by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 9, Muharram, 1436)
Demands of the P5+1, led by the US of the Islamic Republic in the nuclear talks are so outlandish that they may derail the entire process.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been involved in talks over its peaceful nuclear program with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany for many years. These talks intensified last year after the election of Hassan Rohani as president of Iran. Last November, an interim agreement was signed under which Iran agreed to suspend some of it enrichment activities in return for relief of some US sanctions that have been in place for more than three decades.
This month (November 24) marks a deadline by which a final agreement has to be signed. While not written in stone, there is realization on both sides that if a comprehensive deal is not reached by this date, it might cause major complications for future negotiations. In recent weeks officials from both sides have issued optimistic statements that a deal could be reached by the due date. As recently as October 27, President Hassan Rohani while receiving the Norwegian ambassador to Tehran said that a deal would be reached. Wendy Sherman, the US chief nuclear negotiator said on October 23 that some of America’s allies and members of Congress did not want the deal. Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Sherman said, “Some worry that it will fail. Others seem to fear that it will succeed. Many have questions and doubts.”
What is holding up the deal and what possibly could derail it? Before addressing this issue, we must first outline what are Iran’s rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which it is a signatory. Under the terms of the NPT, Iran is entitled to uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes as well as for research. Other NPT members are obliged to assist Iran in this quest. Further, if there is no diversion of enriched uranium for military purposes, then Iran is entitled to enrich to 20% or more. Other NPT members — Japan, Brazil, etc. — are allowed to do so.
To demonstrate that its activities are completely legal, Tehran has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access to its nuclear facilities. The IAEA has carried out more than 7,000 person-hours of inspections over the last 10 years. It has found no evidence of any illegal diversion. This has also been corroborated by 16 US intelligence agencies. Yet, Iran is not only accused of surreptitiously working on making the bomb but it has also been referred to the Security Council where under US pressure, a raft of sanctions have been imposed on the Islamic Republic. These are illegal and a clear violation of the NPT as well as international law.
During negotiations, it has become clear that the US and its allies are making illegal demands of Iran that go beyond the NPT requirements. They want Iran to cap enrichment at 5%, limit its reserves of enriched uranium, drastically limit the number of centrifuges in operation and even limit nuclear research and development. Further, the US and its allies through the IAEA are asking Iran to open its military bases for “inspections.” These are essentially spying missions whose purpose is to find out Iran’s military capabilities and have nothing to do with nuclear activities. The excuse for such ludicrous demands is that Iran may have carried out tests for nuclear warheads at some of these military sites. On earlier occasions, Iran had allowed the IAEA access to these sites but the organization wants to make it a regular feature of its intrusive sniffing program.
While these demands are being made of Iran, the US has given no indication as to how it intends to remove the illegal sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic. What Washington has said is that it would suspend some sanctions but not eliminate them. Further, what sanctions would be suspended is also not clear. What is clear that the UN imposed sanctions would remain in place.
So what the US is demanding of Iran is that it should expose itself to Western spying in return for promises of some sanctions relief in the future.
Does this sound like a good deal? No person in his right mind would accept this as fair or reasonable. One wonders why the US thinks it can make such preposterous demands and others must accept them?
Unless the US returns to legality, there is a risk that the current round of negotiations will not succeed. The responsibility for such failure will lie entirely with the US.