Against the backdrop of the latest round of negotiations between Iran and the P-5 + Germany held in Baghdad (May 23), the question has reemerged as to whether a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) can claim its right to enrich uranium if it is intended for peaceful purposes. Article IV of the above international treaty in vogue since 1970 provides each member the legitimate right to make peaceful use of nuclear energy, the utilisation of which involves the enrichment of uranium.
A little background that led the world community to negotiate and finally conclude in 1968 the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons will help us to understand the bargain struck between the then nuclear powers and non-nuclear powers. By 1968, five nations which are now known as the P-5 because of their permanent seats in the UN Security Council - China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the U.S. - had nuclear weapons. These five are the internationally-recognised nuclear powers.
Then in the late 1960s only five nations were in a position to claim that no other nation could seek the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The non-nuclear weapons countries, majority of which were in the Third World, would be granted opportunities of developing a peaceful nuclear programme under the terms of the NPT. No nuclear power was permitted to transfer any nuclear weapons technology to non-nuclear states.
Hence the bargain that the nuclear and non-nuclear powers struck has been the sticking point dividing nations. This has been witnessed in the nuclear disputes in North Korea and, more importantly, in Iran as the last two rounds of negotiations under the P-5+ Germany formula have exhibited since April 14-15. In 2010, the year when the NPT was reviewed, some negotiations had been arranged for resolving Iranís nuclear impasse, but it ended inconclusively due to the hardened position of the west.
The existing global nuclear non-proliferation norm, as established by the NPT, seems to be eroding in view of the damaging report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which was made public a few months back that puts a question mark on Iranís claim of peaceful nuclear ambitions. However, the Tehran regime has rejected the accusations made in the IAEA report.
The global treaty has given the agency the role of a nuclear guardian to oversee any member countryís nuclear programme so that possible military application of nuclear technology could be detected and prevented accordingly by alerting the international community through the issuance of reports prepared on the basis of inspections of suspected nuclear sites.
Initially dubbed as a "positive first step" the Istanbul Talks have indeed failed mainly because of the hard line approach espoused by the U.S. and its allies. Their insistence on Iran to suspend all enrichment activities even before agreeing to offer them any sanctions relief is to be blamed as opined by Stephan M. Walt, a Professor of International Relations at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, who has argued in favour of giving limited sanctions relief through his most recent post entitled "Another Missed Opportunity with Iran" carried by Foreign Policy.
.Iran has been subjected to a variety of sanctions by the U.S., the UN and also EU. The U.S. economic sanctions targeting Iranís central bank transactions on oil are supposedly creating hardships for the country, whose revenues are predominantly coming from oil exports. The EUís proposed oil embargo against Iran is to take effect from coming July, and once in operation, such sanctions will create further strain on the countryís economy.
Nevertheless, in the May 23rd interview concerning the effects of sanctions on Iranís economy, conducted by an expert of the Council on Foreign Relations, Dr. Hassan Hakimian, who is the Director of the London Middle East Institute, said, "It remains to be seen whether the sanctionsí bite will impact negotiations". He further states that Iranís government, like other governments under sanction, may find ways of shielding itself from the worst economic effects.
Professor Stephan M. Walt is suspicious if Iranís pursuit of nuclear weapons can be blocked if it decides it wants to. He predicts that Iran will not budge as long as it is clear about American reluctance to invade or occupy the country. He believes that Iran knows how to build centrifuges, and rest of the technology isnít that hard to master. However, Professor Walt is optimistic that Iran being a theocratic country will not venture to ignore the statement by its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenie who has repeatedly declared nuclear weapons to be a "haram"- forbidden by Islam.
Resolving the nuclear standoff of Iran will be more complicated if diplomacy is not given its chance with due sincerity. Commenting on the significance of diplomacy, Henry A. Kissinger, a former U.S. Secretary of State, has said in his new book "On China" that "when diplomacy no longer functions, relationships become increasingly concentrated on military strategy - first in the forms of an arms race, then as a maneuvering for strategic advantage even at the risk of confrontation, and, finally, in war itself." There is hardly any point to disagree with him, and his remarks equally apply to Iran versus P-5+1 nuclear talks.
Therefore, when talks on Iranís nuclear programme resume in Moscow on June 17-18, the negotiators would need to pay heed to advice given by Robert Wright through his article published in "The Atlantic" entitled "Nuclear Talks Post-Mortem; Time to Cash in Some Sanctions". He has drawn an analogy saying if the talks fail when a little sanctions relief would have saved them that is like Bill Gates letting the world fall apart because saving it would have cost $10,000 only.
Iran was asked to immediately suspend its nuclear enrichment programme even without hinting that it would be provided some incentives in the form of sanctions relief. Moreover, its right to enriching uranium has not been recognised while it seeks a peaceful nuclear programme. Negotiations in the future should focus on these issues in order that diplomacy can bear fruit.