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The Europeans Are Wrong. Nuke Deal with Iran Doesn’t Boost Nonproliferation, but Weakens It

In an op-ed published Thursday in The New York Times, three European parliamentarians argued that the United States Congress should preserve the nuclear deal with Iran.

Parliamentarians Delphine O of France, Omid Nouripour of Germany, and Richard Bacon of Britain argued that the nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is “the most important and promising step taken toward nonproliferation in the past 20 years,” and that it serves as a “safeguard against a nuclear Middle East.”

The assertion that the JCPOA strengthens nonproliferation is demonstrably false.

Rather than being a step towards nonproliferation, the nuclear deal undermined the nonproliferation regime by demonstrating that a serial nuclear cheater could be allowed a nuclear program if it waited long enough, even with no proof that its nuclear program is indeed peaceful.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) states that there is an “inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.” The goal of the treaty was to ensure that there would be no countries developing nuclear weapons programs other than those who already had them.

Iran has insisted that this means it has an unconditional “right” to enrich uranium. Enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear reactors, or, if it is enriched enough, to be fuel for nuclear weapons.

In 2004, Iran agreed with the EU3 (Britain, France, and Germany) to suspend all of its enrichment-related activities as a means of putting off a possible referral to the United Nations Security Council for its violations of its NPT obligations. Yet Iran, which had said that the suspension of its enrichment activities was voluntary, within a year reopened one of its nuclear facilities. This led to Security Council referrals and at least six resolutions, accompanied by sanctions for its defiant refusal to abide by its NPT obligations.

The JCPOA erased all of these nuclear-related resolutions adopted against Iran and allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium, effectively conceding to Iran the “right” to enrich.

In other words, Iran was rewarded for its defiance. It was allowed to keep the gains it had achieved by violating the NPT and continue enriching uranium. When explaining why he hadn’t insisted that Iran stop enriching as part of the deal, President Barack Obama said that Iran would never have agreed to a deal that didn’t allow it to enrich. Thus Iran, despite its defiance of international law, was allowed to veto one of the terms that was necessary to make the JCPOA effective.

If a rival of Iran’s, for example Saudi Arabia, would demand the right to enrich, it will be a lot harder for the international community to say “no”, after allowing Iran to preserve its uranium enrichment program.

Though Iran is now allowed to enrich uranium, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) still has not been able to show that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

In fact, the IAEA investigation into Iran’s nuclear program prior to implementation of the JCPOA showed that Iran had sought nuclear weapons for six years, after Iran was previously thought to have suspended its nuclear weapons program. In 2007, a National Intelligence Estimate assessed that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003.

However in 2015, in preparation for implementing the JCPOA, the IAEA found that Iran was attempting to design a nuclear weapon until 2009. But even then, Iran had not answered all of the questions the IAEA had asked, prompting The New York Times to observe, “Iran’s refusal to cooperate on central points could set a dangerous precedent as the United Nations agency tries to convince other countries with nuclear technology that they must fully answer queries to determine if they have a secret weapons program.”

The op-ed shows that the Europeans, who once saw Iran’s deceptions as a reason not to allow the Islamic Republic to enrich uranium, have changed.

In 2005, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, and the European Union wrote:

Last month, Iran decided to defy the international community by restarting uranium conversion at its plant in Isfahan, a unilateral step halting our talks. Iran claims it is doing no more than enjoying its right to make peaceful use of nuclear technology, in accordance with the NPT. Iran wants to paint this as a dispute between the developed and developing world.

These arguments do not stand up. No one is trying to stop Iran from generating electricity by nuclear power. We do not question Iran’s — or any country’s — rights under the NPT.

After citing Iran’s lies about its nuclear program and that Russia had agreed to provide Iran with enriched uranium, the foreign ministers added, “Iran has no license to make the fuel itself, nor is there any economic rationale.”

Again, this underscores that the JCPOA, rather than enhancing nonproliferation, undermined it by allowing Iran to maintain a capability that it had illicitly gained.

[Photo: European External Action Service (EEAS) / YouTube]