I ran has two months to prove that it has nothing to hide about its nuclear programs. Last weekend, the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution calling for an immediate halt to the country’s uranium enrichment-related activities. The unanimous resolution said Tehran should meet all demands by the agency by late November, when the board is scheduled to hold its next session.
Iran, however, reacted defiantly to the resolution, saying its nuclear activities are designed strictly for power generation. Still, there is persistent suspicion that it may be trying to develop nuclear weapons through uranium enrichment. The Iranian government, if it is really committed to a peaceful nuclear program, should do everything it can to dispel the suspicion by accepting full U.N. inspections and taking stronger confidence-building measures.
Iran’s nuclear activity is a long story dating back many years, but it was not until after February last year that IAEA inspections raised concerns about a clandestine experiment with uranium enrichment. Following talks with Britain and two other European states, Iran suspended the work and signed the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, making clear that it had no intentions of developing nuclear weapons.
However, Iranian responses so far have proven not only inadequate but also inconsistent, prompting the IAEA to adopt resolutions calling for full cooperation. In July this year, Iran resumed assembling centrifuges for enrichment and declared a uranium conversion program that could produce enough enriched uranium to make several atomic bombs.
It is only natural, therefore, that the latest resolution should have expressed “serious concern” about those activities. The governing board, which is set to meet Nov. 25, says it will then determine whether Iran’s nuclear programs are really intended for peaceful purposes. As such, Saturday’s resolution should be seen as the “ultimatum” to Tehran.
The IAEA says it might consider “further steps” on the basis of a report from its secretary general, Mohamed ElBaradei. The United States takes the hardline position that if Iran does not comply, it should be referred to the U.N. Security Council — a move that could lead to the imposition of sanctions. If Tehran wants to avoid such consequences, it must provide bona-fide cooperation to clear up any doubts about its nuclear intentions. Halfway diplomatic deals or makeshift responses will not resolve the standoff.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, while rejecting the resolution, said the country would nonetheless continue with its voluntary suspension of the critical part of the enrichment process — “actual enrichment” — that could produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel. But he left open the possibility that hardline conservatives at home might pressure the government to withdraw from the NPT if the Security Council decided to impose sanctions.
The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush, which is concerned that certain nonnuclear states are using NPT provisions as “loopholes” for nuclear weapons development, is determined to restrict civilian nuclear-fuel production by nonnuclear have-nots. But countries critical of U.S. policy have a degree of sympathy toward Iran, believing that the U.S. is curbing nonnuclear nations’ rights to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and that the nuclear monopoly by a handful of nuclear states is making the NPT an unequal treaty.
The NPT system has serious flaws and dilemmas, as shown by the open possession of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, North Korea’s suspected nuclear-weapons programs and the existence of an international “nuclear black market.” The nuclear-weapons states, meanwhile, have made little progress toward nuclear disarmament. Iran, which has been branded a “rogue state” by the Bush administration, sees the U.S. strategy of preemption as a threat to its security.
Not a few countries are also critical of what they see as “double standards” in U.S. nuclear policy — blaming Iran, for example, while winking at Israel. The U.S. is also seen as patronizing Pakistan, a beachhead in the U.S.-led antiterror campaign, despite its leading role in the nuclear black market.
The NPT recognizes the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. But claiming this right is one thing; conducting suspect nuclear activities is quite another. Recent disclosures about South Korea’s undeclared uranium-enrichment experiment immediately come to mind. The question at stake is whether nuclear programs by nonnuclear states are strictly peaceful or not. Iran must take the IAEA resolution seriously.
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