How to guarantee a nuclear-weapon-free Iran
A lot (or nothing) can happen in six months. As the P5+1 and Iran try to work out the terms of a permanent agreement that would alleviate global anxiety about an Iranian nuclear weapon while providing the Iranian people with some relief from crippling economic sanctions, the interim deal signed on Sunday is important for reasons that go beyond its specific terms.
Those terms matter, of course. Uranium that is enriched to no more than five percent U235 can’t be used for weapons. Period. Iran has now made a commitment to halt uranium enrichment above that level, to “neutralize” the uranium it had already enriched (they’ve gone to about 20%, which is still far from weapon grade), to halt construction of the heavy-water reactor at Arak, to forego any attempts to produce plutonium, and to open up its facilities to IAEA inspectors.
In return, Iran will get some $7 billion worth of limited sanctions relief and a promise that no new sanctions will be imposed as long as it fulfills those commitments.
Everyone benefits from even this partial accomplishment. Successful diplomacy can be followed by more diplomacy. The world, in the meantime, has become a safer, somewhat calmer place. The outcome would have been disastrously different had the world’s leaders taken the advice of those who demanded military action against Iran.
Still, this interim agreement has its detractors, and chief among them is the Prime Minister of Israel, who called it “a historic mistake.” Netanyahu’s complaint is that Iran will still have the capability to enrich uranium and that it will acquire the bomb regardless of these explicit new commitments.
This is, to put it mildly, ironic coming from a country that has surreptitiously obtained weapon-grade uranium over a period of decades, operates a reactor that almost certainly produces highly enriched uranium and plutonium, and has used that material to build an unacknowledged arsenal of anywhere from 80 to 200 weapons.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has insisted on Iran’s right to enrich uranium for nuclear power production. This is a very bad idea on its own account. Nevertheless, this makes Iran one of 44 countries that have commercial or research reactors capable of producing weapon-grade fissile material and that have been designated as such in Annex 2 of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Thirty-six of those countries (not including Iran) have ratified the CTBT; 40 of them (including Iran) are NPT Member States. Having the capability is one thing; using it to acquire nuclear weapons is quite another, and Iran took a significant step on Sunday to assure the rest of the world that its policies will match its abolitionist rhetoric.
Four of the Annex 2 States—Israel, India, Pakistan, and the DPRK—have crossed the unpardonable line into the dangerous and amoral territory long since occupied by the US, Russia, the UK, China, and France. These nine are the real nuclear rogue States that should now stop using Iran (and each other) as an excuse for avoiding their own commitments to disarmament.
A treaty banning nuclear weapons and compelling these nine to eliminate the 17,000 instruments of mass murder they hold among them is what the world should now focus its attention on. That will be the best guarantee that neither Iran nor any other nuclear-capable country will claim the right in the future to threaten the existence of us all.
In the US, we are about to celebrate our Thanksgiving holiday. How thankful we would be for a world without nuclear weapons!