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NPT According to US

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Current warmongering rhetoric coming out of the Bush administration has only one message for Iran: Article 4 of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that guarantees an inalienable right to enrich uranium does not apply to Iran.  Although this strategy is totally against the spirit of NPT, and since there is not a single piece of solid evidence which would show that Iran has been engaged in proliferation of nuclear weapons, the US government still continues to threaten Iran with military strikes, all in violation of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  In the larger context of this issue, the US government is conveying to the member countries that Article 4 can only be exercised by those countries that are considered a client state of the US.  A corollary to this US position is that in order to retain the technological edge of Israel’s nuclear know how, no country in the Middle East, friend or foe, can be trusted with nuclear fuel enrichment capabilities, even for peaceful purposes, and future intentions is claimed by the US government to be a source of concern and national security.

The recent escalation of Washington’s fear mongering on Iran’s nuclear capability can be attributed to two reasons.  First, it provides another opportunity for the Republicans to win the national election in 2008 by scaring voters to a doomsday scenario where only a Republican candidate can handle a disastrous conflagration, such as a WWIII conflict, with Iran.  Secondly, relentless pressures from Israeli lobby groups are so severe that no political figure present or future can accept Iran’s rightful nascent peaceful enrichment capability and survive an orchestrated backlash at the polls from AIPAC or other similar groups.  Recent comments by GOP presidential hopefuls are nothing short of a disgrace for a country based on the rule of law and integrity--Huckabee on CNN Late Edition commented “we will bankrupt them before we bomb them.”   If an ordained minister is audacious enough to make such a rabid comment, then what can we expect from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity?

This enrichment paranoia that has dominated Washington’s intransigent foreign policy towards Iran is worth further discussion.  Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility is an IAEA safeguarded facility that is being monitored 24/7 by cameras, sensors, and short notice visits of IAEA inspectors that are residing in Iran.  Any deviation towards weapon grade enrichment levels (i.e., going from 5% to 90% pure uranium hexafluoride) will require a non-trivial redesign of the centrifuge cascade that could take months before producing any fissile material for a bomb.  Within hours of such a flagrant violation of the safeguard agreement, the UN Security Council would be in a position to call for a special security session and pass a resolution to condemn the act and even approve a military retaliation, within the guidelines of the UN Charter.   The White House knows this full well, but its aim, as reiterated by Bush and Rice recently, is much more sinister: the current policy is to go after Iran’s nuclear technology knowledge; the non-existent nuclear weapons program is no longer mentioned as they did a few weeks ago. 

While this might have been a sensible demand two years ago, it is unfortunately too late now.  Even Bolton has admitted as much.   Probably one of the reasons that the publication of National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran has been delayed by this White House is that the fair and balanced assessment from more than half a dozen US intelligence agencies still project a suspected Iranian bomb not to be ready until 2015 at the earliest.  It would be interesting to know if Cheney’s office, as they did during the run-up to the Iraq war, continues to meddle into the work of CIA experts so as to get a “desirable” (to them) NIE report on Iran.

Every effort has been made to dissuade Iran from proceeding with its safeguarded enrichment activity.  Rose Gottemoelle of Carnegie Endowment reports that Putin on his recent trip to Tehran reiterated a non-official proposal from two years ago to have Iran suspend activities at the Natanz until the UN Security Council would sort out what to do with the sanctions and Iran’s rights under Article 4 of NPT.   Although the Russians are obviously decades ahead of Iran in terms of efficiency of centrifuge design, the fact that Iran will depend on Russia for fueling its planned 20,000 mega watt nuclear reactors would be a recipe for disaster.  Europeans and Russia do not have a good track record for honoring previous agreements to provide fuel for Iran’s only almost completed nuclear reactor at Bushehr.  Currently Russia is bowing to US pressure and delaying fuel delivery for Bushehr, but will they use future discussions with Iran on the Caspian Sea partitioning to delay delivery?

If Iran decides to forego its domestic enrichment capability and rely on foreign fuel support for the planned nuclear power generated electricity, it would be prudent for the country to look for alternative sources of energy than becoming dependent on nuclear fuel in the stormy politics of Middle East from countries that are not reliable. 

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Nader Bagherzadeh is a professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of California, Irvine. He regularly writes and lectures on the broad aspects of Iran's nuclear program.

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