Does the NPT Deny Right to Enrich?


Against the backdrop of the latest round of negotiations between Iran and P5 + Germany held in Baghdad (May 23), the question has reemerged whether a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can claim its right to enrich uranium if it is intended for peaceful purposes. Article IV of the above international treaty in vogue since 1970 provides to each member the legitimate right to make use peaceful use of nuclear energy, the utilization of which involves the enrichment of uranium.

A little background that led the world community to negotiate and finally conclude in 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons helps us to understand the bargain struck between then nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers. By 1968 five nations which are now known as P-5 because of their permanent seats of the UN Security Council such as China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the U.S. had possessed nuclear weapons. These five are the internationally-recognized nuclear powers.

Then in the late 1960s only five nations were in a position to claim that no other nation could seek the manufacturing of nuclear weapons. The non-nuclear weapons countries, majority of which were in the Third World, would be granted opportunities of developing peaceful nuclear program under the terms of the NPT. No nuclear power was permitted to transfer any nuclear weapons technology to non-nuclear states.

Hence the bargain that nuclear and non-powers agreed has been the sticking point dividing nations as witnessed in nuclear disputes in North Korea and more importantly in Iran as the last two rounds of negotiations under P-5+ Germany formula have exhibited since April 14-15 when the first of such parleys took place in Istanbul after almost fifteen months. In 2010 the year when the NPT was reviewed some negotiations had been arranged for resolving Iran’s nuclear impasse but the same ended inconclusively due to hardened position of the west.

The existing global nuclear non-proliferation norm as established by the NPT seems to be eroding in view of damaging report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which was made public a few months back that puts a question mark to Iran’s claim of peaceful nuclear ambitions. However, the Tehran regime has rejected the accusations made in the IAEA report. The global treaty has given the agency the role of a nuclear guardian to oversee any member country’s nuclear program so that possible military application of nuclear technology could be detected and prevented accordingly by alerting the international community through issuance of reports prepared on the basis of inspections of suspected nuclear sites.

Initially dubbed as “positive first step” the Istanbul Talks have indeed failed mainly because of the hard line approach espoused by the U.S. and its allies. Their insistence on Iran to suspend all enrichment activities even before agreeing to offer them any sanctions relief is to be blamed as opined by Stephan M. Walt who has argued in favor of giving limited sanctions relief through his most recent post entitled “Another Missed Opportunity with Iran” carried by Foreign Policy.

Iran has been subjected to a variety of sanctions from the U.S., the UN and also EU. The U.S. economic sanctions targeting Iran’s central bank transactions on oil are supposedly creating hardship for the country whose revenues are predominantly coming from oil exports. The E.U.’s proposed oil embargoes against Iran are to take effect from coming July and once in operation such sanctions will create further strain in the country’s economy.

Nevertheless, in May 23rd interview concerning effect of sanctions on Iran’s economy conducted by an expert of Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Hassan Hakimian, who is a Director in London Middle East Institute, has said “it remains to be seen whether the sanctions’ bite will impact negotiations”. He further states that Iran’s government, like other government under sanction, may find ways of shielding itself from the worst economic effects.

Professor Stephan M. Walt is suspicious of any way blocking Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons if it decides it wants to. He predicts that Iran will not budge as long as it is clear about American reluctance to invade or occupy the country. He believes that Iran knows how to build centrifuges and rest of the technology isn’t that hard to master. However, Professor Walt is optimistic that Iran being a theocratic country will not venture to ignore the statement by its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenie who has repeatedly declared nuclear weapons to be “haram”—forbidden by Islam.

Resolving the nuclear standoff of Iran will be more complicated if diplomacy is not given its chance with due sincerity. Commenting on the significance of diplomacy Henry A. Kissinger, a former U.S. Secretary of State has said in his new book “On China” that “when diplomacy no longer functions, relationships become increasingly concentrated on military strategy—first in the forms of arms race, then as a maneuvering for strategic advantage even at the risk of confrontation, and, finally, in war itself”. There is hardly any point to disagree with him and his remarks equally apply to Iran versus P-5+1 nuclear talks.

Therefore, when talks on Iran’s nuclear program resume in Moscow in June 17-18 the negotiators would need to pay heed to advice given by Robert Wright through his article published in The Atlantic entitled “Nuclear Talks Post-Mortem; Time to Cash in Some Sanctions”. He has drawn an analogy saying if the talks fail when a little sanctions relief would have saved them that is like Bill Gates letting the world fall apart because saving it would have cost $10,000 only.

Iran was asked to immediately suspend its nuclear enrichment program even without hinting that it would be provided some incentives in the form of sanctions relief. Moreover, its right to enriching uranium has not been recognized while it seeks peaceful nuclear program. Negotiations in future should focus on these issues in order that diplomacy can bear fruits.

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