Foreign Policy Blogs

Talks With Iran Failed

So talks with Iran failed last weekend.  And as the New York Times piece on the subject suggests, they fell apart for the very reason I noted in my 2010 Year in Review post: the collision of the UN Charter and the NPT.  According to the Times:

Mr. Jalili consistently demanded that first the six acknowledge Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and lift sanctions — “obstacles” and “measures” in Iranian parlance — imposed by the United Nations before engaging on more detailed proposals…

Mr. Jalili, in a news conference, insisted that the only way to move forward was to agree on a framework that respected Iran’s rights as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich for peaceful purposes and that removed punitive measures. “I don’t say these are preconditions,” he said. “These are prerequisites.”

…But American and European officials said that while the treaty provided the right to civilian nuclear energy, “Iran must also show that its program is peaceful, and we cannot separate the rights in the treaty from the responsibilities,” one said. So long as Iran is not in full compliance with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and cannot prove to the world that its program is solely civilian, the officials said, Security Council sanctions and demands that Iran suspend enrichment will remain in force.

But the statement that “we cannot separate the rights in the treaty from the responsibilities” isn’t strongly supported by the text of the NPT.  Article IV(1) states:

Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty.

There’s nothing about safeguards in Article I and II, they have to do with transferring and receiving nuclear weapons.  So the treaty doesn’t tie the right to civilian nuclear energy to responsibilities relating to safeguards.  But can the UN Security Council pass a resolution that strips Iran of this “inalienable right”?  That’s the primary issue over which neither side will budge.  There are other issues.  For example, Iran wants to discuss UN reform, global nuclear disarmament, and a Middle East Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, and the West does not.  Iran would probably also like (as it did during the 2003 – 2004 negotiations) a UN Security Council guarantee to prevent “any direct or indirect attack or sabotage or threat against Iranian nuclear facilities.”  But really it all comes down to the can of worms opened by Security Council Resolution 1696 in 2006, when it first demanded that Iran cease all uranium enrichment.