Iran's Nuclear Program: The Way Out

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A nuclear weaponized Iran destabilizes the region, prompts a regional arms race, and wastes the scarce resources in the region. And taking account of U.S. nuclear arsenal and its policy of ensuring a strategic edge for Israel, an Iranian bomb will accord Iran no security dividends. There are also some Islamic and developmental reasons why Iran as an Islamic and developing state must not develop and use weapons of mass destruction.

Three years of robust inspection of Iranian nuclear and non-nuclear facilities by the IAEA inspectors led Dr. El-Baradi to conclude and certify that to date there are no indications of any diversion of nuclear material and activities toward making a bomb. At the same time, El-Baradi has pointed out that the IAEA cannot certify that Iran's program is exclusively peaceful. But the fact is that few among many states with a nuclear program have received such a clean bill of health from the IAEA. Such certification by the IAEA does and should take time and effort. Iran is prepared and willing to invest the time and effort necessary to receive the IAEA clean bill of health. The IAEA is also ready to pursue its investigation of Iran's nuclear activities. So should the states that have concern about it.

What is, then, the motive for the rush to heighten the situation and create a crisis? Could it be that the extremists all around see their interests — however transient, domestic and short-sighted — in heightened tension and crisis? This situation, if not contained with cool head and if miscalculations continue, can easily turn into a crisis with potentially global ramifications for the rule of law under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and for the economic and security interests of all concerned in the region and beyond. It is high time to cease sensationalism and war mongering, pause and think twice about where we are heading.

Iran is not accused of having the bomb. There are no indications that Iran has a nuclear weapon program. If Iran were to have a weapons program, the alarmists in the U.S. and Israel have reportedly said that it would take at least another seven to ten years for Iran to make the bomb. What is often cited by American officials as 20 years of Iranian secret nuclear military program turned out to be, as declared by the IAEA, nothing more than the failure to declare, in a timely manner, some experiments and receiving some material and equipment. Such failures to declare are not uncommon among the NPT members. Remedial steps are envisioned in the Safeguards Agreement to address them, and Iran has done so. Moreover, it was no secret that we were in the European, Russian and Asian markets to purchase enrichment technology in the late '80s and '90s. Therefore, an Iranian secret weapon program is only hype, and the sense of urgency about Iran's nuclear program is rather tendentious. The world should not allow itself to be dragged into another conflict on false pretenses in this region again.

Iran is intent on producing nuclear fuel domestically for reasons both historic and long-term economic. The U.S. and some Europeans argue that they cannot trust Iran's intentions. They argue that they cannot accept Iran's promise to remain committed to its treaty obligation once it gains the capability to enrich uranium for fuel production. They ask Iran to give up its right under the NPT, and instead accept their promise to supply it with nuclear fuel. This is illogical and crudely self-serving: I do not trust you, even though what you are doing is legal and can be verified to remain legal, but you must trust me when I promise to do that which I have no obligation to do and cannot be enforced. It is this simple and this unfair. There must be a better way out of this than to top this travesty with threatening Iran in the Security Council with possible sanctions and perhaps even use of force. This path can potentially cause harm and suffering at differing degrees to all parties to the conflict.

A negotiated solution still can and must be found if we intend to strengthen the non-proliferation regime and avoid an unwise and unnecessary conflict. To this end, we must dare to leave the emotions aside and avoid polluting the atmosphere with the baggage of immediate and long-past history of Iran-U.S. relations. A solution imposed on Iran by the Security Council is unlikely to provide the assurances the U.S. seeks about the Iranian nuclear program. In my personal judgment, a negotiated solution can be found in the context of the following steps, if and when creatively intertwined and negotiated in good faith by concerned officials:

  • Iran would make an active contribution, provided that other countries with similar sensitive fuel cycle programs also do the same, to fixing the loopholes in the non-proliferation system and to developing a technically credible international control regime.

  • Iran would consider ratifying the Additional Protocol, which provides for intrusive and snap inspections.

  • Iran would address the question of preventing break-out from the NPT.

  • Iran would agree to negotiate with the IAEA and states concerned about the scope and timing of its industrial-scale uranium enrichment.

  • Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on enrichment limit of reactor grade uranium.

  • Iran would accept an IAEA verifiable cap on the production of UF6 — uranium hexafluoride, which is used for enrichment — during the period of negotiation for the scope and timing of its industrial scale enrichment.

  • Iran and the IAEA would agree on terms of the continuous presence of inspectors in Iran to verify credibly that no diversion takes place in Iran.

  • Iran's readiness to welcome other countries to partner with Iran in a consortium provides additional assurance about the peaceful nature of Iranís nuclear program.

It is not Iran's intention to disregard Security Council decisions. The way out is for the Security Council to mandate the IAEA to address this issue and establish a negotiating process for a fixed period to formulate a credible plan taking into account the suggestions I made in my personal capacity.

Iran is prepared to work with the IAEA and all states concerned about promoting confidence in its fuel cycle program. But Iran cannot be expected to give in to United States' bullying and non-proliferation double standards.

Hassan Rohani is representative of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, on the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and Iran's former top nuclear negotiator