Saturday, November 23, 2013

Iran and the 'Right to Enrichment'

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 have apparently progressed well, but have left a few key points of contention. Apparently Iran wishes the West to acknowledge its 'right to enrich'. However, Iran's belief that every country has this right is not something the West appears willing to recognize. 

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) bears NO explicit mention of enrichment. It does contain some parts such as Article IV which declare an '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.' What is clear from this is that nuclear energy is considered to be a universal right. However 'conformity' with other articles is also demanded (Article III is NOT listed in Article IV, although according to Mark Fitzpatrick of IISS, 'The 2000 NPT Review Conference Final Document affirmed that this conditionality also applies to Article III, which sets out the obligation to accept safeguards applied by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)'). 

The IAEA is designated as the controller of safeguards and the one ultimately responsible for regulating this treaty. Iran was found in non-compliance with its IAEA safeguards agreement (designated in Article III of the NPT) on 24 September 2005, and continues to be, although the most recent IAEA statement is optimistic and hints that the IAEA's worries may soon be addressed fully. 

So why does Iran insist on the West recognizing its 'right to enrichment'? If enrichment was something clearly designated in the text of the NPT, this demand would be unnecessary and redundant. It is also not necessary for countries with nuclear power plants to also have domestic enrichment (there are 19 countries that have nuclear power plants yet do not have domestic enrichment). It makes sense for Iran to be suspicious of the West and its motives; the prejudices and ill-will are long documented. So is a recognition of Iran's 'right to enrichment' necessary, and in what circumstances is this right valid or invalid?

In my opinion, Iran's demand is stubborn and unnecessary. They are asking for something additional, while the IAEA, (the ultimate nuclear authority) has continually ruled that Iran has still yet to prove beyond a doubt that its nuclear program is purely peaceful (the IAEA has also not found any solid evidence that the nuclear program has military dimensions, so Iran has not 'violated' the NPT). Even if Iran were to return to full compliance with the IAEA, which would confirm their 'inalienable right', what is the purpose of the West stating that Iran has a 'right to enrich'? This would create a precedent where the words of the West may carry just as much if not more weight than the IAEA. This undermines the authority of the IAEA and potentially limits its mandate. It would make sense for the United States and the West to state that any state found in compliance with their IAEA safeguards agreement has the right to enrichment, but at this point it is redundant and possibly detrimental. 

I would urge Iran to drop this unnecessary demand, and instead focus on returning to compliance with the IAEA so that they would have a legal case against the West if efforts are made to prevent Iran from accessing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. At this point Iran is not in a good position legally because of the past 8 years of non-compliance. If the worries of the IAEA are assuaged, then Iran's access to nuclear energy can continue unimpeded, following the statute of the NPT. If Iran really wishes there to be an explicitly recognized 'right to enrichment', Article VIII of the NPT allows any signatory to propose amendments. Why not just do this? This is acting completely within the legal limits of the treaty, not going around it or trying to exploit a loophole.

P.S. Some lawyers argue that the IAEA is given more power than it should have, or that its actions are excessive or inappropriate in some way. However, the fact remains, Iran has signed the NPT which designates the IAEA as the authority, so they are subject to these laws. Also the IAEA's demand to prove that Iran's nuclear program is not weapons-related is a bit of a problem because it is very difficult to prove something like this without surrendering sovereignty, but again Iran signed the NPT so they are subject to its rules.

IISS's (International Institute for Strategic Studies) Mark Fitzpatrick has a comprehensive detailing of the NPT and Iran's 'right to enrichment' here:

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