Nuclear double standards

The EU and US are seeking UN action against Iran over its nuclear fuel programme, even though there is no evidence it is being used for weapons production. Furthermore, Israel has a programme for manufacturing actual nuclear devices, and Pakistan and India are allies of the EU and the US, despite having acquired nuclear weapons outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. And the EU itself is in breach of the treaty. By David Morrison

Ireland is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Like Iran, it signed when the Treaty opened for signature on 1 July 1968. Like Iran, it signed as a "non-nuclear-weapon" state and by signing committed itself not to acquire nuclear weapons.

As a quid pro quo for this self-denying act, the Treaty guarantees Ireland and other "non-nuclear-weapon" states, including Iran, the right to engage in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes. Article IV(1) declares this to be the "inalienable right" of all signatories to the Treaty, saying, "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."

Engaging in uranium enrichment to fuel nuclear power stations is therefore an "inalienable right", guaranteed to all parties to the Treaty. Yet the EU, including Ireland, is attempting to prevent Iran developing uranium-enrichment facilities. It is acting contrary to Article IV(1) of the Treaty.

Other "non-nuclear-weapon" states that are signatories to the Treaty have uranium-enrichment facilities, for example, Japan and Brazil, so denying Iran such facilities is plainly discrimination against Iran, also contrary to Article IV(1).

Article IV(1) establishes the right of states to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Article IV(2) goes further and imposes a duty on other states with appropriate technical know-how to assist:

"Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall also co-operate in contributing… to the further development of the applications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in the territories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty…"

If EU states were carrying out their duty under the Article IV(2), those that are in a position to do so would be assisting Iran with its nuclear power programme, rather than trying to block uranium enrichment.

Negotiations with the EU

Iran entered into negotiations with the EU about its nuclear facilities in October 2003. (To be precise, Iran entered into negotiations with UK, France and Germany, who have been acting on behalf of the EU, including Ireland). Iran had no obligation to negotiate with the EU on what is an internal matter, but it did.

The negotiations came to an abrupt halt in August 2005 when the EU proposed to Iran that it abandon not just uranium enrichment, but all aspects of its so-called "nuclear fuel cycle". Instead of mining its own uranium ore, and processing and enriching it to make fuel for its nuclear reactors, as Iran planned to do, the EU proposals required Iran to import enriched uranium fuel, and to export spent fuel afterwards.

This would mean that nuclear power generation in Iran would be dependent on fuel from abroad, which could be cut off at any time, even though Iran has a domestic supply of uranium ore. It was no surprise, therefore, that Iran rejected these proposals out of hand.

On 12 January, the EU decided to press for Iran's referral to the Security Council by the IAEA Board. The trigger for this decision was Iran's resumption of some uranium enrichment related activity at Natanz, activity which Iran suspended in November 2004 following the Paris Agreement with the EU.

It is important to note that this suspension was a voluntary act of goodwill on the part of Iran while negotiations were taking place. As the Paris Agreement itself stated, "The E3/EU recognize that this suspension is a voluntary confidence building measure and not a legal obligation... In the context of this suspension, the E3/EU and Iran have agreed to begin negotiations, with a view to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on long term arrangements."

To say, as the EU does in its statement of 12 January, that Iran has breached the Paris agreement by restarting suspended activities is misleading. "A mutually acceptable agreement on long term arrangements" had not been reached, so it is entirely reasonable for Iran to voluntarily resume what it voluntarily suspended.

EU in breach of Paris Agreement?

A case can be made for saying that the EU, and not Iran, is in breach of the Paris Agreement. The latter says, "The E3/EU recognise Iran's rights under the NPT exercised in conformity with its obligations under the Treaty, without discrimination."

One of Iran's rights under the NPT is, of course, the right to engage in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes. The Paris agreement anticipated that long-term arrangements "will provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes".

However, the EU proposals of August 2005 do not suggest any such "objective guarantees". Instead, they demand that Iran abandon key aspects of its nuclear programme, aspects which Iran is entitled to engage in under the NPT, providing they are for peaceful purposes.

Last September, Iran proposed that its enrichment programme be run in partnership with foreign public or private bodies. President Ahmadinejad made this proposal in a speech to the UN General Assembly on 17 September 2005, saying: "as a further confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran."

This proposal is based on the recommendations of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expert group, which reported in February 2005. The group, headed by Bruno Pellaud, was established by the IAEA to recommend measures that would be useful in giving reassurance that nuclear facilities for peaceful purposes, which a state has a right to possess under the NPT, would not be used for weapons development.

Of the five proposals made by the committee, two were based on the notion of shared ownership or control. This proposal by Iran is a variant of these and seems to be the kind of "objective guarantee" foreshadowed in the Paris Agreement. Nevertheless, it seems to have been ignored by the EU.

The IAEA is the agency which is charged with ensuring that nuclear activity by "non-nuclear-weapon" states is for peaceful purposes. This is laid down in Article III of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires each such state to enter into a so-called "safeguards agreement" with the IAEA "with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices".

Under a "safeguards agreement", a state must, for instance, report prescribed activities to the IAEA and allow the IAEA access to nuclear sites.

Over the past few years IAEA inspectors have conducted intensive investigations of Iran's nuclear activities on the ground. The IAEA Director General, Dr Mohamed ElBaradei, has presented at least eight formal reports to the IAEA Board on the implementation of the "safeguards agreement" with Iran. These can be found on the IAEA website. None of them contains evidence that Iran's nuclear activity is for other than peaceful purposes.

EU misleads over Iran's 'non-compliance'

The EU statement on 12 January does not mention this very important and relevant fact. It does mention that the IAEA Board passed a resolution last September, "formally finding that Iran was in non-compliance with its Safeguards Agreement". This is misleading, implying as it does that Iran was "in non-compliance" last September, in the opinion of the IAEA Board.

In fact, the resolution passed by the Board in September 2005 didn't declare Iran to be "in non-compliance" in September 2005. To be precise, it said that breaches and failures detailed in an IAEA report of November 2003 (nearly two years earlier) "constitute" non-compliance. In other words, it found that Iran had been "in non-compliance" in November 2003, but it also stated that "good progress has been made in Iran's correction of the breaches," as reported by the Director General on 2 September 2005.

Presumably, the US and EU were unable to persuade the IAEA Board to pass a resolution stating plainly that Iran was "in non-compliance" in September 2005, which they would obviously have preferred. So they had to make do with this formulation, which bizarrely expresses an opinion about circumstances that no longer exist.

Different rules for different countries

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a most unusual international treaty, which puts different obligations on different states. States must sign up to it either as "nuclear-weapon" states, which are allowed to keep their nuclear weapons and are not subject to IAEA monitoring, or as "non-nuclear-weapon" states, which are forbidden to acquire nuclear weapons and are subject to IAEA monitoring. What is more, the states that are allowed to keep their nuclear weapons are defined in the Treaty itself, which says in Article IX(3), "For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear-weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967."

Five states – the US, the UK, the USSR, France and China – qualified as "nuclear-weapon" states. They happen to be the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. Of these, only three – the US, the UK and the USSR – signed the Treaty in 1968. France and China didn't sign until 1992. It is often said that the "nuclear-weapon" states are breaking the terms of the NPT by failing to disarm and, on the contrary, constantly upgrading their nuclear weapons systems. In fact, the NPT doesn't oblige "nuclear-weapon" states to disarm. It merely obliges them – in Article VI – to talk about disarmament.

Some states have chosen not to sign the NPT, for example, Israel, India and Pakistan. As a result, they were free to develop nuclear weapons without breaching the NPT, or any other international treaty obligation. They have the same freedom as the official "nuclear-weapon" states (although restrictions imposed by the Nuclear Suppliers Group limit their ability to import nuclear materials and equipment).

Had Iran followed Israel in not signing the NPT in 1968, or had it withdrawn subsequently, it could also have acquired nuclear weapons without breaking any international obligations. Whether the US and Israel would have allowed it to do so is another matter.

Article IX of the NPT allows a state to withdraw "if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country".

By any objective standard, Iran and other neighbours of Israel in the Middle East have good grounds for withdrawal, because of Israel's build-up of a nuclear arsenal directed at them. There could hardly be a better example of "extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty", which "have jeopardized [their] supreme interests".

Double standards abound

The EU and the US are seeking to prevent Iran having a uranium enrichment programme, even though there is no evidence that it is being used for weapons production. By contrast, the EU and the US have never said boo to Israel for having a nuclear weapons programme and for manufacturing actual nuclear devices, perhaps as many as 200 of them. And Pakistan and India are allies of the EU and the US, despite having acquired nuclear weapons outside the NPT. In this matter, double standards abound.

At the same time as it is demanding that Iran abandon uranium enrichment, the US is offering India access to nuclear materials and equipment for the expansion of its nuclear power programme, access which is at present almost entirely denied. This offer, in a deal signed last July, reverses a 30-year old US policy of denying nuclear materials and equipment to India, which was prompted by India's first nuclear weapons test in 1974. If the deal goes through, India will acquire the status, and the privileges, of a "nuclear-weapon" state like the five official "nuclear-weapon" states. This is going to happen, even though India has never signed the NPT and can't sign it now without giving up its nuclear weapons, which it isn't going to do.

The supreme irony is that part of the payback that the US expects for this deal is India's support in denying Iran its "inalienable right" under the NPT to uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes.

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