Understanding the Iranian Perspective in Nuclear Negotiations

It it's amazing that in the current nuclear negotiations taking place in Vienna between the P5+1 nations and Iran no one in the public media is making the slightest attempt to present the Iranian perspective. That perspective is crystal clear and the US public needs to understand it to keep from going off the rails in paroxysms of irrelevant blather.

Briefly stated in Iran's position everything is based on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory and from which Iran derives its "inalienable right" to peaceful nuclear development.

There are 189 signatories to the Treaty (not including Israel, India, Pakistan or North Korea). The United States and its five allies do not have the power or the authority to deprive Iran of its rights under the treaty, including the right to enrich uranium and build nuclear reactors, a principle accepted for years by the Europeans and only recently called into question ONLY for Iran.

The U.S. and its allies have observed that some non-nuclear weapons states use nuclear technology but don't enrich uranium, and therefore Iran shouldn't claim that as a treaty right. First, that is not how the treaty reads. Besides this, however, the fact that some nuclear nations don't enrich uranium is utterly irrelevant. These nations could start tomorrow and no one would question them. Additionally, there are a number of NPT signatory states that do enrich uranium, such as Japan and Brazil, whose right to do so is unquestioned. Japan has even announced that it will construct nuclear weapons in the future if it has the need.

Some claim that Iran has violated the treaty by not allowing inspections of its facilities. Inspections under the NPT only pertain to sites with fissile material or which will contain fissile material in 180 days. The P5+1 nations negotiating with Iran have demanded unlimited additional inspections of non-fissile material sites without specifying them. Two are, however, widely mentioned: the incomplete Arak heavy-water nuclear electricity plant, which contains no fissile material and the Parchin military base, already inspected some years ago and found to have no fissile material.

UN Security Council resolutions on Iran have been cited as an "obligation" incumbent on Iran to cease its enrichment of uranium. However, these resolutions, starting with the first one,UNSC 1696 , although using the word "demand" in calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, make it clear that this suspension is placed in the context of an earlier International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors resolution that sees such suspension as "necessary" as a confidence building measure. In the language of the resolution:

Outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's program by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence building measures which the Board has made on Iran (IAEA 2006)

It has now been seven years since these resolutions were approved. In the intervening years there has been no evidence whatever of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. Two publicly released US National Intelligence Estimates in 2007 and 2011 declared that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program. Every IAEA Report since 2003 declares that Iran has not diverted nuclear material for military purposes. Here is the relevant passage from the August 28, 2013 report.

Notwithstanding that certain of the activities being undertaken by Iran at some of the facilities are contrary to the relevant resolutions of the Board of Governors and the Security Council, as indicated below, the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared material at these facilities and LOFs [locations outside facilies]. (IAEA 2013a, p. 3, section C.8.)

U.S. officials and media commentators have continually claimed that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA. However on November 11, the Iranian government and the IAEA reached clear accords on Iran providing additional inspection and information regarding its program. Here is the language of the accord showing that Iran has agreed to:

1. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Gchine mine in Bandar Abbas
2. Providing mutually agreed relevant information and managed access to the Heavy Water Production Plant
3. Providing information on all new research reactors
4. Providing information with regard to the identification of 16 sites designated for the construction of nuclear power plants
5. Clarification of the announcement made by Iran regarding additional enrichment facilities
6. Further clarification of the announcement made by Iran with respect to laser enrichment technology (IAEA 2013b)

Iran's actions clearly do not constitute non-cooperation. The November 11 IAEA accord also includes provisions that have been discussed by the P5+1 negotiators, and have been indicated in press reports to still be controversial. Clearly these have been resolved to the satisfaction of the IAEA at present.

There are hosts of other irrelevant issues that have crept into press reports about Iran and these negotiations, such as concern about the Iranian government threatening to destroy Israel (a total lie -- it never happened) , supporting Hezbollah and Hamas, also claims with little contemporary merit. Iran's human rights record is definitely of great concern, as is its support for the Assad regime in Syria. But these again are irrelevant to the nuclear negotiations. The essence of these claims seem to be that Iran has behaved badly in other areas, and so doesn't deserve to enjoy its treaty rights.

This is not how treaty law operates, however. Many nations, including the United States have behaved badly in international relations in areas that have nothing to do with their rights and obligations under a host of treaties. To compare one with the other is a comparison of apples and oranges.

For the United States, France or the other P5+1 nations to expect Iran to abrogate its rights under pressure is both unrealistic and unreasonable. Iran will only relinquish those rights if it can be persuaded that it is receiving significant benefits for paying such a high price in terms of its sovereignty and honor. Certainly additional pressure in the form of increased sanctions against Iran will not be persuasive.