Irwin Cotler: Testing Iran’s Nuclear Charm Offensive
Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program are set to resume this week in Geneva between the P5 + 1 countries (USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany) and the new Iranian leadership – arguably the most important diplomatic encounter in a decade. This new round of talks takes place against the backdrop of President Hassan Rouhani’s charm offensive – including the nuclear file – where he spoke of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes only,” while the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has spoken of “heroic flexibility in the nuclear talks.” Yet this soothing rhetoric is otherwise contradicted by the Iranian insistence on its “inalienable right to enrich,” and its just announced negotiating “red line,” excluding the export of highly enriched uranium from Iran.
U.S. President Barack Obama, after welcoming the Iranian leadership’s conciliatory words, added that “the test will be meaningful, transparent, and verifiable actions.”
Such skepticism is eminently warranted, given the track record and 3-D negotiating strategy of the Iranian regime – denial, deception, and delay – and that of the supposedly moderate President Hassan Rouhani himself. Indeed, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator with several European countries in 2004, Rouhani admitted that, “while we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan… In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan,” a position Rouhani affirmed on Iranian TV during the Presidential election.
Consequently, if a new round of negotiations is to effectively roll back the Iranian nuclear threat – rather than create another “calm environment” enabling increased nuclear activity – there are a series of specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as doing. These undertakings are as follows:
1. Iran must abide by, and fully implement, its obligations under Security Council resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iranian compliance should not be seen as a “concession” for which the West must necessarily reward Iran, but rather a set of obligations that Iran must independently adhere to and comply with.
2. Iran must suspend its uranium enrichment program, so that negotiations – or negotiations about negotiations – cannot be used as a way of buying time for a nuclear breakthrough. For such a suspension to be verifiable, Iran must transfer its stockpile of enriched uranium to the custody of another country, where it will be held in escrow pending irradiation. With appropriate inspection and monitoring, the uranium can then be made available to Iran for use in its civil nuclear program.
3. Iran must suspend its heavy water production facilities at Arak. Heavy water is an essential component for producing plutonium, which is the nuclear component North Korea used to build its own nuclear weapon. Iran’s stated justification for development of the Arak facility is the production of medical isotopes for research purposes, but this material can already be produced in the Tehran Research Reactor or obtained from international markets. It is unacceptable that the Iranian regime has both ignored a UN Security Council resolution requiring the cessation of construction in Arak, and failed to provide the IAEA with updated design information about the reactor since 2006.
4. Iran must verifiably close and dismantle its nuclear enrichment plant at Fordow, embedded in a mountain near Qom, which the Iranians initially denied even existed. Otherwise, Iranian enrichment at Fordow will enter a zone of impenetrability rendering it closed to inspection and immune to any military strike.
5. Iran must provide the international community with specific details regarding both its past proliferation activities, and its plans to build ten additional uranium enrichment facilities as announced in 2009 and 2010. It is Iran’s responsibility to satisfy the IAEA’s concerns with regard to enrichment activities at Fordow and Natanz, plutonium production at Arak, and laser enrichment at Lashkar Ab’ad, as well as to provide a substantive response to the IAEA’s request for information about Iran’s planned nuclear archipelago of additional uranium facilities. As well, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), which exposed Iran`s uranium facilitiy at Natanz and its heavy water facility at Arak, now says that it has information about a center for nuclear weaponization research in Tehran that the regime is seeking to shield from detection.
6. In this regard, Iran must allow IAEA inspectors immediate and unfettered access to any suspected nuclear sites. Indeed, despite Iran’s obligation as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to open its nuclear sites and installations for inspection, the Iranian regime has frequently misled the IAEA about the extent of its nuclear activities. Robust and fulsome IAEA monitoring – including frequent, unannounced inspections and unfettered remote monitoring of suspected nuclear-related facilities – must therefore be identified as a clear condition for any further talks.
7. In particular, Iranian authorities must grant the IAEA access to the Parchin military complex near Tehran. As the IAEA has reported, Parchin has been the site of high explosive testing, possibly in conjunction with nuclear materials – a strong indicator of weapons development – yet Iranian authorities have repeatedly denied such access to the IAEA. Satellite imagery makes clear that recent activities at Parchin have included the asphalting of large areas of the complex, which would effectively prevent inspectors from taking soil samples to determine whether nuclear weaponization-related experiments have taken place.
8. Iran`s installation of an advanced centrifuge generation (IR-2m) added to its existing arsenal gives Iran undetectable “break-out capacity” for nuclear weaponization. One should appreciate that when Rouhani was Iran’s nuclear negotiator a decade ago, Iran had only 160 centrifuges. Today there are more than 18,000, a critical break-out capacity. Any agreement must verifiably limit the number and type of centrifuges and maintain it well below the number currently installed at Natanz and Fordow.
9. While President Obama told the UN General Assembly that,”the Supreme Leader has issued a fatwah against the development of nuclear weapons,” no text of such a fatwah has been found., including the examination of 493 of the most recent fatwahs. On the contrary; Iran’s enhanced enrichment of weapons-grade uranium; its research into weaponization; the sophistication of its missile arsenal; and the masking of its Fordow enrichment facility say otherwise.
10. Finally, nuclear negotiations must not ignore, marginalize, or distract from Iran’s massive domestic repression. When the U.S. negotiated an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union in 1975, it did not turn a blind eye to the USSR’s human rights abuses; instead, the Helsinki Final Act linked the security, economic, and human rights baskets. Negotiations with Iran should do the same. While the regime’s recent release of certain political prisoners is a welcome development, it is imperative that the international community test Rouhani’s intentions in this regard. It is not enough to free individual prisoners; it must presage, as Rouhani intoned, a “free Iran.”
Given the Iranian track record of using negotiations as a delay tactic while uranium continues to be enriched and the centrifuges continue to spin, only Iran’s verifiable abandonment of its nuclear weapons pursuits – based on the above undertakings – should result in the easing of international sanctions. Negotiations must not serve as cover for denial, deception, and delay; rather, they must lead to full Iranian compliance with the regime’s international obligations, an outcome that would greatly advance the cause of international peace and security, and that would greatly benefit the Iranian people themselves.
Irwin Cotler is a Member of the Canadian Parliament, Emeritus Professor of Law (McGill University), and the former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada. He is co-Chair with Senator Mark Kirk of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and a Member of the Advisory Board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.