the Iran nuclear facts, not the
threats By Peter Jenkins
President Barack Obama's re-election last
month raised hopes that the US government would at
last be in a position, politically, to work with
Iran towards a negotiated settlement centered on
confidence-building and the provisions of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This was
the basis of the understanding reached this April
in Istanbul. It was therefore a little puzzling
that during the International Atomic Energy
Association (IAEA) Board of
Governors meeting on November 29, the US
representative was once more engaging in a
diplomacy of threats and ultimata.
issue under discussion was the absence of progress
in relation to clarifying concerns about past, but
also possibly ongoing, Iranian activities of a
non-peaceful nuclear nature, often referred to as
a "possible military dimension" (PMD). The US
representative asserted that Iran could not be
allowed indefinitely to ignore "its obligations"
and implied that in the event of a continuing
absence of progress when the Board meets in March,
the US will argue for Iran to be found in
non-compliance with those obligations.
This raises two questions. To what extent
is Iran in non-compliance with its IAEA
obligations in failing to cooperate to resolve
these concerns? And, is Iran likely to become more
cooperative as a result of this threat?
is widely accepted that Iran's safeguards
agreement with the IAEA entitles the agency
secretariat to verify not only that all nuclear
material declared by Iran remains in peaceful use,
but also that such declarations are correct and
(most importantly) complete.
paragraph 73 of the standard NPT safeguards
agreement (to which Iran is subject) states that
the IAEA may request a special inspection if it
deems information made available by a state
inadequate for the Agency to fulfill its official
So, insofar as Iran is
failing to cooperate to resolve concerns which may
reasonably imply the existence of undeclared
nuclear material, there is a case for saying that
Iran is in breach of its obligation to cooperate.
However, in this instance it's
questionable whether all the activities for which
Iranian cooperation has been sought imply with
adequate credibility the possibility of undeclared
nuclear material. These activities were described
in the annex to GOV/2011/65 of 8 November 2011
(the IAEA report used to build support for further
sanctions at the turn of the year). A careful
reading of that annex suggests that several of
these activities, maybe even the majority of them,
would not have involved nuclear material.
Of course it could be argued that PMD
activities not involving nuclear material, such as
missile warhead design work, can imply that at
some future stage a state intends to acquire
nuclear material which it does not intend to
declare. That, however, seems a very tenuous basis
on which to base an IAEA non-compliance finding.
Moreover, it would also imply that all states that
have engaged, even as a precautionary measure, in
research into any aspect of the design or
construction of nuclear devices should be found
So, my first conclusion is
that if the US decides in March to accuse Iran of
fresh non-compliance, it should take care to focus
the accusation on activities that can reasonably
be suspected of involving the use of nuclear
material and are manifestly not the figment of
some other state's imagination.
to come to my second question, is proceeding in
that way likely to be productive? The experience
of the last seven years suggests not. Each time
the West has resorted to punitive or coercive
measures to influence Iranian behavior, the
results have been either unproductive or, worse,
counterproductive. Iran was far more cooperative
when, between October 2003 and April 2005, a less
aggressive diplomacy was used to influence Iran's
Furthermore, for some time there
have been hints that Iran's failure to cooperate
in resolving PMD concerns is not its last word. On
the contrary, cooperation can be expected in
return for Western flexibility on sanctions and
certain assurances in the context of an overall
settlement based on the provisions of a treaty to
which Iran insists it's committed to, the NPT.
Moreover, if Iranian suspicion of Western
good faith is one of the greatest obstacles to
achieving an agreement, then the priority in the
coming months should be to overcome that
suspicion. This will not be achieved by seeking
yet again to unite the IAEA Board in a humiliating
condemnation of Iran, least of all if the legal
grounds for that condemnation are not watertight.
On the contrary, securing a further IAEA
non-compliance finding would be a rum way to go
about convincing Iran's Supreme Leader that the US
should no longer be seen as the Great Satan.
If, nonetheless, the US persists on the
non-compliance course and succeeds, what then?
Will Russia and China allow Iran to be penalized
in the absence of evidence that it has decided to
make nuclear weapons and therefore constitutes a
genuine threat to international peace and
security? If they do, will Iran pay any more heed
to such a resolution than it has to the five
previous Chapter VII resolutions of dubious
It's certainly desirable that
light be shed on suspected research into nuclear
warhead construction and delivery, especially if
it involved or involves undeclared nuclear
material. But at last US voters have created
political space for the West to revert to less
aggressive, less confrontational tactics. At last
the West can afford to experiment with a more
exploratory, empathetic approach. It would be a
pity to squander that opportunity.
Peter Jenkins is a former United
Kingdom ambassador to the International Atomic
Energy Association (IAEA). The opinions expressed
are his own.
Used with permission
Jim Lobe's blog on foreign policy.