The 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late last month adopted a resolution that criticized Iran’s response over its nuclear development problem and, although postponing referral to the United Nations Security Council, warned that the issue might be referred in the future. The situation gives cause for concern because Iran’s immediate rejection of the resolution underlines the possibility that it might start full-scale uranium-enrichment activities any time.
The resolution recognized that Iran has violated the safeguards agreement and called into question the Iranian position that its nuclear development program is purely for peaceful purposes. Iran should seriously pay heed to this resolution and again search for a way to a diplomatic solution so that a decision to refer the issue to the Security Council can be avoided at the next IAEA board of governors meeting in November. Iran should refrain from raising tensions in the international community by spreading suspicions that its ultimate aim is to develop nuclear weapons.
Because of the breakdown of negotiations with Britain, France, and Germany that had continued since last year, the Iranian government in August resumed its uranium-enrichment program. In response, the IAEA unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Tehran to immediately stop its conversion work and continue its cessation of uranium-enrichment activities. The problem is that the vicious circle of agreement violation, censure resolution and temporary compromise has simply gone on for far too long.
The question of Iran’s secret promotion of nuclear development in the past and repeated violation of the safeguards agreement was brought up at the IAEA board meeting again this time. Because Iran has been suspected in the past of concealing its operations, its response is always met with mistrust and arouses further suspicions about its nuclear-weapons development. In order to prove that its nuclear development is for peaceful purposes only, Tehran has to ensure transparency and implement confidence-building measures.
Underlying the nuclear debate is the problem of how far the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which is stipulated in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), should be recognized. Against the background of nuclear development by Iran and North Korea, and bearing in mind the breakdown of the NPT review conference in May, the problem of the rebuilding of the nuclear nonproliferation regime was also a major theme at the IAEA general conference held after the board meeting.
Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took power, Iran has assumed a hardline stance, insisting that its establishment of a nuclear fuel cycle, including uranium enrichment, is an indigenous right of the state. The three European countries (Britain, France and Germany) proposed assistance for the construction of a light-water reactor and the provision of nuclear fuel in return for Iran’s abandoning its development of a nuclear fuel cycle, but Tehran rejected the offer.
There is a deep-rooted mistrust among the nonaligned countries that the nuclear states are restricting nonnuclear nations’ right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Also at the board meeting, some nations voiced support for Iran’s position. It was unusual that the resolution was adopted by majority vote when China, Russia and nonaligned countries abstained. However, there is widespread concern that if Iran were to possess its own nuclear fuel cycle, it could initiate the development of nuclear weapons at any time. In the past the IAEA has repeatedly pointed out Iran’s violation of the safeguards agreement. If Tehran is going to talk about its rights, it must first dispel these suspicions by taking convincing action.
Secretary Ali Larijani of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council has hinted that if the matter were referred to the U.N. Security Council, Iran would retaliate by withdrawing from the NPT and reviewing oil-field development contracts that it has concluded with foreign countries, including Japan. Furthermore, Iran is reported to be considering the suspension of its cooperation with the additional protocol, which permits compulsory inspections by the IAEA.
It is still possible, however, for Iran’s nuclear problem to be solved within the framework of the IAEA. There is also time before the next board meeting for negotiations with the three European countries. To avoid a worsening of the situation through Iran’s isolation in the international community, Tehran should exercise self-restraint and refrain from engaging in uranium-enrichment activities.
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