Iran, an op-ed in the The New York Times reported yesterday, began operation of a group of uranium enrichment centrifuges, thus
violating a legally binding demand by the United Nations Security Council that Iran suspend such activities until the international community is confident that the countryâ€™s nuclear program â€œis for exclusively peaceful purposes.â€ Iranâ€™s response was that a suspension would abrogate its rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty â€“ even though under international law, it has temporarily surrendered these rights by violating the obligations that condition them.
the â€œobligationsâ€ in question are compliance with the Security Council
resolution calling on it to suspend uranium enrichment activities.
Complying with the resolution is a â€œconditionâ€ of the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT Treaty), according to the Times.
This is useful propaganda, but incorrect. (Incidentally, the Times
seems to have had a hard time of things getting it right on Iranâ€™s
nuclear program. In just one notable example, last month the Times
reported that Iranâ€™s heavy-water reactor at Arak was â€œinherently
dangerous for nuclear proliferationâ€ because it could more easily
produce â€œweapons-grade plutoniumâ€ than light-water reactors. In some
cases, the Times reported, â€œuranium is transformed into
plutonium.â€ Uranium, of course, cannot be â€œtransformedâ€ into plutonium.
To the best of my knowledge, this glaring error was left uncorrected.)
The NPT Treaty obligates parties to â€œundertake to accept safeguardsâ€ under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) â€œfor the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treatyâ€, which are to prevent the use of nuclear technology to construct weapons.
These safeguards â€œshall be implemented in a manner designed to comply with Article IV of this Treaty, and to avoid hampering the economic or technological development of the Parties...â€
Article IV states that â€œNothing 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....â€
In short, under the NPT Treaty, Iran is obligated to allow the IAEA to inspect and verify that nuclear technology is being used for peaceful purposes only. But this obligation does not affect Iranâ€™s â€œinalienable rightâ€ to further its development, including the process of uranium enrichment, for peaceful purposes.
The Times isnâ€™t alone in getting it wrong on Iran. A report from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in August claimed that Iran was â€œenriching uranium to weapons gradeâ€. The IAEA, in a letter to the Chairman of the Committee, pointed out that this was â€œincorrectâ€. Iranâ€™s uranium is not enriched to weapons-grade and has a legitimate peaceful purpose.
As for the UN resolution demanding that Iran halt enrichment activities, resolution 1696 notes â€œwith serious concernâ€ that â€œIran has not taken the steps required of it by the IAEA Board of Governors, reiterated by the Council in its statements of 29 March and which are essential to build confidence, and in particular Iranâ€™s decision to resume enrichment-related activities....â€
Iranâ€™s suspension of enrichment-related activities had been voluntary, not an act of compliance with any obligation under the NPT Treaty. Nor does the NPT Treaty require Iran to take steps prejudicing its right to enrich uranium in order to â€œbuild confidenceâ€. Iran must allow the IAEA to inspect its programs, but it is under no obligation to suspend legitimate activities. In fact, although the IAEA may make such a request of Iran, it would be a violation of the NPT Treaty on the part of the IAEA to make this a requirement, as it would be clearly be an act prejudicing Iranâ€™s right to enrich uranium for non-military purposes.
The language of the resolution is thus carefully vetted. It â€œCalls upon Iran without further delay to take the steps required by the IAEA Board of Governors in its resolution GOV/2006/14â€ and â€œDemands, in this context, that Iran shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities...â€ (â€œthis contextâ€ emphasis added). The UN Security Council has no more authority than the IAEA to issue such â€œdemandsâ€ absent clear evidence that such activities are intended for military purposes, as it prejudices Iranâ€™s rights under the NPT Treaty.
The demand is in the â€œcontextâ€ of the IAEA resolution, which clearly recognizes that â€œArticle IV of the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons stipulates that nothing in the Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable rights of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination...â€
The IAEA resolution â€œExpresses serious concernâ€ that the Agency could not yet â€œclarify some important issuesâ€ and â€œDeeply regretsâ€ that Iran had disinclined to acquiesce to requests to re-suspend enrichment activities after ending a voluntary suspension. It â€œRequestsâ€ that Iran â€œextend full and prompt cooperation to the Agencyâ€. This, Iran, under the NPT Treaty, must do. But â€œcooperationâ€ cannot be interpreted, under the Treaty, to include acquiescing to requests that prejudice its rights to enrich uranium.
then, is the â€œcontextâ€ of the UN â€œdemandâ€. Iran is under no obligation
to acquiesce to â€œdemandsâ€ that prejudice its rights under the NPT
Treaty, and any demand which prejudice Iranâ€™s rights is itself a
violation of the Treaty. While â€œIranâ€™s responseâ€ is dismissed, Iran is
correct that â€œa suspension would abrogate its rights under the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treatyâ€. Furthermore, Iran has â€œsurrenderedâ€ none of
its rights by claiming its rights under the Treaty and refusing to
acquiesce to requests and demands that prejudice those same rights in
violation of the very same Treaty.
 George Perkovich and Pierre Goldschmidt, â€œA Limited Time Offer to Iranâ€, Op-Ed, The New York Times, December 2, 2006
 William J. Broad, â€œAs Iran Seeks Aid, Atom Agency Faces Quandryâ€, The New York Times, November 20, 2006
 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, April 22, 1970
 Letter from the IAEA to Peter Hoekstra, Chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, September 9, 2006
 UN Security Council resolution 1696, July 31, 2006
 IAEA resolution GOV/2006/14, â€œImplementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement in the Islamic Republic of Iranâ€, February 4, 2006