Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Enrichment Conflict from Iran's Point of View

Here are a couple of points Iran has made and maybe some points Iran has not said but that I figure Iran believes.

1 - The West's offer of technology and negotiations if Iran suspends enrichment is not a good deal.

First, there is almost no offer of technology. The technology Iran would get for suspending enrichment is civilian airline spare parts. Iran currently buys these used but would have access to new parts if it suspends enrichment.

The other technology, the power plants and the reduced restrictions on technology transfers would not come from suspension. If Iran suspends enrichment it would be entitled to enter talks about these other things. Would the terms be concessionary, market or above-market? Europe won't say. That means above market. If they were concessionary Iran would not consider that a fair trade for giving up domestic uranium enrichment. But an offer of talks about technology is not an offer of technology.

Second, once Iran suspends enrichment, Europe and the US have gotten what they want. There is no reason for talks to ever end at that point. If Iran suspends enrichment for talks, and talks cannot end until the US agrees, then the US has a permanent effective veto on Iranian enrichment.

The terms of the talks the UN is trying to impose on Iran explicitly give the US a permanent veto on Iranian enrichment. Even if they did not, if enrichment must be suspended for the duration of talks there is a de-facto veto anyway. As explained earlier, the compensation Iran gets for permanently allowing the US to prevent enrichment is spare parts for civilian aircraft.

Talks could then begin about other trades, but any further concessions from the West would not be compensation for giving up enrichment but for Iran accepting further demands from Europe and the US.

2 - Iran cannot trust foreign fuel suppliers.

The United States has pressured both Russia and China expand sanctions beyond enrichment. It has pressured Russia to stop construction at Bushehr and cancel fuel delivery. Other than fuel under Iran's control, there is no way Iran can have a guaranteed supply in the face of US pressure.

I think the most likely explanation is that Russia's fuel was tied to the missile defense system in Europe and cooperation with Korea was tied to Iran in China's case. Either way while there were no Iranian voices that advocated giving the US a veto over enrichment before, there are even fewer now.

3 - There is no silent anti-clerical majority in Iran.

The Iranian regime is relatively popular and relatively stable. You can find Iranian expatriots in the US who speak negatively about Ahmadinejad, you will even find them if you travel to Tehran. That is analogous to the Americans in Europe, or the Middle East who have nothing good to say about Bush - and you can even find them in Washington and New York.

According to the one poll I have seen that has addressed this question, more Iranians think their government is not religious enough than think it is too religious.

All of the foreign policies that the US dislikes in Iran are popular policies. The vast majority of Iranians believe Israel is not legitimate, and that Hamas and Hezbollah deserve support. The vast majority of Iranians believe Iran should have a military and economy that would make it at least a powerful as its neighbors. The majority of Iranians believe Iran should have a full domestic fuel cycle and even that Iran should be nuclear-weapons capable.

4 - Iran can win a confrontation with the West.

Iran sees its regime as infinitely more stable, and more structurally sound than Hussein's regime. Hussein's regime survived the most extensive bombing campaign ever launched and was only removed by a full scale invasion.

A full scale invasion of Iran is widely acknowledged to be impossible for the US to even consider. If Iraq had gone much better and was now able to play the role for the invasion of Iran that Kuwait played for the invasion of Iraq, a full scale invasion of Iran would still be beyond the capabilities of the US.

What is left is airstrikes, which will enrage Iran's population, and drive them to support their leaders, and sanctions which force the government to take a more central role in distribution of basic survival needs, thereby again strengthening the regime.

The cost of these is that Iran will retaliate against and destabilize US and European assets in the Middle East, at least.

Iran believes that Europe will decide that the cost of confrontation is greater than the gain of Iran giving up enrichment, given that Iran is willing to accept all of the safeguards Brazil, Taiwan, South Korea and Romania accept - each country named has been proven to have had an extensive nuclear weapons program, and is now theoretically nuclear capable, but now not pursuing nuclear weapons even though they all could if they were to perceive an emergency.

5 - Confrontation may be good for Iran.

Iran looks at the 8-year war with Iraq as a harsh test that Iran survived. Even if a new confrontation is harsher on Iran than the 8-year war was, Iran is stronger now than it was when the war started.

The war also radicalized Iran's population. It created the Ahmadinejad generation. Ahmadinejad is not a cleric, but an engineer who was radicalized in college and who stayed radical at least partly because of the war.

A confrontation will radicalize Iran's current young generation and keep them radical. A confrontation, though Iran's government must appear to be making at least token efforts to avoid it, is the best guarantee that there will be a new Ahmadinejad generation. This is as true for sanctions is it is for an invasion.

Hezbollah's survival of the summer war of 2006 is another source of pressure on Iran. Iran perceives itself as the parent of Hezbollah. If Hezbollah survived a month of bombing and a blockade and unlimited security council resolutions and sanctions, it would be a humiliation for Hezbollah's father, the regime of Iran, to succumb to those same tactics.

7 - In the end, Iran will be nuclear capable.

Iran will continue working on centrifuges and enrichment in protected parts of the country, still unknown to the West and will amass the knowledge of designing parts and coordinating their use over the next ten or fifteen years even after Natanz and Bushehr are bombed.

Iran is willing to hunker down and become a country whose only products are subsistance goods and services and its nuclear program. After it becomes nuclear capable, Iran will "surrender" and end any sanctions and confrontation as an irreversibly nuclear-capable power - the way North Korea can give up its weapons but can never again be nuclear-incapable. Then with its population, geography and resources it will catch up economically.

Regime change will be less likely then than it is now, Iran's government will be as stable and popular as it is now. Hussein's government did not become less popular because of the sanctions.

To conclude, stopping Iran from actually building a weapon is easy. Stopping Iran from becoming capable of building a weapon is hard. Slowing Iran's program by five years, pushing the day Iran reaches Brazil's level of nuclear capability to 15 years instead of 10 is possible, at a high cost to the US and to the Iranian people, but low cost to the Iranian regime.

The next generation of Iranian leaders - the generation that grows up through the confrontation that they will inevitably blame, correctly, on the US, Europe and Israel - will have nuclear capability, a decent economy and a major grudge whose consequences will have to be faced by the next generation of Americans, Europeans and Israelis.


Anonymous said...

Arnold - regarding your post on

The UNSC does NOT have "the right to do whatever it wants." Read the UN Charter. The UNSC can't for example interfere in purely domestic, sovereign affairs of a country.

More apropos to this discussion, the UNSC can't violate a treaty provision. The only time that a UNSC Resolution trumps a treaty provision (such as Article IV of the NPT which recognizes the inalienable right to nuclear technology which includes enrichment know-how) is when the UNSC resolution contradicts that treaty provision.
Iran asserts it has a right to enrichment under Article IV of the NPT. If the UNSC Resolution does NOT contradict Article IV, then the UNSC resolution is simply not applicable and instead Article IV applies. If on the other hand the UNSC Resolution DOES contradict Article IV of the NPT, then no country - not Iran, not Japan, not Argentina - has a right to enrichment. The treaty provision as a whole would be void. The principle of Equal Sovereignty which is also explicitly recognized by the UN Charter does not allow the UNSC to selectively deny a particular country's treaty rights. In fact the UN Charter requires treaties to be implemented.

Arnold Evans said...

Point taken.

This is referring to comments left here.

On this subject, the security council resolutions, to the degree they demand Iran do anything, demand Iran ratify the additional protocols.

I find that outrageous. The additional protocols are a voluntary extension of the NPT, and the terms of the NPT are that it cannot be extended other than voluntarily.

They also demand that Iran go beyond the additional protocols and produce anything the IAEA asks for.

Nobody should be able to deny that this is an abuse of the security council. I am very sympathetic to the idea that it is an illegal abuse of the council.

But international law over nations is really just not enforced and it really is a situation of every party makes and tries to enforce each's own rules.

My point, wrong though it probably was, was that these rules have the moral force nations give them. Even if Iran has an "obligation" to suspend now, it would be no more obliged to suspend than the US was to follow a resolution requiring Security Council assent for military action against Iraq.

Arnold Evans said...

The following is my part of the comment thread listed above. I've already gotten to the point where I am repeating myself. As I get more disciplined, I am going to enforce a rule on my participation in comment debates that once I repeat myself, I'm done. I'm not going to convince the other person and anyone reasonable by that point would be able to figure out what I would say. This is a way of learning though. I'm not going to be convinced myself, but going through new arguments makes it so next time I'll get to the key points faster.

I'm only copying my part and as long as the original thread remains at armscontrolwonk, the entire thread will be available over there, including if I go back in and respond to whatever anon has to say about my latest post.


The IAEA board never demanded Iran suspend enrichment, but said, and this is from memory, that Iran should take voluntary and non-legally binding steps to create an atmosphere of confidence. Creating that atmosphere “required” a suspension and other things such as ratifying the additional protocols and making information and people available to the IAEA beyond the requirements of the additional protocols.

The word “required” taken out of the express context of the IAEA board’s statements was used as the basis for the UN Security Council demands.

The UN Security Council does have the right to do whatever it wants, including demand the that the US ratify NAFTA or Kyoto global warming or any other treaty.

While legal, the demand that a sovereign nation ratify a treaty, such as that Iran ratify the additional protocols, which is now a full fledged Article 7 demand is at least very unusual if not unprecedented.

On the other hand, ignoring UN resolutions on the grounds that they infringe on national sovereignty is routine, as when the United States invaded Iraq in defiance of the resolution US accepted months earlier that said further action would require a new resolution.

The scope of Iran’s actual safeguards violations is actually far smaller than South Korea’s. South Korea created weapons grade material.

Iran did not disclose the building of the Natanz facility from its planning over 20 years ago, but was not required to do so until six months before introducing nuclear material. Iran complied with this requirement.

South Korea had a full fledged weapons program, but also had an ally in the United States instead of an enemy. South Korea today is nuclear capable and under IAEA supervision.

Iran has offered to accept a similar arrangement and indicated that it would ratify the Additional Protocols as part of an agreement towards that end.

In what is clearly a double-standard, and therefore clearly contrary to the NPT’s language of non-discrimination, an arrangement like South Korea’s is not acceptable for Iran – because of the threat the United States and the West believes a nuclear-capable Iran (like South Korea) would pose to Israel.

— arnold evans · May 16, 06:03 PM ·


I’m noticing a language-creep from “materials” which is required by Iran’s safeguard agreement to “materials and activities” which as a non-enforcer of the additional protocols, Iran has no legal responsibility to provide, which is not part of Iran’s safeguard agreement and which cannot form the legal basis for a referral to the UNSC.

Now South Korea is nuclear capable, and could in theory force the IAEA out and build a weapon in short order. This has been the case from before its NPT violations were exposed, it was the case through all of the investigations and it continues to be the case until the present. South Korea has signed and ratified the AP, which is important to you.

You cannot say that the United States treated South Korea’s violations, which include the actual production of near-weapons grade material in a way comparable to how it treated Iran.

A security council resolution demanding that South Korea’s nuclear industry be entirely shut down for the indeterminate duration of negotiations would have been more justified on any legal or technical grounds in Korea’s case than it was in Iran’s case.

The difference is that for political reasons, the United States and Europe discriminate between a potential nuclear capability of Iran and the far greater nuclear capability of Korea. That is as flagrant a violation the language and spirit of the NPT as is possible.

Iran is willing to be “bribed” into ratifying the AP in exchange for not being prevented from gaining the same capability South Korea has.

It can’t be the case that South Korea is justified and Iran is not. South Korea would not have ratified the Additional Protocols if they could be used to enforce a permanent renunciation of its right to either enrich or reprocess nuclear material under IAEA control and permanent renunciation of accessing that technology.

The US and Europe are, contrary to the letter of the NPT, applying a discriminatory denial of technology to Iran.

— arnold evans · May 17, 10:35 PM ·


I have not seen language in the CSA about either a nexus of activities and material, or authority that extends “whereever undeclared materials lead” the IAEA.

As of today there is no indication that there are any materials that are undeclared. And no indication that there has been any diversion of any material that has been or should be declared to any military purpose.

There are many countries in which the IAEA is not able to verify that there are no undeclared materials. Maybe most countries. The referral of Iran on that basis was a discriminatory political decision. I’ll come back to this.

Saying that “materials” expands into a “nexus of materials and activities” and “inability to verify” forms a basis for referral effectively transforms Iran’s CSA (and nearly every other non-nuclear state’s CSA) into the AP. If there was not a strong argument that the CSAs were not to be read that way, the AP would never have had to be written.

Onto the AP. The AP is a voluntary treaty extension. Iran’s refusal to ratify is like the US refusal to ratify Kyoto. A fully sovereign matter, in no way illegal, and while we’d rather see them ratify, not ratifying is not a punishable offense by any stretch of the imagination.

Iran’s failure to provide the IAEA information beyond what is required by the treaties Iran has ratified also cannot neutrally be called obstructionism.

Enough of this though because it is evasive and a little dishonest to avoid the real issue of contention in Iran’s nuclear program.

The US and Europe have created a new category that has no basis in either the NPT or the AP, that Iran must not be “nuclear capable”.

If the US and Europe had attempted to put Korea into this category, Korea would have done what Iran is doing, restrict its cooperation to the limit of its legal obligations until this discriminatory policy has been abandoned. You would be calling this South Korea’s “obstructionism”.

You have to say either:

a) I do not believe it is discriminatory or contrary to the NPT to say Iran must not have technology that would give it break out capacity.

(This has been the US position since the Iranian revolution but was not the US position when Iran was ruled by the Shah, so this position is independent of any declared or undeclared materials. It is also clearly not the US position with respect to South Korea, Taiwan or Romania, which makes applying it to Iran’s current regime discriminatory.)

Or you can say:

b) A discriminatory policy is being applied against Iran.

After openly addressing the concept that technology that Korea and other NPT signatories are able to have should or should not be denied Iran, then we can discuss whether the referral is the neutral application of the NPT that Iran ratified or if it is a politically discriminatory abuse of the IAEA and UN Security Council to accomplish political goals of the US.

I understand your position to be:

“I believe Iran, under its current leadership should not have access to technology Brazil, Japan and South Korea have access to. I don’t believe or I don’t care that this position is discriminatory. Conveniently for my position, Iran has not verified that there are no undeclared materials that should have been reported (even though the instrument that clearly requires this is not in force over Iran, and many other countries in this situation are ignored) so now the US gets to use the Security Council to advance a policy the I would want to pursue anyway.”

If the above is not your position, please correct me before we go further.

If that is your position, then the second part serves the first, but our real argument is over the first part.

— arnold evans · May 19, 02:21 PM ·


Well, I said this earlier:

The US and Europe have created a new category that has no basis in either the NPT or the AP, that Iran must not be “nuclear capable”.

If the US and Europe had attempted to put Korea into this category, Korea would have done what Iran is doing, restrict its cooperation to the limit of its legal obligations until this discriminatory policy has been abandoned. You would be calling this South Korea’s “obstructionism”.

It is far from clear, in fact it is not true, that the same policy is being applied to different levels of rule bending, and in fact South Korea, which actually has produced near-weapons grade material using a process that could actually fuel a weapon as part of an actual weapons research program reached a far greater level of rule bending.

Lastly, since I’m back I want to discuss anon’s earlier characterization of Iran’s CSA as effectively being the Additional Protocols. (Are you the previous anon?)

The IAEA has never been able to certify that Iran has no undeclared nuclear material, just as it has not for the vast majority of countries.

By anon’s reading of the Iran’s CSA upthread, Iran signing the CSA was a license for the US to bring Iran to the security council at any time after the CSA was ratified. In fact, any country with a similar CSA could be referred to the Security Council at any time by that reading. Of course that reading is nonsense.

So what does “material that should have been declared” mean? It means material that actually exists. Material that the IAEA actually knows about that should have been declared. There is no material that actually exists that should have been declared that has possibly been diverted to weapons purposes in Iran, and the IAEA has certified that.

The IAEA has not certified that there are no undeclared nuclear enrichment related program activities, but that is an AP requirement and the AP is simply not in force in Iran.

Iran’s CSA does not permit a referral for the non-certification of non-diversion of material that exists only in the imagination of some in the United States government – if it did, Iran should have been referred on day one.

Yes, it is true that the US and Europe are applying a discriminatory policy against Iran. Iran has said more than once that if the US and Europe apply a policy that is less discriminatory – not even non-discriminatory – Iran would ratify the AP and go beyond the AP in its cooperation with the IAEA as the IAEA has requested.

Because of that, the key issue in this conflict really is this discriminatory notion of a new class of nations that are “nuclear capable” that has no basis in the NPT, the AP or any agreement any relevant nation has ratified; that the US and Europe are admittedly by you illegally attempting to prevent Iran from entering. I’d say all of the other issues being brought up are the distraction.

— arnold evans · May 19, 11:42 PM ·



First is the US and European position that Iran must not be nuclear capable discriminatory? The rest of the discussion flows from that.

“Spacemanafrica” admits that it is discriminatory. He goes so far as to say it is unrealistic to expect the US to stop being discriminatory. The NPT requires the US and Europe to stop being discriminatory.

You, anon, seem that you would rather ignore the issue. It is an important issue to ignore once it has been brought up.

The US was willing to give the Shah nuclear capability (after intense debate) and is willing to go along with S. Korea, Taiwan and Brazil though those states are known to have had weapons research programs that conducted nuclear weapons experiments on greater scales than Iran.

Iran has indicated that it will ratify and fully implement the AP once its NPT-guaranteed right to reach the same technological status as South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil and Romania is affirmed by the US and Europe.

You seem to want to skip over that, and then brand Iran’s reasonable refusal to go beyond its treaty responsibilities until this discrimination has been ended as obstructionism or malfeasance.

The current theme throughout my writing is that Iran’s violations are less severe than other violations that were not referred and what you are calling Iran’s obstructionism is a reasonable response to US and European discrimination that is contrary to the express terms of the NPT.

There is no indication that Iran would not be as open as South Korea if, as the NPT requires, Iran is offered a nuclear program like South Korea’s.

As I wrote earlier, South Korea would not be open if it was treated the way Iran is treated.

There were four parts in my previous understanding of your position – I’ll now modify them to the best of my understanding based on your last comment:

I believe Iran, under its current leadership should not have access to technology Brazil, Japan and South Korea have access to.
You reaffirm this saying supplier states do not have to do anything stupid, like stupidly implementing a treaty they negotiated apparently in bad faith and then ratified.

I don’t believe or I don’t care that this position is discriminatory.
You skip over this, but by doing so you indicate that you agree with it.

Conveniently for my position, Iran has not verified that there are no undeclared materials that should have been reported (even though the instrument that clearly requires this is not in force over Iran, and many other countries in this situation are ignored)
Iran has tied its further cooperation beyond the letter of its CSA to its being treated non-discriminatorily. I consider that a reasonable tie, I guess you do not.

so now the US gets to use the Security Council to advance a policy the I would want to pursue anyway.
Using the Security Council to enforce the discriminatory and contrary to NPT position that Iran must not be nuclear capable is a pretty extreme abuse of the Council. I guess you disagree.

I’ll directly answer this question:
Are you suggesting that States that have violated their NPT and IAEA safeguards obligations ought not to be treated differently that States in good standing w.r.t. the Secretariat’s safeguarding and verification activities?
I am suggesting that Iran should be treated as Romania, Brazil, South Korea and Taiwan are. Previous violations do not put states into a category (that according to the US, Iran has been in since its revolution, long before any violations) that they cannot be nuclear capable.

If that is accepted, Iran should, and has indicated that it will, go beyond its reporting requirements to answer any unresolved questions about its nuclear programs.

Until that is accepted, Iran is in the same state as most other nations: All material that is known to exist that should have been declared, whether declared at the time or not, is known and certified not to have been diverted to any military program.

The voluntary instrument that allows the IAEA, after some time, to certify that it has reached a level of confidence that there are no unknown materials or activities has not been ratified by Iran and is not in force. Iran’s refusal to act otherwise and to even go beyond the AP is not malfeasance, obstructionism, immoral, illegal or a violation of the NPT.

— arnold evans · May 20, 08:36 AM ·