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Hasan Rouhani (Illustration be Ellie Foreman-Peck)

It took only 100 days in office for Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani, to fool the United States and its Western allies into believing that his charm offensive was a genuine change of direction. As a result, in Geneva three rounds of negotiations (the last of which will happen before this column goes to press) are shaping an interim nuclear agreement that will leave Iran with its ability to build a nuclear bomb intact while giving Tehran the much-coveted sanctions relief the regime needs to keep its economy afloat.

How did such a capitulation happen? After demanding for seven years that Iran halts all its enrichment-related activities, including research and development, the international community is prepared to settle for a deal that will not stop Iran's enrichment activities and may ultimately recognise Tehran's demand that enrichment be considered "an inalienable right".

Iran's demand has been a key element of its public diplomacy for over a decade. And while many members of the international community have been nervous about Iran's nuclear ambitions, few outside the small circle of Western democracies are entirely comfortable with foregoing in principle the ability to enrich. After all, many members of the developing world covet nuclear technology for themselves — and why would they endorse a view held only by the US and a few others that the rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) do not include a right to enrich? 

Although the interim agreement does not address this matter, the US and other powers appear resigned to conceding, in the final stage of a future agreement with Iran, that Tehran has such a right. But is Iran's demand warranted?

The NPT grants its signatories the right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in exchange for meeting certain obligations, which can be summarised as ensuring the civilian nature of a nuclear programme, adhering to transparency measures and allowing verification by the international community.

Governments and international scholars diverge on the purposely ambiguous text of the NPT's Article 4. The US maintains that the treaty only guarantees a right to peaceful nuclear energy, not enrichment per se. Others believe that, provided the peaceful nature of the programme is verifiable, enrichment is possible. 

However, there is no ambiguity when it comes to Iran's rights. Any right derived from NPT membership is conditional on compliance with the overall goals of the treaty. The civilian nature of a programme is central to the letter and the spirit of the treaty. Whatever the merits of different interpretations of the treaty, it is clear that no right is "inalienable" because rights granted by the NPT are conditional on compliance with the treaty itself.

Which brings us to Iran. With explicit reference to the NPT's article 4, on September 24, 2005 the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors declared: "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement...constitute noncompliance". 

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marino de mediciAnonymous
December 4th, 2013
3:12 PM
nel suo saggio di condanna dell'iran,lei ignora il fatto che israele non ha mai firmato l'npt e rifiuta di soggiacere ad alcun controllo sulle sue armi atomiche acquisite clandestinamente. non sarebbe male se si occupasse anche di questo aspetto. cordialita', marino de medici

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