes such a statement, government officials step in to reaffirm Iran's commitment to international law and its treaty obligations.

While Mousavian points to comments made in April by Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranians Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, about double standards and the possibility of Iran leaving the NPT, he ignores numerous other comments by senior officials reiterating the importance of the treaty.

A couple of weeks after Boroujerdi's statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry again affirmed its continued commitment to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its safeguard agreement with the IAEA.

Responding to a statement by the five permanent, nuclear-armed members of the United Nations Security Council, which claimed the Iranian nuclear program constituted a "serious challenge" to the treaty, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast reiterated that "Iran has continued its completely peaceful nuclear program under the permanent monitoring of the IAEA inspectors," adding, "We are a committed member of the agency. We were one of the countries which signed the NPT first. We comply with our commitments under the treaty."  He also noted that Iran would continue its cooperation with the IAEA.

Additionally, on April 22, Iran and the 119 other members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) officially urged the total elimination of nuclear weapons, under the auspices of the NPT and its attendent obligations.

In a statement delivered by Mohammad-Reza Sajjadi, Iran's UN envoy to Geneva, NAM - which is currently chaired by Iran - stressed that "possession, use or threat to use nuclear weapons all violated the UN Charter and international law, adding total elimination of nukes was the only guarantee against the use or threat to use such arms," according to Iran's PressTV.

Furthermore, an interview with World Policy Journal from last year with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who is a former Iranian ambassador to the IAEA and head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, similarly addresses the allegations over the Iranian nuclear program by noting Iran's continuing obligations to the NPT.

Rebuffing allegations that Iran has the intention to weaponize its nuclear program and build atomic bombs, Salehi explained, "Those who think that we may be using this technology for other purposes, this is their own, I would say, ill-thinking. What can we do? We have already stated over and over that we have not intended to do anything else. If we wanted to take that approach, we would have detached ourselves from the NPT [Non-Proliferation Treaty]. There is in the treaty an article which says whoever is in the NPT, if they wish, they can get out of it with three months notice, and then free of the NPT, we could do whatever we wanted to do."

He continued,
But on the contrary, we are stressing the preservation of the integrity of the NPT, because we believe that the NPT is in our interest. The stronger the NPT becomes, the more immune we become to possible proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region and in other places in the world. And here our Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa, which says the production, accumulation, and the use of weapons of mass destruction including nuclear weapons is forbidden and is against religion. But you see, we have the right to enrich to any percentage we want under the NPT.
This appeal to Khamenei's religious prohibition on nuclear weapons may sound akin to the argument made by Mousavian; however, Salehi returns to this point later in the interview, stating clearly that Iran is "ready to recognize the concerns of the West and to try to mitigate them using all the possible instruments that are available."  He suggests Iran's implementation of the IAEA's Additional Protocol and Code 3.1, which would improve transparency and monitoring access for the agency.

More strikingly, though, was another offer Salehi made, one that directly refutes Mousavian's suggestion that a religious decree can hold the same status as an internationally-recognized declaration. He said Iran would even consider "translating the fatwa of the Supreme Leader into a secular, binding document that would bind the government to this fatwa, to which it is already bound, but which some in the West argue is a religious document, not a secular one."

He continued, "But we are ready to transform it into a legally binding, official document in the UN. And so we are ready to use all means and mechanisms and conventions or safeguards to remove the concerns of the other side."

The conditions for such a confirmation are obvious to all.  "In the meantime, we expect the other side to recognize our right to peaceful nuclear technology, including enrichment," Salehi explained, adding:
And then, although we keep the right to enrichment to any level, but as our president has said, we are ready to voluntarily limit ourselves to five percent on the condition that we are given firm guarantee that whenever we need fuel whose enrichment is more than five percent that it would be supplied by the other side, by the other party. So I think if we have good intentions, if both sides have the will to get over this issue, it is possible. We remove your concern; you recognize our right. What else do we have to do?
Just last month, in a statement before the IAEA Board of Governors, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the agency, pointed out the politicized duplicity of the agency with regards to its own commitments under the NPT, the obligations of nuclear-weapons states and Iran's civilian nuclear program.

Soltanieh declared unequivocally that "all nuclear activities including uranium enrichment in Iran are exclusively for peaceful purposes and as the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran has in several occasions declared that nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden and thus it has no place in our defense doctrine."  He further noted, "Iran is committed to the NPT and its obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (INFCIR/214)."

Two weeks later, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Araqchi again affirmed Iran's continued commitment to the NPT and to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA.  Speaking with reporters on June 18, Araqchi said, "Iran adheres to its commitments within framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Safeguards Agreement, and will continue its cooperation with the Agency."

Addressing demands made of Iran that exceed the IAEA's legal mandate, namely the request to inspect the military complex at Parchin, he added, "If the International Atomic Energy Agency's expectations are beyond Iran's obligations [under the NPT], this will require the definition of a new framework which we are currently negotiating."

In September 2012, Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament and a frequent critique of Western manipulation and politicization of international law, told the Financial Times that "even though 'there is this serious question' among Iranian 'intellectuals' about the benefits of remaining a signatory to the treaty," the fact remained that "Iranian leaders had not discussed withdrawing from the non-proliferation treaty."

In fact, by focusing on the potential for Iran to withdraw from the NPT, Mousavian has appealed to the greatest wishes of the Bomb Iran Immediately crowd, who hope for Iran to take actions which can be used to advance the military goals of regime change advocates.

Back in early 2007, John Bolton, a long-time and leading proponent of attacking Iran, expressed his frustration that, despite UN sanctions, Iran remained committed to its treaty obligations.  On a conference call with members of the Israel lobby group AIPAC, Bolton lamented that, while the Iranian parliament had "passed a resolution in parliament to re-evaluate their relation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, they have not rejected the sanctions resolution."

Even more disappointing for Bolton, "they have not done anything more dramatic, such as withdrawing from the nonproliferation treaty, or throwing out inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which I actually hoped they would do – that that kind of reaction would produce a counter-reaction that actually would be more beneficial to us."

The "benefit" Bolton and his ilk sought was an Iranian action that could be construed - regardless of whether it was true or not - as a move toward weaponization of its nuclear program and which would prompt a violent response by the United States or Israel.  The withdrawal from the NPT would be just the casus belli Iran hawks are looking for.

Hassan Rouhani, who will assume his position as Iran's next president on August 4, has often expressed his desire to see the hysteria over Iran's nuclear program reduced and unfounded fears allayed.  Before the election, Rouhani told London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, "Iran has an exclusively peaceful nuclear program, which under international law is lawful and indisputable. A politically motivated campaign of misinformation has persistently attempted to cast doubts on the exclusively peaceful nature of this program."

Rouhani added, "If elected, I will reverse this trend by restoring international confidence and exposing the ulterior motives [of Iran's critics]. Nuclear weapons have no role in Iran's national security doctrine, and therefore Iran has nothing to conceal."

In his first official press conference after winning the presidency on June 17, Rouhani stated, "Our nuclear programs of course are completely transparent, but we are ready to show more transparency," adding, "We should build mutual confidence and trust between Iran and other countries.

Rouhani also noted that a cessation of the United States' "unilateral" and "bullying policies," Iran would seek to undertake "confidence-building measures" regarding its nuclear program, while maintaining -as Iranian officials have said for years - that the "rights of the Iranian nation, including nuclear rights, need to be recognized." Furthermore, he explained, "We can make it clear to the whole world that the measures and activities of the Islamic Republic are totally within international regulations and mechanisms."

Mousavian's Cairo Review article is most likely motivated by a desire to promote the resumption of talks between Iran and the P5+1, a scare-tactic which posits that extreme stubbornness on the past of the United States will inevitably result in reciprocal resistance by Iran. If the U.S. has "all options on the table," well, then, so does Iran. And yes, Western approaches toward Iran surely need a reset, as many commentators - and even some Democratic politicians recently - have been pointing out for some time. It is critical to remember, however, that Mousavian is not articulating actual Iranian policy or saying this move is likely, let alone inevitable. He is speculating on a theoretical possibility.

Still, despite his analysis, such a move by Iran would surely result not in more reasonable attitudes and proposals by the West and Israel, but would rather alienate supporters of Iran's nuclear rights, would certainly not serve to "restore international confidence," and would surely hasten the drive for military action.  Sanctions, the heavy burden of economic warfare levied against the Iranian people, would surely intensify.

Whatever the hypothetical benefits of withdrawing from the NPT might be, doing so would be the political equivalent of cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. By staying within its treaty obligations and appealing to international law, Iran retains the legal high ground in this dispute.

And that's not a position the leadership in Iran is likely to relinquish any time soon.



July 25, 2013 - On Tuesday July 23, Iran's Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Gholam Hossein Dehqani, addressed a meeting of the UN Security Council at its headquarters in New York and reiterated Iran's full commitment to its obligations under IAEA Safeguards and to the tenets of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

"The nature of Iran's nuclear program is completely peaceful and is fully compatible with the country's international undertakings," Dehqani said, continuing, "In addition to its membership in the NPT, the Islamic Republic of Iran is a member of all (the relevant) international treaty arrangements and is committed to all the undertakings resulting from the (NPT) rules."


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