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No One Has the Inherent Right to Enrich

By Nader Bagherzadeh

Source: The New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources

According to Wendy Sherman who is the U.S. negotiator for the P5+1 group, on October 3rd at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iran said that “... no country has the inherent right to enrich uranium.” Her position is that Article IV of Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not spell out enrichment specifically at all, and she does have a point, if one reviews this Article as it is written, but her conclusion is wrong. Here is the text of Article IV:

Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the 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.

According to legal experts, NPT only restates some of the inalienable rights of member countries; it does not give them those rights, because they already had them prior to the creation of NPT in 1968. The fact that Article IV is so vague on enrichment does not prevent sovereign countries to establish domestic Uranium enrichment, if they choose to do so. One could interpret Article IV, as US officials may have done so, to mean having access to peaceful nuclear energy, which is more about building and designing nuclear power plants than having the right to enrich Uranium for the reactor fuel. A relevant example to explain this misunderstanding of the inalienable rights is that Ford makes cars which includes designing the engine, type of fuel, transmission, and other details, but doesn’t produce the actual fuel, Exxon does.

This narrow interpretation was also reiterated by Obama during his UN speech at the General Assembly this year. He said “...we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy,” which as Susan Rice said in Farid Zakari’s GPS program, those words were carefully selected. That statement by Obama does not support enrichment but emphasizes having the right to access nuclear power plants, similar to the plan of United Arab Emirates to have South Koreans build nuclear power plants in that part of the Persian Gulf.

By comparison, Iranian officials have made the right to enrich as the focus of their demand for negotiations with the US. No one has made it clearer than Rohani in his speech at the UN General Assembly. He said:

...acceptance of and respect for the implementation of the right to enrichment inside Iran and enjoyment of other related nuclear rights....Nuclear knowledge in Iran has been domesticated now and the nuclear technology, inclusive of enrichment, has already reached industrial scale. It is, therefore, an illusion, and extremely unrealistic, to presume that the peaceful nature of the nuclear program of lran could be ensured through impeding the program via illegitimate pressures...

Currently there are three camps in the US regarding Iran’s enrichment activity. One group which includes most of the US Congress and many pundits around Washington, under the pressure from Israel lobby and the war party, repeat Netanyahu’s demand for zero enrichment and total dismantling of all nuclear facilities. The second group, which includes some of the Obama administration officials, tacitly may accept a major scaled back of the program with limited enrichment capacity, meaning many existing facilities have to be dismantled, including the difficult to attack enrichment site at Fordo. Finally, there is a very small group of mostly liberal individuals that agree with Rohani’s position of Iran’s right to enrich with full transparency under the auspices of the Additional Protocol’s (AP) tighter inspection regime.

Since the two sides are so far apart on the enrichment issue, it would be challenging to even predict what the outcome of these negotiations will be. Even in the unlikely scenario that the second idea of limited enrichment is acceptable by both sides, there are major obstacles regarding its implementation or interpretation. Since the US Congress is not on board with any enrichment, then the relaxation of sanctions will be limited to what Obama can approve under the executive order power given to him by the Constitution. He will not be able to reverse the laws passed against Iran in the form of unilateral sanctions by the Congress.

The second problem is that agreeing to any Iranian enrichment by the US will be interpreted by allies as recognizing the Islamic Republic in the same category of trusted friends as Brazil and Japan which have their own domestic enrichment facilities. Although US does not recognize the rights of Brazil and Japan to enrich but does not object to it by threatening to derail their programs, as is the case currently for Iran. This will impact the current impasse with South Korea, a major ally with a thriving nuclear reactor industry that has been demanding permission to enrich and reprocess nuclear material, but has failed to come to an agreement with the US.

Judging from recent comments by the US officials which have been reconfirmed by the Iranian officials, the impacts of sanctions since Obama took charge of the US government have been devastating for ordinary Iranians. Therefore, it will be unlikely for the US officials to accept a win-win arrangement on the nuclear issue when these draconian and illegal sanctions are finally bearing fruit and hurting Iran’s economy. They find the moderation and prudence approach of Rohani on the nuclear file as a sign of weakness and not a new thinking in Tehran from the position of strength towards rapprochement with the West.

... Payvand News - 10/09/13 ... --

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