teleSUR, 11 January 2015 **** Front Page

International Law or Diktat of the Powerful? The Case of Iran

By Johannes Hautaviita

A comprehensive proposal to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East has been on the table for 40 years, but the U.S. and Israel have sabotaged this effort.

The negotiations between the P5+1 (US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) and Iran over Iran's nuclear program was extended for another seven months in November. Whether a final agreement can be sealed is not clear, but many are sceptical about the prospects.

One striking feature in the history of the Iran nuclear crisis has been the Western pursuit to deny Iran its right under international law to uranium enrichment. This position, adopted by many EU member states, was the main reason for the failure of the promising negotiations between the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany) and Iran between 2003-2005.

To avert the threat of a US-Israeli initiated military confrontation, the EU3 engaged diplomatically with Iran in 2003. During the course of the negotiations, Iran provided the EU3 with guarantees of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program going far beyond what international law required. It eventually became clear, however, that the EU3 was unwilling to strike a deal with Tehran on the basis of international law, and, apparently under heavy pressure from the Bush administration, was committed to rejecting Iran's right to indigenous enrichment altogether. This was unacceptable to Tehran, and after having voluntarily suspended all uranium enrichment as a confidence building measure, it restarted its nuclear program with a vengeance. A historic opportunity was missed.

Indeed, the Foreign Minister of the UK during the negotiations, Jack Straw, noted in 2013, that  “had it not been for major problems within the US administration under President Bush, we could have actually settled the whole Iran nuclear dossier back in 2005, and we probably wouldn't have had President Ahmadinejad as a consequence of the failure as well.”

On top of being a strategic blunder, as conceded by Straw and other EU diplomats, the EU's position had no basis under the Non Proliferation Treaty – the foundation of nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. Article IV of the NPT states, that “Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.”

Daniel Joyner, Professor of Law at University of Alabama School of Law, has argued that the wording “inalienable right” (Article IV) is quite significant, and one rarely found in international law.   According to Joyner , “the recognition by over 190 states parties to the NPT that all states have such an inalienable right, which I interpret to include all elements of the full nuclear fuel cycle including uranium enrichment, strongly suggests that the right to peaceful nuclear energy research, production and use is one of the fundamental rights of states in international law.” Joyner concludes, “When states or international organization do act in serious prejudice of a state's fundamental rights, that action is an internationally wrongful act, and implicates the international responsibility of the acting state or international organization.”

To further sharpen the discussion, it should be underlined that Iran is in full compliance with the NPT – unlike the US and its allies – and its nuclear facilities are operating under international safeguards – unlike those of Israel's. Despite the International Atomic Energy Agency's suspicions, its reports confirm that Iran has not diverted any nuclear material for military purposes.

Eric Hooglund, Professor of Iranian studies at Lund University and an academic authority on contemporary Iran, wrote in 2012: “The US and Israeli public preoccupation with an imagined nuclear weapons program in Iran is a cover for Washington's real political objective: regime change in Tehran.”

Echoing Hooglund's concerns, Mohamed ElBaradei, former Director General of the IAEA, told Der Spiegel in January 2011, “They [the US and the Europeans] weren't interested in a compromise with the government in Tehran, but regime change — by any means necessary.”

Western nuclear policy weakens the NPT

In later years, as Iran's enrichment capabilities have developed, the focus has shifted towards reducing Iran's enrichment capacity. One of the major issues in the latest round of talks was Iran's “breakout” capacity, that is the time it would take for Iran to produce enough weapons grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. In order to reduce Iran's “breakout” time, the US has demanded a major reduction in the amount of Iranian centrifuges.

While the issue of “breakout” certainly reflects a weakness in the NPT-regime, the problem is not restricted to Iran. According to ElBaradei, more than 40 countries may have acquired the technological know-how to develop nuclear weapons. Acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, whatever one thinks of it, is not forbidden under the NPT. The question is: Why is Japan allowed to have a nuclear weapons capability, while Iran is denied the right to a full nuclear program?

Western policy on Iran actually ends up weakening the NPT. Instead of tackling the broader and imminent threat of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, the US and its allies are hell-bent on curbing Iran's lawful nuclear infrastructure. To this end, the US has even attempted to unilaterally rewrite the NPT, asserting that the treaty does not actually guarantee the right to enrich uranium. This claim is without any basis whatever.

At the same time, the US and its allies have supported the nuclear programs of Israel, India and Pakistan – all non-signatories to the NPT and all now in possession of nuclear arms – in violation of the NPT.

The NPT, which was signed in 1968, also obliges the NWS to dismantle their nuclear weapons stockpiles. In September 2014,  The New York Times reported   that President Obama, who campaigned for “a nuclear-free world” in 2009, was launching “a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.”

One wonders how spending a “trillion dollars” on nuclear weapons and facilities “over the next three decades” conforms to the legal obligation under the NPT to pursue nuclear disarmament?

This selective and self-serving application of the NPT by the NWS risks undermining the legitimacy of the nuclear treaty in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Towards a nuclear-free Middle East

A comprehensive proposal to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East has been on the table for 40 years. In 1974, in an attempt to alleviate the threats from Israel's nuclear arsenal and further nuclear proliferation in the region, Iran and Egypt introduced a resolution to the UN General Assembly, which called for the establishment of a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East. In 1991, Egypt broadened the proposal to encompass all weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

In 1995, in return for agreeing to the indefinite extension of the NPT, the Arab states demanded that concrete steps be taken towards establishing a WMD-free zone (WMDFZ) in the region. The initiative was finally on the agenda of a UN-supported nuclear conference in Helsinki scheduled for 2012. Israel, however, refused to attend the negotiations. And the Obama administration proceeded to call off the conference at the last minute.

Unfortunately, as the 2015 NPT review conference approaches, there is little sign of progress on this most important initiative, and no timetable has been set for a new conference. Unless the NWS start pursuing genuine and comprehensive nuclear disarmament by, among other things, reviving the Helsinki process, the prospects for the future of the NPT-regime appear bleak.


The archive: Johannes Hautaviita, Iran, Middle East, United States


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