Obama and a Nuclear Iran
by Shaun Appleby, Tue Jun 02, 2009 at 03:49:24 PM EDT
Obama has articulated what a lot of people have been thinking for some time on the illogic of the US position vis à vis Iran's clear ambition for nuclear technology:
LONDON -- President Barack Obama reiterated that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy - provided it takes steps to prove its aspirations are peaceful.
In a BBC interview broadcast Tuesday, Obama also restated plans to pursue direct diplomacy with Tehran to encourage it to set aside any ambitions for nuclear weapons it might harbor.
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed at generating electricity. But the U.S. and other Western governments accuse Tehran of seeking atomic weapons.
"Without going into specifics, what I do believe is that Iran has legitimate energy concerns, legitimate aspirations. On the other hand, the international community has a very real interest in preventing a nuclear arms race in the region," Obama said.
The comments echo remarks Obama made in Prague last month in which he said his administration would "support Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections" if Iran proves it is no longer a nuclear threat.
Nancy Zuckerbrod - Obama says Iran's energy concerns legitimate Washington Post (AP) 2 Jun 2009
This somewhat startling admission, contrary to the domestic media narrative, makes excellent sense and is aligned with growing conventional wisdom within the foreign policy establishment on the futility of portraying Iran's nuclear programme as an act of aggression in itself. The Israelis must not be very pleased, on the other hand Europeans, increasingly seeking access to abundant Iranian reserves to meet their natural gas needs in coming decades, are no doubt relieved. The speech in Prague was intended for a largely European audience.
Assuming Iran renews it's participation in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and accepts International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections there is little the US or Israel can do under international law to prevent them from developing a peaceful nuclear capability under Article IV of the NPT:
The treaty recognizes the inalienable right of sovereign states to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but restricts this right for NPT parties to be exercised "in conformity with Articles I and II" (the basic nonproliferation obligations that constitute the "first pillar" of the Treaty). As the commercially popular light water reactor nuclear power station uses enriched uranium fuel, it follows that states must be able either to enrich uranium or purchase it on an international market.
The tenor of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-Va) remarks that this policy is "dangerous" and "misguided" set the tone for this debate in domestic terms:
"I strongly disagree with President Obama's dangerous suggestion that Iran may have some right to nuclear energy." said Cantor in a statement provided to the Huffington Post. "Iran forfeited any right to nuclear energy when it made the decision to illicitly enrich uranium to levels that can be used for nuclear weapons."
Cantor: Obama Mid-East Policy "Dangerous" And "Misguided" Huffington Post 2 Jun 09
Under international law Cantor is clearly mistaken, though Iran now has 'pariah' status it is likely that it would be accepted back to the NPT, with considerable relief, by the international community. Obama is making a courageous stand domestically but not internationally, many of our allies have been reluctant to impose severe sanctions on Iran and alarmed at the aggressive rhetoric of the previous administration.
It should be pointed out that Iran has always insisted that their pursuit of uranium enrichment technology is for peaceful purposes, whether we believe them or not, and Supreme Leader Ayotollah Khamenei has gone on the record with a fatwa against nuclear weapons, which is pretty strong stuff for an Islamic theocracy:
A religious decree (fatwa) by Iran's supreme leader has even greater force in preventing the country from producing nuclear weapons than do treaties signed by Tehran, top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani was quoted by the IRNA news agency Tuesday as saying.
"It is much more important for us to abide by this decree than the articles of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its additional protocol," Rowhani said in a meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller on Monday.
According to Rowhani, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's fatwa forbids the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons.
Fatwa restrains Iran more on nuclear weapons than treaty: negotiator Agence France-Presse 12 Apr 2005
Clearly we require more. But as Obama's diplomatic engagement with Iran takes shape it appears to consider accepting Iran's civilian pursuit of nuclear capability within the context of the NPT and IAEA inspections. Whether the US public is prepared for this outcome after years of alarmist rhetoric on Iran remains to be seen. Sometimes articulating the obvious seems an act of political courage.
Two more things are clear, Obama's timetable for "a good-faith effort to resolve differences" with Iran is based on the earliest estimates of when a nuclear weapon might be developed by them rather than any concession to Netanyahu. And the Obama administration is apparently indifferent to Ahmadinejad's electoral fortunes as the timing of this concilliatory message will likely strengthen Mahmoud's position on foreign policy, an issue which has become a focus of the Iranian elections to be held on 12 June.