Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
US U-Turn on Enrichment Made Nuclear Deal with
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, August 5, 2015
In 2013 or thereabouts, the Obama administration did a U-turn and accepted
that Iran’s right to have uranium enrichment facilities on its own soil.
That’s why the US negotiations with Iran about its nuclear activities, which
began secretly in Oman in March 2013, ended successfully in Vienna on 14
July 2015 with agreement on the
Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Without that reversal
of policy, there would have been no deal.
Prior to that, the US and
its allies spent nearly a decade attempting to coerce Iran into halting its
enrichment programme, in recent years by applying ferocious economic
sanctions which are still in place. But the attempt was unsuccessful,
spectacularly so: in 2005, Iran’s enrichment programme was in its infancy
and no centrifuges were enriching uranium; today 19,000 centrifuges are
installed and around 10,000 of them are operational.
US had accepted from the outset that Iran had a right to enrichment, there
would have been no dispute at all about Iran’s nuclear activities, let alone
one that has lasted a decade – and there would have been no need for two
years of intensive negotiations to resolve it with a 160-page Joint
Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Iran’s NPT right to enrich
It is important to note that, as a ‘non-nuclear-weapon’
state party to the NPT, Iran has a right to uranium enrichment for civil
nuclear purposes. Article IV(1) of the NPT states:
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.”
This includes the “inalienable
right” to enrich uranium. We have that on the authority of the present
US Secretary of State and lead negotiator, John Kerry, who
told the Financial Times on 10 June 2009 that Iran had “a right to
peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose”.
Other ‘non-nuclear-weapon’ state parties, for example, Argentina, Brazil,
Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, all have uranium enrichment facilities
without being accused of breaching the NPT.
So, in attempting to
coerce Iran into halting its enrichment programme, the US was attempting to
deny Iran its rights under the NPT, which is the primary international
treaty regulating nuclear activity by states. Retaining uranium
enrichment facilities on its own soil has always been Iran’s bottom line and
it has been prepared to endure years of wholly unjustified economic
sanctions in order to defend that bottom line.
Iran’s NPT right to enrichment
Now, the US has conceded the
principle. However, in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the US
has insisted that for the next decade and more severe restrictions must be
placed on Iran’s enrichment capabilities and on other aspects of its nuclear
programme, with the threat that the existing sanctions will be maintained or
even intensified, if Iran doesn’t submit.
There is no justification
for imposing such restrictions on a sovereign state. As a
‘non-nuclear-weapon’ party to the NPT, Iran is forbidden to acquire nuclear
weapons, but the NPT places no limits on civil nuclear activity, providing
it is under IAEA supervision. Iran has agreed to accept these
restrictions on its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of
economic sanctions, but they are being accepted under duress and they are an
infringement of Iran’s right under the NPT to unrestricted civil nuclear
activity under IAEA supervision.
Having said that, Iran has now got
a civil nuclear programme, the existence of which is accepted by the US and
its allies, and if all goes well Iran will be free from sanctions in a
matter of months. And in a decade or so, its civil nuclear programme
will be free from the restrictions imposed by the US in the present
It can be guaranteed that Iran will fulfil its
obligations under the agreement to the letter in order to reach that highly
desirable objective – as it did with the initial Joint Plan of Action agreed
in November 2013.
Iran and nuclear weapons
stated reason for the US imposing these restrictions is to eliminate, or at
least severely reduce, Iran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons. To this
end, the US asserts that Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities must be
limited so that the “the breakout time”, that is, the time needed to enrich
enough uranium to weapons grade for one bomb, is increased to around a year
from what is said to be two or three months at present.
that Iran has the ambition to develop nuclear weapons, as Israel did many
years ago, or will acquire such an ambition if the opportunity to do so
arises in the future. Binyamin Netanyahu and his allies in the US
Congress purport to believe that Iran has had that ambition and has been
actively trying to realise it for many years. In 1992, he
predicted that Iran was 3 to 5 years from being able to produce a
nuclear weapon – and that the threat had to be "uprooted by an international
front headed by the US”. He was wrong. In a
speech to the UN General Assembly on 27 September 2012, he predicted
that Iran would have enough highly enriched uranium for a bomb by the
following summer. He was wrong again.
The truth is that no
Western intelligence service has ever managed to produce hard evidence that
Iran has been trying to develop nuclear weapons. And the IAEA has
never found any evidence at Iran’s nuclear facilities of the diversion of
nuclear material for possible military purposes. In his book
Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare published
last year, US investigative journalist Gareth Porter demonstrates
meticulously that the intelligence on which assertions that Iran has or had
a nuclear weapons programme was either misinterpreted or simply false.
Iran itself has repeatedly denied that it has any ambitions to develop
nuclear weapons. What is more, in 2005 the Supreme Leader of Iran,
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a
– a religious edict – saying that “the production, stockpiling, and use of
nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of
Iran shall never acquire these weapons”. And he has
repeated this message many times since then.
attempt to develop nuclear weapons?
Let us suppose that the
agreement survives opposition in Washington and as a result Iran has
established its right to enrich uranium, albeit with unjust limitations, and
is free from sanctions. Let us suppose that Iran takes a decision to
put this substantial achievement at risk by attempting to develop nuclear
weapons, which according to the Supreme Leader are “forbidden under Islam”.
To that end, it would have to attempt to enrich uranium to weapons
grade. Since it has been agreed that IAEA inspectors will have
continuous access to the Natanz enrichment plant, an operational change to
enrich above the agreed maximum of 3.67% would soon become known to the IAEA
and to the world. Very soon, therefore, irrefutable evidence would be
available that Iran had breached the agreement and sanctions would be
imposed – the agreement lays down a procedure for this.
be the end of Iran’s goal of having a civil nuclear programme and being free
from sanctions – and if it persisted in enriching uranium to weapons grade,
it would most likely mean the destruction by military means of the nuclear
infrastructure that it has devoted so much effort to build up over many
Iran is not going to bring that about.
Bush “angry” that Iran had no nuclear weapons programme
National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), produced in November 2007, the 16
US intelligence services expressed the consensus view that Iran hadn’t got
an active nuclear weapons programme.
The reaction of President
George Bush to this good news is instructive – it made him “angry”. We
know this because he says so in his memoir, Decision Points (p419 Kindle
edition). One might have thought that the President would have been
pleased, if not jumping for joy, to receive intelligence that Iran wasn’t
developing nuclear weapons. After all, preventing Iran acquiring
nuclear weapons was supposed to be a major objective of his foreign policy.
But instead he was “angry” – because it cut the ground from under
his efforts to gain international support for what he termed “dealing with
Iran”. Specifically, it made it impossible for him to take military
action against Iran:
“The NIE didn’t just undermine diplomacy.
It also tied my hands on the military side. There were many reasons I was
concerned about undertaking a military strike on Iran … . But after the NIE,
how could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear
facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active
nuclear weapons program?”
It seems that the Bush administration was
not concerned about whether Iran had a nuclear weapons programme. What
concerned it most was that the world would come to believe that Iran hadn’t
one – and as a result the US would no longer be able to rely on
international support for maintaining pressure on Iran with the ultimate
objective of overthrowing the Islamic regime.
Has Obama given up on
that option? Probably.
Share this article with your facebook friends