9-1: On the Iran Nuclear Crisis

As Americans we seem to view Iran as the problem in the recent nuclear negotiations, but Mousavian presents a very different view. He suggests that the United States is being unreasonable in its negotiations, and that Iranian’s just want to exercise their rights to nuclear power under the NPT.

At this point, Iran has built up a nuclear program way beyond what many thought was possible. The United States is continually trying to negotiate, but it is progressing towards war. But is Iran really to blame? Mousavian seems to think that the United States deserve more blame than most people give it. The negotiations seemed to suffer a bit setback when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected Joe Biden’s offer to direct talks because he says that America is threatening Iran not negotiating. The positive is that the Supreme Leader does seem to be open to actual negotiations that take into account Iran’s interest and rights. Right now the P5+1 council has issued these demands: (These are coming directly form the article)

“1) Implement the so-called Additional Protocol, which enables further intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, including visits to military sites such as Parchin, 2) make the nuclear program more transparent, 3) give access to the IAEA beyond the NPT and its Additional Protocol to address concerns about possible military dimensions to the country’s nuclear activities, 4) limit uranium enrichment to 20 percent, and 5) convert to fuel rods or export all enriched uranium stockpiles that are not immediately used for domestic consumption.”

But these demands are not consistent with the NPT. There are no current sanctions on stockpiling enriched uranium and states that are members of the NPT can enrich to any level. Also, there are over 70 states that have not joined the Additional Protocol, so making them ratify seems unreasonable. Nevertheless, according to Mousavian, Iran is willing to agree to most of these terms. They just want their right to enrich uranium through the NPT recognized and the sanctions to be lifted. In addition, Khamenei had issued a fatwa in 2003 that banned all nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction. Mousavian says that the importance of this fatwa needs to be considered because the relationship between is very strong. Recently, Iran declared that they are ready to make this fatwa into a law that would bind the government.

After reading Mousavian’s articles, it seems that Iran is willing to negotiate and, at least to me, they don’t seem to be unreasonable. They are just asking to be allowed to exercise their right under NPT. And if the US wants to make a deal, it seems they are going to have to make some compromises. If Iran’s nuclear program is monitored closely, allowing them to make nuclear power seems like a reasonable compromise (considering under NPT they should be allowed to anyway).

But maybe Iran needs to be held to stricter standards because of they are viewed as a dangerous country. Maybe Mousavian is presenting a slightly biased view because of his history with Iran. What do you think? Is Mousavian correct in placing the blame on the United States? Is Mousavian correct in stating the Iran only wants nuclear power? Is the United States being reasonable in trying to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability considering they are legally allowed to enrich uranium under NPT? — Ren

11 thoughts on “9-1: On the Iran Nuclear Crisis

  1. I found Mousavian’s Foreign Policy article on the religious fatwa really interesting as it shed more light on factors within Iran that might lead Iran to pursue (or not pursue) nuclear weapons according to Sagan’s domestic model. Like Mousavian, I would support translating the religious fatwa into a legal document at the UN, as it could be an effective means of ensuring Iranian compliance with the NPT. An Iranian scholar, for example, argues that the fatwa binds domestic actors (religious and political leaders) to their promise not to obtain nuclear weapons (http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/03/iran-nuclear-weapons-khamenei-fatwa.html). Presumably, besides the legal constraints such a document would place on Iran, political leaders like Khamenei would be unable to pursue nuclear weapons without looking hypocritical or facing backlash from other domestic actors. However, I’d be interested in knowing more about other constituencies in Iran that affect policy and how they view the acquisition of nuclear weapons; this would paint a fuller picture of whether or not higher enrichment levels/access to fissile materials would be likely to encourage weapons development in Iran.

  2. For me, the most interesting aspect of Mousavian’s argument was that Iran would be willing to agree with the terms issued by the P5+1 council. I think that this willingness to comply with demands is very important as transparency in Iran’s nuclear program could really clarify many of the UN’s concerns. If Iran was really working towards the peaceful use of nuclear power, they should have no problems with further inspections. In fact, gaining the trust of the UN would most likely be beneficial to Iran in terms of receiving aid in their peaceful nuclear program endeavors. Furthermore, although there are no current sanctions on the levels of uranium enrichment, it is curious that for peaceful use, Iran would need uranium at an enrichment level of up to 20%. It seems that a large portion of the concern is that the only reason Iran would have of enriching uranium to such high levels is for weapons development. However, Iran claims that their highly enriched uranium is used for a research reactor. I feel that it would be beneficial for Iran to show that this was actually the case and convince inspectors that all of their highly enriched uranium was in fact going towards peaceful purposes.

  3. It sounds to me like there needs to be a revision to the NPT regarding enrichment. I know that many countries only joined the NPT because of the provision that they may enrich uranium to their hearts’ content, but I wonder how many of them would be opposed to setting a restriction on enrichment to 20%? As we’ve seen, there is no point in enriching uranium beyond that point for peaceful uses, and this seems to be the biggest factor against Iran’s claims of “peaceful use”.

  4. Mousavian makes a very reasonable and legitimate argument, but as Ren points out, I think the common answer to Mousavian’s argument is that due to the dangers Iran poses, it should be dealt with more strictly. However, I think this brings up a larger philosophical issue at hand here, which is: What gives the United States (or any “nuclear weapon state”) not only an exclusive right to have nuclear weapons, but also the right to tell other countries not to develop? Maybe it is in the interest of global stability, but isn’t this just an unfair demonstration of Western exceptionalism?

  5. The US hasn’t offered sufficient incentives, or been as forthcoming at the bargaining table as perhaps it should be to achieve results. Even Patrick Clawson of the hawkish Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has close ties with Israel, has called on Mr Obama to offer “juicier carrots” than the lifting of an embargo on airliners’ spare parts that the Iranians contemptuously rejected during earlier talks. To be fair though, as far as the political climate in the US is concerned, there are some major roadblocks to a more cooperative foreign policy towards Iran. Many of the more punitive elements of the Iran sanctions were passed by Congress, which has a Republican majority that is very pro-sanction and may prefer even tougher action against Iran. What’s hard to reconcile is that intel may not jibe with Ambasador Mousavian’s claim; in 2011 the IAEA reported finding designs for nuclear missile warheads, triggering devices for initiating a nuclear chain reaction and computer simulations of the complex processes involved in using conventional explosives to compress uranium fuel to the critical mass that causes it to detonate. Worse yet, Iran has strong ties to Hizbullah. Hizbullah has continued to pursue acquisition of weapons from Russia, to potentially use against Israel, making negotions with Iran even more difficult because of the strong geopolitical entanglement among these nations.

  6. As Jonathan pointed out, there is a bit of a discrepancy between the principles put forward in the fatwa and evidence has gathered that clearly indicate plans for the development of a nuclear weapon. The U.S. certainly could offer more incentives and maybe push for the elimination of some of the sanctions, but the Iranian government also has to be more transparent about their nuclear program. The facts that are known to the public certainly make a bad case for Iran: they are producing highly enriched uranium that could be used for a bomb, nuclear warhead designs have been discovered in the country and Ali Kahmenei has called for the destruction of Israel in multiple occasions. Also, considering the U.S.’s strong political relations with Israel, a compromise would be hard to reach due to Iran’s hostile posture.

  7. In my opinion there is enough evidence to suggest that Iran would like to go beyond nuclear power to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran claims that the 20% enrichment levels are required to produce medical isotopes, yet Iran refused to halt its enrichment even when the United States offered to supply the 20 pounds of medical isotopes needed per year. In 2009 Iran’s covert uranium enrichment program at Fordow was exposed. Iran is also building a heavy water reactor at Arak which could produce plutonium. While, Iran claims that the Arak plant will not reprocess spent fuel, Mark Fitzpatrick at IISS, has cautioned that, “similarly sized reactors ostensibly built for research” were built by India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan to make weapons grade plutonium. Most importantly, the ‘right’ to enrich is never explicitly stated in the NPT, in fact the treaty reads “[N]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.” Since there is reasonable doubt that Iran is enriching for “peaceful purposes” it may forfeit this alleged ‘right to enrich’ for its nuclear energy program. As such I do not find U.S. demands “unreasonable”; there is too much evidence to suggest that Iran’s aims are not peaceful. As others have noted, Iran’s frequent calls for the destruction of Israel and practice of exporting terrorism, have only heightened these concerns.

  8. I agree with hopewell, it seems that Iran’s actions are not in line with their rhetoric of simply enriching uranium for peaceful purposes. If Iran is somehow able to prove through increased transparency that these measures are, in fact, peaceful, then there may be a window for negotiation. However, if this does not occur, which the US cannot expect to happen, then little useful negotiations can take place due to the high levels of mistrust.

  9. I am also curious if there is any possibility of revisiting the NPT and changing its terms. I am not necessarily saying that it will be the best way to fix any of these problems, but I am curious if it is discussed, because Mousavian does not bring it up.

    However, Patrick brings up reasonable concerns in regards to changing the NPT after countries had already agreed. Are there any revisions that could be made that the majority of countries would be willing to agree to, but would also alter the paradigm in terms of negotiations with Iran? Perhaps the NPT itself is outdated and we do not need a treaty to enforce strict arms control, since our satellites and intelligence collection may be sophisticated enough, and the threat of shame and sanctions are sufficient without an international treaty.

    This removal of the NPT would allow for the possibility of renegotiating an international agreement in the wake of the Iran scenario, which Mousavian’s commentary demonstrates is substantially different than the North Korea scenario and may have the possibility of negotiation. I am not sure any of this is a possibility, but so much of the Iran issue appears to hinge on the NPT’s promises, and with Iran and the P5+1 at an apparent impasse, perhaps addressing the NPT itself is a possible solution.

  10. This is an excellent point to bring up. When the United States (and other weapons states) were developing nuclear technology, it was certainly not done so with peaceful intentions. They did so largely in secret, and nobody bothered them about it. Much discussion can probably ensue around the fundamental differences between Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the US ambitions during the 20th century. In both scenarios, you have a nation at conflict with other nations, attempting to gain some sort of strategic advantage. Of course, one of the major differences is that almost a century ago, people may not have known just how destructive nuclear weapons could be. Perhaps nuclear weapons states view the development of nuclear weapons as a mistake, and that by “prohibiting” other nations from doing the same, they are attempting to fix this mistake. You certainly can make the argument that a sort of Western entitlement is at play here. Sure, many nations view Iran as the bad guys and think that them developing nuclear weapons will lead to untold conflict. But from their perspective, we are the bad guys, which causes negotiations to reach an impasse. It can often be difficult and hypocritical to “negotiate” when one side has everything and the other side has very little. By being so demanding, the US is essentially beating a dead horse. I don’t think anyone would see an incentive to curb development of nuclear weapons when the person demanding this has thousands of weapons themselves. Yes, Iran probably does have impure intentions for its nuclear program, but the ultimate goal of disarmament seems improbable without true compromise between nations, regardless of their intentions.

  11. Throughout his three articles, Ambassador Mousavian provides an argument for why the United States has pressured Iran into accelerating their nuclear activity, but circumvents the true issue at hand. As many people on this blog have already pointed out, there is overwhelming evidence that Iran does not have peaceful intentions. One point that has not yet been mentioned on this blog is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric, and how it signifies that Iran cannot be placed in the same category as the NPT countries. The leader of this country has repeatedly called for the “elimination of the Zionist regime” and has denied the existence of the holocaust. He even quoted Hitler in a speech to the UN. Mousavian asks in his article “Iran wants a nuclear deal, not war, ” why Israel has not received the same scrutiny as Iran in regards to their nuclear program. Perhaps the answer to this is that a prime minister of Israel has never called for the elimination of Persians everywhere. Rather than attempting to blame the U.S. for Iran’s nuclear program, I believe that it is important to realize that Iran’s motives are independent of current US actions, and that they are driven by irrational hatred.

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