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The Wall Street Journal, "It's Almost Too Late to Stop Iran."

The Wall Street Journal features an article by NPEC's Executive Director Henry Sokolski on the U.S. nuclear policy towards Iran entitled "It's Almost Too Late to Stop Iran."

Sep 27, 2004
AUTHOR: Henry Sokolski
Its Almost Too Late to Stop Iran (PDF) 28.34 KB

FROM: The Wall Street Journal

It's Almost Too Late to Stop Iran

Have nations a right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to acquire ostensibly civilian nuclear technology if it brings them within weeks of a bomb? Iran--backed by Brazil, South Africa, Germany, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohammed El Baradei and, recently, John Edwards--says yes.

President Khatami was succinct when he reiterated Iran's position last week: "We clearly demand that our right to [uranium] enrichment be recognized by the international community because it is our legal right and in accordance with the NPT. If it does so, it will open the way for greater cooperation."

Call it a legal loophole or, as Iranian officials insist, an inalienable right, the only way either Iran or the supporters of this view can imagine getting Iranians to stop their nuclear brinkmanship is to sit down with them, treat them as equals, and cut a deal that addresses their concerns. Iran wants a larger voice to set oil prices (Iran's oil minister last week insisted that Iran deserved to chair OPEC). Iran also has numerous security and cultural concerns about how Iraq will be ruled and even clearer economic requirements that its neighbors increase investment in Iran. All of these concerns, and presumably more, would have to be addressed.

What restraints would Iran offer in return on it nuclear program? If its outbursts of the last few weeks are any indication, not much. As Iran's chief nuclear negotiator said earlier this month, "Iran will not accept any obligation regarding the suspension of uranium enrichment." Moreover, if the U.N. mistakenly tried to impose such an obligation with sanctions, Iran, he insisted, would withdraw from the NPT. "No international body," he explained, "can force Iran" legally to drop its "peaceful" nuclear activities. Instead, Iran might choose voluntarily to suspend such efforts, but would only do so if it retained its right and ability to resume these activities. Any suspension could only come after direct talks with those nations most worried about its nuclear activities. Whatever deal Tehran might agree to, then, Iran would retain its option to make bombs.

What should we do? First, recognize that Iran is already too close to making bombs for us ever to rest easy. It would be nice if we could precision-bomb or appease Iran out of its nuclear capabilities but, short of overthrowing the regime, neither is likely to produce lasting results. Iran has too much invested and hidden and too many scientists salted away for mere bombing or bribing to cap their nuclear ambitions.

Second, and both despite and because of this, we must challenge Iran's arguments about the NPT. If we don't, even worse awaits us. The Saudis are interested in importing nuclear arms from China or Pakistan. Syria has begun serious nuclear research. Iraq retains most of its nuclear scientists. Egypt is planning to build reactors to desalinate and Algeria has just upgraded a very large research reactor in a remote location, surrounding it with air defenses. If we don't want them to follow in Iran's footsteps, we will have to tackle what we've avoided for decades--clarifying which activities are protected under the NPT and which ones are too close to bomb-making to be regarded as being peaceful.

Luckily, the NPT recommends an answer. Its first two articles prohibit nuclear weapons states that are signatories from helping other states acquire the bomb directly or indirectly and bans states that lack these weapons from trying to acquire them. Nuclear safeguards, which non-weapons states must submit to under the treaty, are supposed to prevent "the diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons." This, and the NPT's other prohibitions, are important since the "inalienable right" of all treaty members to develop nuclear energy for "peaceful" purposes must be exercised "in conformity" with them. This more than suggests that nuclear activities that can be quickly diverted to make bombs--such as Iran's enrichment and reprocessing capabilities--are activities that the treaty meant to be kept at bay.

Nor should they be seen as being peaceful on some economic ground. If Iran solicited proposals from international electrical power contractors to build it power-generating capacity, all of the non-nuclear bids would have come in at a fraction of the cost of the nuclear infrastructure Iran is now building. Nearly all of these bids could secure legitimate, private financing--something Iran's nuclear efforts clearly could not.

This suggests a set of market tests for "peacefulness." These might not be foolproof, but would be better than what we now have--effectively nothing. Yes, they'd flag our own nuclear subsidies (Export-Import Bank loans for reactor sales to China, government subsidized nuclear insurance, reactor construction loan guarantee proposals, federal nuclear commercialization projects etc.). They also would spotlight uneconomical subsidized projects in friendly countries including South Africa, Japan, India and Pakistan. Still, adopting such tests would enjoy broad support (from Reagan conservatives to anticorporatist liberals) and be neutral. As the NPT is to be formally reviewed in May, the best time to start raising these points is now.

Finally, the U.S. and its allies should build on recent European proposals to enforce the NPT. These should specify that countries that reject inspections or withdraw from the NPT (as Iran has threatened) without first addressing infractions must surrender or dismantle their nuclear capabilities to come back into compliance.

They also should stipulate that nations which the IAEA cannot find to be in full compliance should no longer receive nuclear assistance from others until the IAEA Board of Governors unanimously gives them a clean bill of health. This would include Russia's help to complete the power reactor at Busheir, which has been Iran's "peaceful" justification for its other nuclear activities. France is already backing these rules. Presumably, Europe can too along with the U.S., and its allies. If these nations are unified, Russia should have difficulty resisting, isolating China. A U.N. resolution, in short, may be possible.

All this will be difficult to pull off. If we are serious about isolating Iran, though, we may no longer have a choice. The alternative, after all, is listening to Iran dictate what the rules mean.

The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC), is a 501 (c)3 nonpartisan, nonprofit, educational organization
founded in 1994 to promote a better understanding of strategic weapons proliferation issues. NPEC educates policymakers, journalists,
and university professors about proliferation threats and possible new policies and measures to meet them.
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