Sunday, November 04, 2007

The West's Case Against Iran's Nuclear Program

From Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post, we get about as good a presentation as can be made justifying the US/Israeli/European campaign against Iran's nuclear program.

The presentation is deceptive in subtle ways but often makes statements that are right on the border between true and false. I'll point out what Hoagland calls his headline paragraph:

Iran is working to produce a 20-to-50-pound stockpile of enriched uranium that it can use to build atomic weapons within eight to 10 weeks, once it decides to do so -- and has consistently lied to the United Nations about those efforts.

A 20-to-50 pound stockpile of high enriched uranium could not be produced by Iran as long as Iran remains bound the non-proliferation treaty. Iran is certainly not working to produce that today, as Iran has produced no high enriched uranium. Hoagland doesn't say high enriched uranium, but also doesn't say low enriched uranium. This is the border between true and false statements.

What he means is Iran is working to produce a stockpile of low enriched uranium that could be further enriched to 20-to-50 pounds of high enriched uranium that could fuel an atomic weapon in 8 to 10 weeks after the IAEA learns of this plan. It is an important point that Iran would not be able to make high enriched uranium from its IAEA supervised stock of low enriched uranium in secret.

But "consistently lied about its efforts", is difficult to figure out. I'm not sure what specific lies Hoagland thinks he is talking about, but Iran quite openly is producing low enriched uranium. The problem is that Iran doesn't have to lie about producing low enriched uranium, even an amount that could be converted to 20-to-50 pounds of high enriched uranium because that's legal.

There is a wide-spread misconception of how the NPT works. The NPT is not a vow by non-weapons states to never produce weapons. It is a treaty of mutual information, where every signatory is assured that every other signatory is not, right now, diverting materials from a peaceful program to a military one. The NPT explicitly gives nations the right to leave the treaty at which point other nations can no longer be assured that no material is being diverted to weapons.

The US would like more assurances from the non-weapons states, especially rivals of Israel. Specifically the US would like a vow to never build or have the ability to build weapons from some of these states. But on that subject, the non-weapons states have some extra steps they'd love to see the US take. For example, the treaty requires good faith negotiations between the weapons states to fully disarm. A lot of states would probably like to see that happen.

Moving on to another component of the presentation:

Held over the course of this year in Europe, China and Russia, these unofficial traveling seminars provide a snapshot of international reaction to the unmistakable effort by Iran to develop nuclear weapons and to the threats by President Bush and Vice President Cheney to prevent that from happening.

"Unmistakable effort to develop nuclear weapons"? But the first paragraph said nuclear weapons would come 8-10 weeks after Iran decides to build them. That implies, consistent with the position of every informed commentator who has spoken directly on this issue, that there is no evidence that Iran has, yet decided to build weapons. Building nuclear weapons would require taking LEU stockpiles away from IAEA supervision and effectively leaving the NPT. There is not only no evidence that Iran plans to do so, I have yet to see an argument under plausible circumstances that Iran would ever have any reason to do so.

This is the single most popular deceptive practice used in attacking Iran's nuclear program. A stockpile of low enriched uranium is not a weapon. There is an unmistakeable effort to develop low enriched uranium, that Iran is open about and that is legal. Hoagland, along with Rice and other opponents of Iran's program deliberately slide from one concept to the other, hoping to mislead a less informed audience that often misses it.

More from Hoagland:

This is one basic that Bush critics frequently overlook -- in part because it gets lost in the overheated "World War III" rhetoric of the president: The IAEA and the U.N. Security Council have determined that Iran has lied about its nuclear activities and has therefore at least temporarily forfeited its right to enrichment for peaceful purposes. That Iran has gone to great, secretive lengths to create and push forward a bomb-building capability is not a Bush delusion.

The forfeiture of the right to enrich uranium is an invention of US State Department lawyers. There is no clause that says or implies that in the NPT. Also, the right to enrich uranium does not come from the NPT. Israel, Pakistan and India have the right to enrich uranium without being signatories as a sovereign right to technology. The NPT explicitly does not rescind that right but that, by the terms of the NPT, is not subject to forfeiture.

The IAEA has never suggested that Iran did not have the right to enrich uranium for any amount of time. It is interesting what the IAEA did say. It said that in the context of voluntary and non-legally binding steps Iran could take to create an environment of openness and trust, creating such an environment requires a suspension and other steps such as Iran ratifying the additional protocols of the NPT.

The security council has imposed a requirement on Iran that it suspend enrichment indefinitely. That effectively would give the United States a permanent veto over Iranian enrichment, which the US can be expected to exercise until Iran is controlled by someone like the Shah (whose program to enrich uranium was supported by the United States). Iran rejects submitting its nuclear program to a US veto and the other members of the security council, so far, are clear that this requirement will not be enforced either militarily or through broad sanctions.

Iran's rejection of the security council resolutions as at least arguably reasonable. The security council would have at least as much justification in demanding Israel ratify the NPT as it has in demanding Iran to ratify the additional protocols.

The argument against Iran's right to enrich uranium depends on a heavy dose of misdirection and taking advantage of the naivety of an uninformed audience.

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