Q: Is Iran breaking the NPT?
A: No, but the US/EU are
“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 high 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 IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, in
an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram
(6-12 April 2006) .
Specifically, 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.
None of this will come as a surprise to regular
readers of the Labour & Trade Union Review, but it is rare for ElBaradei to state these crucial facts with such clarity,
facts which demolish the US/EU case for reporting Iran to the Security Council
and pressurising it to abandon its enrichment programme.
(But don’t expect ElBaradei to repeat these crucial facts every day of the
week – to do so
would bring down the wrath of the US and others upon his head – so, having put
these crucial facts on the record once, you can be sure that from now on all
you will hear from him are his doubts about Iran’s past nuclear activities and
its alleged failure to answer questions about them. And when it is stated as a fact by the US and others that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, don’t expect ElBaradei to
pop up and make it clear that the IAEA is not in possession of evidence to
It reminds me of the run up to the
invasion of Iraq, when Hans Blix, the head of UNMOVIC, made regular reports to the
Security Council. Then, it could be
guaranteed that buried away in each of them there would be a sentence saying
that UNMOVIC didn’t have any evidence that Iraq possessed chemical or
biological weapons – for example, the report he delivered on 27 January 2003
stated “these reports do not contend that weapons of mass destruction remain in
Iraq” – but on each occasion this crucial fact was masked by a host of queries
about “unaccounted for” material. And,
when time and time again the US/UK asserted baldly that Iraq had chemical and
biological weapons, Blix never made it clear that
UNMOVIC didn’t possess evidence to prove this.
Had he done so, it would have made it much more difficult for the US/UK
to invade Iraq on the pretext that Iraq possessed such
weapons. However, he said enough to be able
to claim after the event, when no weapons were discovered in Iraq, that he and UNMOVIC had
got it right.)
On this occasion, 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.”
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.
the Security Council
The issue of Iran’s nuclear activities is
now on the agenda of the UN Security Council.
It got there as a result of a resolution passed by the IAEA Board on 4 February 2006 . This requested ElBaradei
to inform the Security Council that certain steps, defined in paragraph 1 of
the resolution, were “required of Iran” (and to send the
Security Council all future IAEA reports and resolutions about Iran).
My article, Iran “reported” to the Security Council , examines these steps,
chief among 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 in paragraph 5, where the steps are referred to as “confidence-building
measures, which are voluntary, and non legally
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.
It gives a whole new meaning to the word voluntary.
with the EU
It is important to recall that Iran first
agreed to the suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities in
November 2004, when it signed the Paris Agreement 
with the EU (represented by UK, France and Germany). This suspension was a voluntary act of
goodwill on the part of Iran while
negotiations with the EU were taking place.
As the Paris Agreement itself states:
“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.”
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 have meant that nuclear
power generation in Iran would be completely
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.
the failure to reach “a mutually acceptable agreement on long term
arrangements” with the EU, Iran proceeded
to resume 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 pilot plant at Natanz.
The latter was the trigger for the
EU to call a special meeting of the IAEA Board 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
The formal reporting of Iran to the
Security Council occurred after the March meeting of the IAEA Board, at which ElBaradei made yet another report to the Board on Iran’s nuclear
activities . On 8 March
2006, he duly sent this report to the Security Council.
Like all of his previous reports,
this one did not present any evidence that Iran is developing nuclear
weapons. It formally reported that Iran had not obeyed the IAEA
Board’s request to suspend enrichment and related activities. On IAEA access to Iran’s nuclear sites, the
continued to facilitate access under its Safeguards Agreement as requested by
the Agency and, until 6 February
2006, implemented the Additional Protocol as if it were in
force, including by providing, in a timely manner, the requisite declarations
and access to locations.” (Paragraph 30)
In other words, in response to its
the Security Council by the IAEA Board resolution of 4
February 2006, Iran reduced IAEA access to
its nuclear sites. Since 6 February 2006, it is no longer granting
unannounced access to sites in accordance with the so-called Additional
Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA (which Iran signed in December 2003
but the Majlis hasn’t ratified). So, the net effect to date of referring Iran to the Security Council
has been to reduce the IAEA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities.
Signing a Safeguards Agreement with
the IAEA, and implementing its provisions, is a requirement of the NPT (see
Signing and implementing an Additional Protocol is not a requirement of
the NPT. It is a voluntary matter for
each signatory state, so by ceasing to implement its provisions Iran is not breaking any
commitment under the NPT – it is continuing to allow the IAEA the degree of
access that is mandatory under the NPT.
The US/UK predicted immediate
“action” by the Security Council in response to this report by ElBaradei. However,
it took them three weeks to persuade Russia and China to agree a form of words
for a statement by the President of the Council, which was eventually issued on
29 March 2006 
in the name of César Mayoral of Argentina, the President
of the Council in March.
(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 presidential statement calls
upon Iran to take the steps “required”
of it by the IAEA Board in its resolution of 4
February 2006. However, it doesn’t
describe these steps as “voluntary and non legally binding”
as the Board resolution does. But, it
begins by reaffirming that engaging in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes is a right guaranteed under the NPT,
“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 Security Council is asking Iran to desist from
activities that are supposed to be its “inalienable right” under the NPT.
The Presidential statement requested
that ElBaradei make a report to the IAEA and the
Security Council within 30 days, and he did so as ordered on 28 April 2006 (see, for example, BBC summary ).
The report told essentially the same
story as before: again no evidence was presented that Iran was developing nuclear
weapons. Even John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN,
reluctantly admitted this on 28 April 2006, saying :
“I think, if anything,
the IAEA report shows that Iran has accelerated its
efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, although, of course, the report doesn’t
make any conclusions in the regard.”
The “acceleration” referred to by Bolton related to Iran’s announcement on 13 April 2006 that it had succeeded in enriching
a small amount of uranium to the level required for nuclear fuel. ElBaradei reported
that the IAEA had examined samples of what had been produced and concluded that
the enrichment level declared by Iran (3.6%) was probably
The US/EU now intend to press for a
resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, demanding that Iran take the steps “required”
of it by the IAEA Board in its February resolution, in particular, the
suspension of enrichment-related activities.
Initially, they do not intend to press for a Chapter VII resolution
accompanied by economic sanctions.
The UK strategy for action
against Iran in the Security Council
was set out in a letter, which was leaked to The Times and published on 22 March 2006.
The letter, dated 16 March 2006, was written by John Sawers, the political director of the Foreign Office, to
his counterparts in France, Germany and the US. Its main theme was that it was going to be
difficult to persuade Russia and China to take any effective
action on the Security Council. Sawers wrote :
the paper is a recognition that we are not going to bring the Russians and
Chinese to accept significant sanctions over the coming months, certainly not
without further efforts to bring the Iranians around.
Russian counterpart] might argue that those diplomatic efforts should start
straightaway after a Presidential Statement is adopted. Our own assessment here is that the
Iranians will not feel under much pressure from PRST [Presidential statement]
on its own, and they will need to know that more serious measures are likely.
This means putting the Iran dossier
onto a Chapter VII basis. We may also need to remove one of the Iranian
arguments that the suspension called for is ‘voluntary’. We could do both by
making the voluntary suspension a mandatory requirement to the Security
Council, in a Resolution we would aim to adopt I, say, early May.”
Note that an important reason
advanced 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
legitimately refuse –
into a mandatory demand from the Security Council, perhaps
eventually backed up by economic sanctions, if Iran refuses to
For the US, John
Bolton expressed it this way on 28 April
of acting under Chapter 7 is to invoke the mandatory compliance features of
Chapter 7, which … would be binding on all UN members. Therefore, it’s not a
matter of discretion for Iran. They have
to comply or the Security Council is free to take other steps.”
Obviously, 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 resolution of 4 February
2006. As the
resolution itself says, these steps amount to “confidence-building measures,
which are voluntary, and non legally binding” and not
required of Iran 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.
Iran a threat to peace?
Article 39 is the first article in
Chapter VII of the UN Charter . It says:
“The Security Council
shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace,
or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures
shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore
international peace and security.”
Article 41 provides for economic
sanctions and Article 42 for military sanctions.
Before a Chapter VII resolution is
passed in respect of Iran – even recommendations
under Article 40 without sanctions, which is envisaged
by the US/EU initially – the Security Council has to formally declare that Iran is a “threat to the
peace” or that a “breach of the peace, or act of aggression” has taken
place. Even the most fertile minds in
Washington and London would have difficulty making a case that Iran has been
guilty of either of the latter (though it shouldn’t be ruled out – Iranian
support for Hezbollah and Hamas might be construed as
a breach of the peace), so the US/EU will most likely try to persuade Russia
and China to indict Iran as a “threat to the peace”.
At a press conference on 28 April 2006, John Bolton was asked what case
could be made that Iran was a threat to
peace. 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
Remember that Iran, unlike Israel, possesses
no nuclear weapons, and there is no objective evidence that it is developing
them. Remember that Iran, unlike Israel,
has not invaded any of its neighbours in living
memory and, when it was invaded by Iraq in 1980, the Security Council didn’t
lift a finger to help, because the US/UK were cheering on Iraq at the time.
Yet the US/EU is about to press the
Security Council to deem Iran a “threat to the peace”, something which it has
never done to Israel – a Chapter VII resolution of any kind has never been
passed against Israel, despite its possession of nuclear weapons and the means
of delivering them, and 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/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 were, of course,
able to invade and occupy Iraq without
being deemed a “threat to peace” by the Security Council because they wield a
veto on the Security Council. By the
same token, Israel has never
been deemed a “threat to peace” by the Security Council, because it has a
veto-wielding friend in Washington.
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.
If Iran is forbidden to enrich
uranium by a mandatory Security Council resolution, that is tantamount to
amending the NPT, without Iran’s consent, to take away Iran’s right to engage
in nuclear activities for peaceful purposes.
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.”
At that point, Iran would be
justified in withdrawing from the NPT, since rights that were supposedly
guaranteed under the NPT when it signed up to in 1968 would have been taken away.
It remains to be seen if Russia and China go along
with this denial of NPT rights to Iran. At the moment, they say that they are opposed
to a Chapter
VII resolution, even one without economic sanctions. But, both of them are opposed to Iran having enrichment
facilities on its own soil, so they may support a Chapter VII resolution
eventually. According to Sawers’ letter, the UK believes that they can
be persuaded to agree to one without accompanying economic sanctions in the
next few weeks.
envisages a new offer being made to Iran to supply fuel from
abroad for its proposed nuclear power stations.
Making such an offer to Iran is deemed to be a
necessary condition for persuading Russia and China to go further and agree
to another Chapter VII resolution, this time one with economic sanctions of
some kind. Sawers writes:
for the Russians and Chinese agreeing to this [initial Chapter VII resolution],
we would then want to put together a package that could be presented to the
Iranians as a new proposal. Ideally this would have the explicit backing of Russia, China and the United
States as well as the E3, though Nick [Burns
of the US] will want
to consider the scope of presenting this in that way. Our thought is that we
would need to finalise this during June, and the
obvious occasion to do so would be in the margins of the G8 Foreign Ministers’
meeting. The period running up to the G8 Summit will be when our influence on Russia will be at
its maximum, and we need to plan accordingly.
with agreeing a new proposal, we will also want to bind Russia and China into
agreeing to further measures that will be taken by the Security Council should
the Iranians fail to engage positively. … We would not, at this stage, want to
be explicit about what would be involved then – there will need to be extensive
negotiations on that in May/June.”
An offer from Russia for the supply of fuel
to Iran has been on the table
since last autumn. This is that Russia take uranium
hexafluoride produced by Iran from domestic ore at Isfahan and enrich it in Russia, and produce fuel rods
for return to Iran. This would mean Iran abandoning uranium
enrichment at Natanz.
Any new proposal is bound to be on similar lines, the key element being
that Iran has no enrichment
facilities on its own soil.
The Russian proposal has the support
of the EU, and China – and of the US, which until November 2005
had not associated itself with any proposal of this kind to Iran. While Iran has not publicly
accepted this proposal, even as a basis for negotiations, it has not rejected
it out of hand either and fitful discussions seem to be continuing with Russia about it.
Note that, according to Sawers, the US is hanging back from
being associated with any new proposal to Iran, along with the EU and Russia and China. This is a continuation of the US refusal to deal directly
with Iran since 1979 (apart from
the arms for hostages affair in the 1980s).
This principle has recently been
breached with Bush’s authorisation of Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Iraq, to talk directly to Iran about Iraqi
matters. This authorisation was granted
last November 2005, but no meetings have taken place as yet, even though Khalilzad has repeatedly asked Iran for a meeting – in early
March an Iranian official showed John Snow of Channel 4 News evidence of Khalilzad’s requests.
However, it now appears that no meetings will take place until after a
new Iraqi government is established and in a position to take part.
It will be interesting to see if the
US agrees to deal directly
with Iran on nuclear issues as
1 May 2006
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