For a practical solution

Published : Oct 21, 2005 00:00 IST

Iranian students demonstrate in front of the British embassy in Teheran in support of Iran's nuclear programme. - HASAN SARBAKHSHIAN/AP

Iranian students demonstrate in front of the British embassy in Teheran in support of Iran's nuclear programme. - HASAN SARBAKHSHIAN/AP

If India means well for Iran, rather than extending spineless support for illegitimate punitive actions it should explore its diplomatic channels to ensure a fair deal.

THE vote on the Iran nuclear issue on September 24 at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) marked a departure from what has come to be called the "spirit of Vienna". Traditionally, the IAEA's 35-member Board of Governors, of which India is permanent member, has adopted resolutions by consensus. Although the board's "Rules and Procedures" do allow decision-making by majority vote, the last instance of a board vote was 12 years ago. In that instance the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) non-compliance with nuclear safeguards under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a far more serious breach of obligations than the present one, was referred to the U.N. Security Council.

At that time, interestingly, India had abstained on the grounds that the issue was based on the NPT to which it was not a signatory because it regarded it as discriminatory. Today, India's perceptions have clearly changed. Along with the United States and the rest of the developed world, India voted for the board's resolution paving the way for the referral of Iran's case to the Security Council.

Analysts call such decision-making "realpolitik". However, viewed in the context of India's post-Pokhran status, it amounts to rank opportunism. Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapon development, if a nuclear-armed DPRK were acceptable, a nuclear-armed Iran should be equally so. With its new-found recognition as a de facto nuclear weapon state, as is clear from the India-U.S. nuclear deal of July 19, India now feels obliged to join the orchestrated chorus on non-proliferation of the masters who have conferred that status upon it.

India was one of the 22 to vote in favour of referral. In doing so, it joined Ecuador, Ghana, Peru and Singapore in breaking ranks with the other nine non-aligned countries on the IAEA Board. While Venezuela cast the lone vote against the U.S.-backed resolution, the remaining eight joined China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico in abstaining. Securing Indian support was vitally important to the U.S., not because breaking Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) solidarity carried any significance in this forum, but, as Nicholas Burns, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, stated, a resolution with India's backing was "a blow to Iran's attempt to turn this into a developed-world-versus-developing-world debate".

Referral to the Security Council follows from Articles III B 4 and XII C of the IAEA Statute. Article III B 4 concerns the functions of the Agency and states: "... [I]f, in connection with the activities of the Agency, there should arise questions that are within the competence of the Security Council, the Agency shall notify the Security Council, as the organ bearing the main responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security... ". Article XII C concerns safeguards and, inter alia, the functions of the Board. It states: "... The inspectors shall report any non-compliance to the Director-General who shall thereupon transmit the report to the Board of Governors. The Board shall call upon the recipient state or states to remedy forthwith any non-compliance which it finds to have occurred. The Board shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations."

DOUBTS about the objectives of the Iranian nuclear programme surfaced in August 2002 following claims made by the dissident Iranian group, the National Council for Resistance (NCR), the political arm of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq (MEK), now declared by the U.S. as a terrorist organisation. It is possible that the dissidents had their own agenda, but suspicions were strengthened in December 2002 by satellite images of the construction of the fuel facility at Natanz and the heavy water research reactor at Arak, provided by David Albright and Corey Hinderstein. In response to these revelations, IAEA Director-General Mohammad El-Baradei has been submitting quarterly reports to the board on the implementation of the Safeguards Agreement in Iran (an NPT signatory) since February 2003. The latest of these reports, presented by the Director-General on September 2, stated that Iran had failed to meet its obligations to the IAEA with regard to timely declarations of several fuel-cycle related activities, in particular uranium conversion and enrichment.

These are legitimate activities for a non-nuclear weapon state under the NPT, provided they are for peaceful purposes and are under IAEA safeguards. For instance, Iran did not have to declare the Natanz and Arak facilities since the safeguards arrangement at the time required the IAEA to be notified only six months before the introduction of material into these facilities. Iran has claimed that these are part of its peaceful nuclear programme which includes a long-term strategy for establishing 6000 MWe of nuclear power by 2020. But the fact remains that the IAEA had determined that Iran had failed to provide timely and complete declarations of all its activities as required by the Safeguards Agreement (signed in 1974) and the Subsidiary Arrangement (signed in 2003). Iran has since sought to explain its apparent failures and cooperated with the IAEA in inspections to verify that its nuclear activities are indeed peaceful. To date, the Agency has not been able to find any incriminating evidence of weapon-related activity, and in most instances has found Iran's explanations and the documentary proofs provided to be satisfactory.

There have been several rounds of inspection that have included those normally only allowed by the IAEA's Additional Protocol agreement. This was signed by Iran in December 2003 but has not yet been ratified and, therefore, is technically not in force. Despite this, however, full and complete verification is apparently not yet possible. Given Iran's record of apparent breaches in the past, doubts about alleged undeclared activities (arising chiefly from U.S. intelligence reports) have persisted, giving rise to its longstanding conflict with the West at the IAEA. The U.S. in particular has adopted a hardline posture bordering on confrontation and demanded referral to the Security Council since October 2003 to force Iran to give up all fuel-cycle related activities. However, Iran has maintained, and rightly so, that it cannot be denied the "inalienable right" of pursuing these activities under the safeguards guaranteed by the NPT, vide Article IV. The net result is the current stand-off.

In contrast to the U.S. approach, the European troika of France, Germany and the United Kingdom (E.U.-3), supported by the High Representative of the European Union, has sought to pursue a reconciliatory approach so that diplomacy is given its due space. Following the Paris Agreement of November 2004 between the E.U.-3 and Iran, the troika has preferred to see if trade and economic incentives, including nuclear cooperation, the removal of trade embargoes and admission into the WTO (hitherto blocked by the U.S.), together with assurances on nuclear technology and fuel supplies, would make Iran give up this "inalienable right".

However, the trade-economy package that the E.U.-3 placed on the negotiating table in August falls well short of Iran's expectations. These had been previously articulated in a proposal given at a steering committee meeting in March. It is, to say the least, positively vague on crucial elements, particularly with regard to "firm commitments" on sustained fuel supply previously agreed to in Paris. India knows from the Tarapur experience how unreliable international suppliers can be. In fact, the reason Iran embarked on the route of self-reliance in fuel-cycle is precisely that it too has suffered in the past: from the German abandonment of the Bushehr power plant project in the wake of the Islamic revolution in 1979 to the denial of enriched uranium by the Eurodif consortium despite Iran's 10 per cent stake in it and the subsequent U.S. renegation on a fuel contract.

The phrase "firm commitment", in fact, appears nowhere in the E.U.-3 proposal, which now speaks only of arriving at a framework to ensure fuel supply. However, there are no details of what such a framework is likely to be. It also mentions the creation of buffer fuel stock in a "third country". Why should it be in a third country and not under safeguards in Iran itself? In terms of technologies, there are only vague proposals for access through a market-based open tendering and competitive bidding mechanism.

Iran perceived this as an insincere attempt on the part of the E.U.-3 to arrive at a workable solution and a concerted move towards alignment with the U.S. It responded by resuming its uranium conversion (into uranium hexafluoride or HEX, the feed material into the centrifuge assembly for enrichment), which it had suspended as a "voluntary and non-legally binding confidence building measure" for the ongoing negotiations with the E.U.-3. Iran also removed the IAEA seals on the process lines and HEX stored at the Uranium Conversion Facility (UCF) at Esfahan. It is this resumption of uranium conversion activity (albeit under safeguards) that has triggered the heightened call, orchestrated by the U.S., for referral to the Security Council. Although the August 11 resolution of the IAEA Board, adopted by consensus, urged Iran to resume its voluntary suspension of all enrichment-related activities, it did not recommend a referral to the Security Council. The resolution also mandated the Director-General to submit a report on Iran before September 3.

On September 19 the board met to consider the Director-General's latest report and to decide a future course of action following Iran's refusal to reinstate the suspension of uranium conversion (which, as it has argued, does not even require to be put under safeguards and was suspended only voluntarily). The extended meeting finally resolved that Iran's "non-compliance" with the safeguards agreement and continued "concealment" of its activities warranted referral to the Security Council. Contrary to the proposed joint U.S.-U.K. draft resolution, the final resolution deferred any decision to a later meeting of the board in November. This was to allow lead-time, albeit unreasonably short, for the Director-General to bring Iran back to the negotiating table. However, given the hardened positions on both sides of the table now, if the issue is put to vote again, referral to the Security Council in November seems imminent. What action the Security Council will itself take remains to be seen; China and Russia, permanent members each holding vetoes, have opposed the referral.

The main thrust of the Director-General's report is that progress has been made since the comprehensive report of November 2004. This former report had outlined a number of breaches, namely, failure to declare importation of natural uranium and enrichment-related activities, separation and processing of plutonium samples by irradiating natural and depleted uranium oxide targets at the Esfahan Nuclear Technology Centre (ENTC), the existence of a pilot enrichment facility at the Kalaye Electric Company workshop and the laser enrichment plants at Teheran Nuclear Research Centre (TNRC) and at Lashkar A'bad, failure to provide design information with regard to the above facilities and a general statement about Iran's "failure on many occasions to cooperate to facilitate the implementation of safeguards, as evidenced by extensive concealment activities".

The Director-General reported: "... [a]s a result of corrective actions and other activities, the Agency was able by November 2004 to confirm certain aspects of Iran's declarations (related to conversion activities and laser enrichment), which... would be followed up as matters of routine safeguards implementation... " The statement implies that no major outstanding issue of concern remained as regards much of the enrichment-related activities.

But, most important, the report has said that, barring some discrepancies in the information with regard to the dates of plutonium research, "no additional failures have been identified". In particular, Iran's statements have been found to corroborate the Agency's findings on plutonium research. Similarly, it has found no undeclared uranium mining or milling activities at the Gchine Mines, but it is still to assess why Iran did not carry out any mining activity between 1993 and 2000. It has also sought further information from Iran on its efforts to acquire equipment for hot cells (used in plutonium reprocessing and separation) for its heavy water research reactor IR-40 currently under construction at Arak.

The report further said: "[T]he two important outstanding issues relevant to the Agency's efforts to provide assurance that there is no undeclared nuclear material and that there are no undeclared enrichment activities in Iran are the origin of LEU [Low Enriched Uranium] and HEU [High Enriched Uranium] particle contamination found at various locations in Iran; and the extent of Iran's efforts to import, manufacture and use centrifuges of both the P-1 and P-2 designs." As would be recalled, Iran has contended that the LEU and HEU particles found had been contaminated at source, that is, via imported centrifuge components. Iran has also stated, in this context, that it has never enriched uranium beyond 1.2 per cent of U-235. Subsequent investigations into the supply network, completed in April this year, have confirmed the Iranian stand; the origin of the HEU particles can be traced to parts supplied by the A.Q. Khan network in Pakistan. While investigations on the origin of LEU are still under way, indications are that on this issue too Iran is likely to be vindicated.

With regard to the issue of P-1 and P-2 centrifuge programmes, the report stated: "[T]he Agency has not yet been able to verify the correctness and completeness of Iran's statements... " As regards P-1 facility at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) Natanz, the IAEA awaits access to further documentation necessary to ascertain what led Iran to follow the gas centrifuge route. Legally speaking, this programme is outside the purview of the safeguards agreement; provisions of the Additional Protocol, which Iran has voluntarily offered to abide by even though it is yet to be legally enforced, would allow the IAEA access to related research and development as well as other activities. As regards P-2, the IAEA has not fully accepted Iran's contention that, despite the fact that it had acquired the technology in 1995, the project was suspended for seven years because of lack of finance and manpower. Iran stated in 2002 that it had succeeded in developing composite rotors a little earlier but no centrifuge assembly based on P-2 had been assembled. The IAEA has to satisfy itself that there is no undeclared centrifuge facility based on the P-2 design somewhere else in the country.

On Iran's cooperation and transparency, the report said: "Since December 2003, Iran has facilitated, in a timely manner, Agency access under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol to nuclear material and facilities... Iran has, since October 2003, provided the Agency, upon its request, and as a transparency measure, access to certain additional information and locations beyond that required under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol." Indeed, as many as 20 visits to undeclared sites, which included six at short notice of less than 24 hours, two of them less than two hours, were allowed to be undertaken by the Agency.

In its overall assessment, the report said: "[A]ll the declared nuclear material in Iran has been accounted for and, therefore, such material is not diverted to prohibited activities. The Agency is, however, still not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran."

Clearly, in the light of this, and the other satisfactory progress noted in the report, the adversarial statements made in the September 24 resolution were unwarranted. The resolution stated: "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement... constitute non-compliance in the context of Article XII C of the Agency's Statute... and the resulting absence of confidence that Iran's programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes has given rise to questions that are within the competence of the Security Council... for the maintenance of international peace and security." However, as examined thus far, most of the major issues of "non-compliance" seem to have been satisfactorily resolved and none of the unresolved ones amounts to such a threat to international peace and security that the case should be seen to be within the purview of the Security Council.

THE resolution has urged Iran to institute further transparency measures, re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related activity, and reconsider the construction of heavy-water-moderated reactors. Two points arise here. One, what was initially a voluntary, non-legally binding confidence-building measure has been transformed into a legally binding commitment. Two, a technology choice (of only light water reactors) is being imposed on a nation party to the NPT even though the treaty guarantees access to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes on a non-discriminatory basis. Further the E.U.-3 package has proposed creating an expert body to help Iran identify an appropriate research reactor and how best to achieve it. Does Iran not have the sovereign right to make its own technology choices?

The resolution has also urged the Director-General "to continue his efforts to implement this and previous resolutions and to report again" when the IAEA meets in November. It is pertinent to quote the conclusion of the September 2 report here: "The process of drawing such a conclusion, after an Additional Protocol is in force, under normal circumstances is a time-consuming process. In view of the past undeclared nature of significant aspects of Iran's nuclear programme, and its past pattern of concealment, this conclusion can be expected to take longer than in normal circumstances."

Given this, it is not clear how the board expects the Director-General to make enough substantive progress in the space of a month to avoid referral of the matter to the Security Council. The stage is perhaps set in Iran for a repeat performance of the unending United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Investigation Commission operation. This should be avoided at any cost and, at the next board meeting, India should seek a firm time-frame by which the Agency will be able to declare with a high degree of confidence that there are no undeclared and weapon-related nuclear activities.

Iran, in its response to the Director-General's report, has submitted a detailed 131-page rebuttal to many of the charges that continue to be made. It has also expressed its unhappiness and frustration over the continued inconclusive nature of the findings, which prevents it from pursuing activities that are legitimate under the NPT, despite the high degree of transparency and cooperation it has extended to IAEA inspectors.

In conclusion, the following caveat needs to be made. Iran's own uranium resources are very limited and cannot sustain a long-term nuclear programme. Although Iran has an "inalienable right" to pursue fuel-cycle-related activities, including enrichment, the supplier countries of uranium fuel or source material, most of whom are opposed to Iran exercising this right, can still exercise their right of not selling fuel. Therefore Iran should perhaps take the pragmatic approach of giving up some of that "inalienable right" in return for getting something more substantive. The current E.U.-3 proposal does not go far enough to meet Iran's genuine needs as a sovereign state. If India means well for Iran, rather than extending spineless support for illegitimate punitive actions under U.N. garb, it should explore its diplomatic channels with the E.U.-3 to ensure a fair deal.

More stories from this issue


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment