Iran’s Nuclear Aspirations

 

For the last few years no issue other than Iran’s nuclear ambitions has captured the global agenda more frequently. An interim nuclear agreement sealed between Iran and world’s major powers on 16 November 2013, has raised hopes of settlement in the foreseeable future.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council viz China, France, Russia, UK, and the U.S. plus one (Germany) have been engaged in negotiations with Iran for years in order to reach an acceptable conclusion of nuclear impasse of Iran ever since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, raised alarm bells about intentions of Iranian nuclear program.

Nevertheless, Iran has been defending that peaceful use of its nuclear program has been authorized under the provisions of the Treaty on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT), of which it is one of the parties. Undisputedly, any member of the NPT possesses the legitimate right to pursue nuclear program for non-military objectives. Additionally, the nuclear members of the NPT, have the obligation to assist non-nuclear weapon states members of the treaty in conducting nuclear research by providing nuclear fuel and related technology.

The debate of Iran’s nuclear program has been revolving around whether Iran can go ahead with its so-called nuclear research program, if it is in conformity with the articles of the NPT. The treaty provisions are obligatory on the part of the world’s major powers (P5+Germany), being treaty members, the main purpose of which is to establish the global regime of nuclear nonproliferation.

The main points of difference between the major powers and Iran are related to adherence to the provisions of the NPT. Iran says that it is not in contravention of the treaty because there is no military dimension to its nuclear program whereas the west has suspicion about the same.

It is the exactly this background against which the approach of the western countries vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear problem has been designed in adopting UN resolutions critical of Iran and imposition of economic sanctions on the country with a view to pressurizing the Iranian government to forgo nuclear enrichment program.

Unfortunately, the imposition of severe economic sanctions impacting on the country’s economy, the Iranian leadership apparently looks determined not to abandon nuclear weapons capability by the harsh reality that establishes that once the nation is deprived of nuclear weapons, it falls prey to outside military intervention.

In 2011 Libya’s loss of sovereignty by coercive action under the guise of UN authorization to compel then Libyan leader to cede power, many have apprehensions that a country can be forced to surrender to outside interference in case it has no nuclear weapons. It is a fact that Libya had a few nuclear weapons until it surrendered them in the wake of its agreement with the west to cultivate normal friendly relations as it had been thrown into isolation for years following its involvement in Pan Am disaster in the 1980s.

Ominously, Ukraine crisis seen as reflected in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which headquarters the Russian Black Sea Fleet, is signaling to the world that non-nuclear weapon state very often becomes vulnerable to external threat. Suffice it to say that until 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by the U.S., UK and Russia designed to provide Ukraine a kind reassurance about security, Ukraine was a nuclear weapon state. This agreement did not however guarantee the Ukrainian territorial integrity but helped Ukraine give up nuclear weapons it inherited from former Soviet Union. Ukraine acceded to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994.

Some pessimists conclude that a comprehensive agreement to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear problem is less likely in the aftermath of prolonged crises in Syria and Ukraine. They have credible grounds to justify their analyses. Russia’s relations with the U.S. in particular, and with the European Union, have strained severely in the wake of recent economic sanctions against Russia for its adventurism in Ukraine. The role of Russia in facilitating settlement in both Syria and Iran is too crucial to ignore. Evidence shows that the UN resolutions criticizing Syria have been vetoed by Russia. Russia is one of the main interlocutors with Iran under the framework of P5+One (Germany).

At a time when the west sorely needs to have a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the advice from George F. Kennan to the current American leadership is quite opportune. Frank Costigiliola in his New York Times (22 February 2014) column “What Would George F. Kennan say to Obama” has said that Kennan believed that the wisest foreign policy limited military intervention abroad while affording hard-headed diplomacy.

Against the backdrop of negligible progress in concluding a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran to replace the interim one of November last, Kennan’s emphasis on diplomacy and soft power looks more pragmatic as he propounds that these instruments are most cost-effective in influencing a rival’s intentions.

One may prudently recall the past history of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Iran before suggesting a more viable way to normalize them let alone advising on how the nuclear deal can be expedited. The hopes for nuclear deal have been ambitiously raised in the aftermath of conciliatory UN speech in September 2014 by the incumbent Iranian president.

It is certain that the people of Iran require reassurance in the form of respect for their prestige, who nurture both pride in their history and resentment of their humiliations, such as the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of their elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953.

There is no doubt that an internationally-verifiable and acceptable comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran is essential to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power. Nonetheless, Iran deserves to be recognized as an NPT non-military nuclear power. Once again Kennan’s counsel that a settlement resented as unfair would be undermined by overt or covert resistance is still worthy of consideration. The controversial 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship is not an exception either.

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