Monday, April 13, 2015

The Obama Administration's Nonproliferation Hypocrisy

By David Gerstman

I visited the State Department's website earlier this week and I was greeted by an item hailing the 45th anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

After hailing the treaty the article goes on to say more explicitly, "[i]f we didn’t already have the NPT, we would desperately need it today."

A couple of paragraphs later the article boasts about the latest efforts to strengthen the NPT:
The United States is committed to strengthening the nonproliferation regime and the authority of the International Atomic Energy Agency to implement nuclear safeguards -- a set of measures to verify that nuclear materials are used for peaceful purposes. The Treaty provides the foundation and context to resolve outstanding challenges to the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The ongoing negotiations with Iran provide the best diplomatic path forward for Iran to return to full compliance with the NPT.

The IAEA instills confidence among all NPT parties that a state’s civil nuclear energy is not being diverted into a nefarious weapons program. In New York, the United States will promote the IAEA Additional Protocol, now recognized as the foremost international standard for safeguards that provides the IAEA with the authority to ensure that all nuclear material is used for peaceful purposes, in accordance with the NPT.

The idea that the protocols (remember there's no deal yet) agreed to last week somehow would strengthen the NPT is utterly false.

The point of the ongoing nuclear negotiations from Iran's standpoint is to remove its violations from the books and end the sanctions it incurred for those violations. Iran's goal in the negotiations is to enshrine its "right to enrich" uranium. (No such right exists. Nuclear research for peaceful purposes is a right, an important qualification that cannot be attached to Iran's nuclear research, according to the NPT.)

In July 2006, having failed to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) demands to explain its past nuclear research, Iran was ordered by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 to suspend uranium enrichment and other nuclear R&D activities within 30 days unless it complied with the IAEA. Iran continued defying the Security Council and in December Resolution 1737 was passed, the first resolution (of 5) imposing economic sanctions on Iran for its NPT violations (and failure to explain its work satisfactorily to the IAEA.)

According to the American version of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), when Iran satisfies all of its requirements, a new Security Council resolution will be drawn up to replace the previous six:
All past UN Security Council resolutions on the Iran nuclear issue will be lifted simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).

However, core provisions in the UN Security Council resolutions – those that deal with transfers of sensitive technologies and activities – will be re-established by a new UN Security Council resolution that will endorse the JCPOA and urge its full implementation. It will also create the procurement channel mentioned above, which will serve as a key transparency measure. Important restrictions on conventional arms and ballistic missiles, as well as provisions that allow for related cargo inspections and asset freezes, will also be incorporated by this new resolution.

Now let's assume the most optimistic outcome: that Iran addresses all key concerns. (Iran was supposed to explain possible military dimensions - PMD - of its nuclear work according to the Joint Plant of Action (JPOA) of November 2013, and still has not done so.) Iran would still have over 5000 centrifuges enriching uranium at Natanz. Iran would have centrifuges operating (though not enriching uranium) in an underground reinforced facility at Fordow and would have a heavy water reactor operating at Arak. (In December 2013, Obama himself acknowledged that Iran did not need the latter two facilities "to have a peaceful nuclear program.")

So by defying the IAEA and the Security Council Iran will be awarded 5000 centrifuges enriching uranium that it didn't have before. The sanctions triggered by those violations will be wiped away. (By the way, 5000 centrifuges is enough for a bomb, but not for civilian nuclear program.)

(And if Iran doesn't address all key concerns, what then? Will the Obama administration have the guts to walk away? Or is President Obama so invested in the success of his Iranian outreach that he'll move forward to remove the sanctions anyway? The record on this isn't promising. Though Obama insists that Iran observed the terms of the JPOA, that isn't true. As noted above, Iran never addressed the PMD issue. Also in a clear violation of the JPOA, Iran tested an advanced centrifuge. When challenged Iran stopped; but later the administration downgraded the violation to "probably a mistake.")

The administration characterizes the NPT as essential, but by removing the enforcement mechanisms for Iran's violations, they are gutting the NPT.

Ironically, the president overseeing the destruction of the NPT was once a proponent of nuclear disarmament. The administration continues to forge ahead with its nuclear diplomacy despite regular rebuffs from Iran's supreme leader. The administration also has trouble comprehending criticisms that contain too many big words and seems more focused on sticking it to Netanyahu than in preventing Iran from going nuclear.

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