Iran is not a threat to peace

Iran is not breaking the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty but America and the European Union are. David Morrison outlines how Iran is not the problem and how the attempted actions by the UN are flawed

Under NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] rules, there is nothing illegal about any state having enrichment or reprocessing technology – processes that are basic to the production and recycling of nuclear reactor fuel – even though these operations can also produce the enriched uranium or plutonium that can be used in a nuclear weapon. An increasing number of countries have sought to master these parts of the ‘nuclear fuel cycle' …”

These are words of the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram in April 2006. One of the countries he had in mind was Brazil, which formally opened a uranium enrichment facility at Resende on 6 May 2006.

On Iran's enrichment programme, he told Reuters on 30 March 2006: “Nobody has the right to punish Iran for enrichment. We have not seen nuclear material diverted to a nuclear weapon…”

It could hardly be clearer. By engaging in uranium enrichment-related activities to produce nuclear fuel, Iran is acting within the NPT. And the IAEA has found no evidence that Iran is diverting nuclear material for weapons purposes. In short, Iran is not breaking any of its NPT commitments.

Dr ElBaradei could have gone further and pointed out that possessing enrichment and reprocessing technology for peaceful purposes is not merely legal under NPT rules, it is supposed to be an “inalienable right” guaranteed under the NPT to all signatories to the treaty, Article IV(1) of which states: “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.”

In other words, those states that are seeking to prevent Iran from engaging in uranium enrichment to fuel nuclear power stations are acting contrary to the NPT. Iran is not.

Reported to the Security Council

As a result of a resolution passed by the board of IAEA on 4 February 2006, the issue is now on the agenda of the UN Security Council. The IAEA resolution defined a series of steps “required of Iran” by the board, the most important of which is the re-suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities. None of these steps are “required of Iran” under the NPT. The resolution itself makes this clear, where the steps are referred to as “confidence-building measures, which are voluntary, and non legally binding”.

In other words, Iran was reported to the Security Council, not because it refused to take measures required by the NPT, but because it refused to take measures that were explicitly stated to be voluntary and not required by the NPT.

Negotiations with the EU

It is important to recall that Iran first agreed to the suspension of enrichment-related activities, when it signed the Paris Agreement in November 2004, at the outset of negotiations with the EU (represented by UK, France and Germany). In the words of this agreement, the suspension was “a voluntary confidence-building measure and not a legal obligation” while the parties were in negotiation about “a mutually acceptable agreement on long-term arrangements”.

When negotiations broke down in August 2005, Iran resumed enrichment and reprocessing activities – as it was entitled to do since the suspension was voluntary in the first place. The resumption began at the uranium processing plant in Isfahan in August 2005. Later, in January 2006, enrichment was resumed at the Natanz pilot plant.

The latter was the trigger for the EU to call a special meeting of the board of the IAEA which passed the resolution of 4 February 2006 reporting Iran to the Security Council. Iran's only crime was to voluntarily resume what it had voluntarily suspended in November 2004.

Security Council action

What action has the Security Council taken to date? On 29 March 2006, it agreed a Presidential Statement calling upon Iran to take the steps “required” of it by the IAEA Board. The statement begins by reaffirming that engaging in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes is a right guaranteed under the NPT, saying: “The Security Council reaffirms its commitment to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and recalls the right of States Party, in conformity with articles I and II of that Treaty, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

In other words, having reaffirmed its commitment to the NPT, the council is asking Iran to desist from activities that are supposed to be its “inalienable right” under the NPT. What sense does this make?

What next?

A presidential statement is the lowest form of Security Council “action” – even lower than a Chapter VI resolution, which can be safely ignored since it doesn't carry any form of sanction, either economic or military. Only Chapter VII resolutions may be accompanied by the latter.

The US/EU are now pressing for a Chapter VII resolution, initially one without any sanctions. At the time of writing, Russia and China are resisting this proposal – as veto-wielding members of the council, either one of them is in a position to prevent the US/EU getting their way on the council.

The purpose of pressing for a Chapter VII resolution is to transform a request to Iran from the IAEA Board to voluntarily suspend its enrichment-related activities – a request that Iran could legitimately refuse – into a mandatory demand by the Security Council, a demand that might eventually be backed up by economic sanctions.

The US/EU are conscious of the shaky ground on which they currently stand in asking Iran to suspend enrichment. They know full well that Iran is within its rights in refusing to take any of the steps “required” of it by the IAEA Board, since these steps are not required of it by the NPT. Understandably, therefore, the US/EU are anxious to move onto more solid ground where the Security Council orders Iran to take these steps in a Chapter VII resolution.

Amending the NPT

If Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium by a Chapter VII resolution, it is tantamount to amending the NPT, without Iran's consent, to take away Iran's right to engage in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes. The wording of Article IV(1) of the NPT would in effect become:
“Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty, except Iran, 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.”
The Security Council should be in the business of upholding generally accepted international rules. But, in this case, the US/EU is attempting to get the council to amend the NPT, the generally accepted international rules on nuclear activities, to make an exception to the disadvantage of one state, Iran.

Iran a threat to peace?

Chapter VII resolutions are supposed to be passed by the Security Council in order to deal with situations that are a “threat to the peace”. This is set out in Article 39, the first article in Chapter VII of the UN Charter. So, prior to the passing of a Chapter VII resolution, Iran must be deemed to be a “threat to peace”.

At a press conference on 28 April 2006, John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, was asked what case could be made that Iran constituted such a threat. He replied:
“I think that the evidence of Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, its extensive program to achieve a ballistic missile capability of longer and longer range and greater accuracy, constitutes a classic threat to international peace and security, especially when combined with Iran's long status as the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

He should think before opening his mouth. If the possession of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles is a measure of a state's “threat to peace”, then John Bolton has the privilege of representing the biggest “threat to peace” in the world – by a distance. And Iran is way, way behind.

Yet the US and the EU is about to press the Security Council to deem Iran a “threat to the peace”, something which it has never done to Israel. (Chapter VII resolution has never been passed against Israel, despite its possession of nuclear weapons and its ballistic missile capability, not to mention its invasion of every one of its neighbours at one time or another, and its annexation of bits of them.)

The supreme irony of this is that the US and the UK, which invaded Iraq in 2003 causing the deaths of tens of thousands of people, are taking the lead in the indictment of Iran as a “threat to peace”. They invaded and occupied Iraq without being deemed a “threat to peace” by the Security Council, because both of them wield a veto on the council. By the same token, Israel has never been deemed a “threat to peace” by the council, because it has a veto-wielding friend in Washington.

There could hardly be a better illustration of the fundamental flaw at the heart of the UN system, where the five veto-wielding members of the Council can invade any country they like without fear of being deemed a “threat to peace”, let alone being subjected to economic or military sanctions, by the council.

The corollary of this is that, if the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council decide to gang up on an ordinary UN member, with no veto and no special friend with a veto, it can be declared to be a “threat to the peace” without the slightest justification.
It remains to be seen if Russia and China allow this to happen to Iran.

∏ More: