Alarmist assessments of Iran's nuclear program
lack a key component: evidence.
WHEN THE U.N. Security Council was forced to convene on the Saturday before Christmas to vote on Resolution 1737 — against Iran's nuclear program — it was only natural to ask what the urgency was.
Iran had not attacked or threatened to use force against any member of the United Nations; in fact, Iran has not attacked any country for more than two centuries. Iran was not on the verge of building a nuclear weapon. To the contrary, as a study released this week by the National Academy of Sciences concludes, Iran needs nuclear energy in spite of its oil and gas reserves.
At the same time, Iran has categorically rejected the development, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons on both ideological and strategic grounds. It has remained committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — which it ratified in 1970 — and was even prepared to provide guarantees that it would never withdraw from the treaty.
All of Iran's nuclear facilities have been inspected by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran has stated its readiness to place them under an even more stringent regime, as it did from December 2003 to February 2006, when more than 2,000 person-days of scrutiny resulted in repeated statements by the IAEA that there was no evidence of a weapons program. As IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei recently said, "A lot of what you see about Iran right now is assessment of intentions."
Many such assessments have been produced by the intelligence agencies of governments with agendas hostile toward Iran. They are, as a result, misleading. For instance, a draft National Intelligence Estimate by the CIA in 1992 concluded that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon by 2000. The Israelis have been saying for many years that Iran will pass the "point of no return" within six months or less.
But even these alarmist assessments concede that there is no actual evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and that, even if it wanted to do so, it would not be capable of developing one before 2010 or 2015.
So: no urgency, no imminent threat. The real reason for the pre-Christmas meeting was to take advantage of a more favorable Security Council composition — before new members arrive on Jan. 1 — and impose sanctions on Iran.
The sanctions aim to punish Iran for refusing to suspend its peaceful and legal uranium enrichment activities. However, suspension is not a solution in itself; it can only provide time to search for one. A stopgap suspension was already in place for two years, while Iran engaged in negotiations. But over the last three years, the United States and its European allies have never proposed any long-term solution other than insisting on an indefinite suspension of Iran's enrichment activities.
In contrast, my country has proposed real alternatives to ensure that its civilian nuclear program will remain exclusively and indefinitely peaceful:
On March 23, 2005, Iran offered a comprehensive and far-reaching package to France, Germany and Britain, including national legislation to permanently ban developing or using nuclear weapons, technical guarantees against proliferation and unprecedented, around-the-clock IAEA inspections. It also envisaged relations of mutual respect and cooperation in a wide range of economic, political and counter-terrorism areas. Despite their initial enthusiasm, the Europeans refused to engage in negotiations on that package, insisting instead on indefinite suspension, apparently because of U.S. objections.
On July 18, 2005, Iran offered to allow the IAEA "to develop an optimized arrangement on numbers, monitoring mechanism and other specifics" for an initial, limited operation at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, "which would address our needs and allay [their] concerns." The offer was not even considered.
On Sept. 17, 2005, Iran expressed its readiness to engage in serious partnerships with private and public sectors of other countries for uranium enrichment in Iran "in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency." Again, the offer was rebuffed.
On March 30, 2006, Iran proposed establishing regional consortia for fuel-cycle development with countries inside and outside the region, with joint ownership and division of labor based on the expertise of the participants. No one cared to respond to this proposal.
During the September and October 2006 talks between Iranian nuclear negotiators and the European Union, Iran proposed an international consortium, an offer that was initially considered very promising by the Europeans but then was rapidly rejected as insufficient. Once again, they insisted instead on suspension.
These offers were exact replicas of the IAEA's main proposals on multinational fuel activities, including enrichment, published Feb. 22, 2005. Iran's readiness to implement them presents a unique opportunity not only to remove concerns about our fuel-cycle activities but also to strengthen the Nonproliferation Treaty by providing a model for other countries with similar enrichment programs. No other country with similar technology has been prepared to be as flexible as Iran.
Neither suspension nor sanctions can achieve the stated objective of ensuring nonproliferation because Iran has now been compelled to develop nuclear technology on its own. As many nonproliferation experts have already pointed out, in countries with Iran's level of technological achievement, only engagement, transparency and international monitoring can provide assurances of nonproliferation.
Iran remains eager to dispel any doubts. It is not too late to reach an agreement on meaningful measures that can serve our common objective of limiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.