The Bush administration is being hypocritical about Iran, approaching it with very different standards than it has for Israel, India or even itself.
If the United States expects Iran to fully adhere to the rules set forth in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, then Washington should be expected to do so as well. This treaty requires the United States and other nuclear powers that are parties to the treaty to enter into good faith negotiations to achieve nuclear disarmament. The United States is not doing so.
In 1999, the US Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Bush administration has not resubmitted this treaty to the Senate. For the past five years, the US has opposed a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. In 2002, the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The Bush administration has also sought to develop new nuclear weapons — such as the “bunker buster” — and has generally thwarted negotiations leading to transparent and irreversible nuclear disarmament.
Further, the Bush administration has indicated its intent to rely on nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. It also has made not-so-veiled threats to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states.
These policies violate the spirit if not the letter of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And they perversely encourage states such as Iran and North Korea to develop nuclear arsenals.
Nevertheless, the Bush administration claims Iran is acting illegally under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This 1970 treaty encourages the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In Article IV of the treaty, it refers to the “inalienable right of all Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”
As a result, Iran argues that, as a party to the treaty, it is within its legal rights to develop a nuclear energy program, including a program that involves the enrichment of uranium. Uranium enriched to 6 percent to 8 percent U-235 may be beneficial for use in nuclear reactors for generating power. However, if uranium is enriched to higher levels of U-235 — 80 percent to 90 percent — it may be used as fissionable material in nuclear weapons.
While Iran has begun enriching, it is nowhere near the level needed for nuclear weapons. But that possibility cannot be ruled out. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has tried for three years to find out about Iran’s nuclear program. So far, Iran has provided inadequate transparency, according to the IAEA.
Iran has cooperated with IAEA inspectors, voluntarily subjecting its facilities to the more comprehensive inspection requirements of the Additional Protocol to the IAEA agreement. However, when the United States threatened to take the matter to the U.N. Security Council, Iran responded by ending its voluntary adherence to the Additional Protocol, and raising the possibility of withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether.
The United States must lead by example. It must work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. The United States should seek universal standards so that all uranium enrichment for all states, including for United States and its allies, is placed under strict international control and verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Maintaining nuclear double standards under international law is not sustainable. It is just plain bad policy.
David Krieger is the president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Find out more at the Foundation’s website and its blog.