The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) interviewed me this week about the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, published June 30. If you can read Farsi, click here. Otherwise, here’s an abridged English version. Following are my answers to journalist Khosro Shayesteh’s questions.
His first question was whether the matter of Iran’s nuclear program was truly a crisis. My reply:
Not in the sense the Western governments and media are characterizing it. There is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and its right to research and develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is party.
It is a crisis in a different sense, though. The real threat comes from the Western powers and the UN itself, which have behaved lawlessly and taken actions that undermine the rule of law in international relations. The UN sanctions resolutions against Iran violate the very Charter under which they ostensibly operate.
The UN cited as authority for these resolutions the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is the nuclear watchdog agency charged with assessing and monitoring states’ nuclear programs to ensure compliance with the NPT. The UN demanded that Iran halt all enrichment activity, among other steps requested by the IAEA.
In essence, the UN treated the matter as though Iran had a legal obligation under the NPT to cease enrichment, implement the Additional Protocol to the NPT, implement the modified Code 3.1 of the IAEA’s safeguards agreements with member states, and so on. But none of these demands of the IAEA is Iran legally obligated to comply with.
Ironically, the fact that Iran chose to voluntarily and on a temporary bases cease enrichment and implement the Additional Protocol and modified Code 3.1 has come back to hurt it because once Iran began enriching and ceased implementing other measures voluntarily, the IAEA started demanding that Iran cease enrichment again and implement the additional measures as though Iran was legally obligated to do so. Yet the IAEA’s own record shows that it explicitly acknowledged that Iran was doing those things on a strictly voluntary basis, as a confidence-building measure. The NPT recognizes what it describes as Iran’s “inalienable right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and the IAEA has continued to verify in every one of its reports that Iran is not diverting any nuclear material to any weapons program. As for the Additional Protocol and revised Code 3.1, the IAEA recognized that Iran’s compliance was strictly voluntary pending ratification by the Majlis, Iran’s Parliament.
It is evident that the IAEA succumbed to US pressure to treat these matters as legal obligations when, in fact, the IAEA has no authority to issue such demands. The best it can do is request that Iran take these steps. Yet the UN Security Council relied on the IAEA Board of Governor’s demands that Iran do so as though legally binding and on this false basis passed sanctions resolutions against Iran to punish it for noncompliance.
This is a very dangerous situation as it undermines the rule of law and threatens national sovereignty not only of Iran, but of any country that dares to disobey orders originating from Washington, DC.
The US also has imposed its own sanctions against Iran, outside of the UN, that are illegal under international law as they target not any military component to Iran’s nuclear program, but the Iranian economy, meaning that they are willfully intended to collectively punish the entire civilian population for the crime of its government of disobeying Washington.
Next, he asked how I assess Iran’s participation in the negotiations. My reply:
In my view, Iran ought not to negotiate with the US and its partners so long as it inflicts illegal sanctions and engages in collective punishment. It should instead file a request with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to adjudicate on the matter to seek legal remedy for its grievance against the US, et al, for their illegal actions. The US isn’t interested in serious negotiations. It issues demands and expects Iran to comply. Imposing sanctions on a country that target the civilian population isn’t “diplomacy”, and issuing ultimatums under such circumstances isn’t “negotiating”. Serious negotiations would be predicated on mutual respect recognition of Iran’s rights as guaranteed under the NPT.
He asked about the likelihood of an agreement being reached, what the sticking points were, and whether the insistence that Iran allow the IAEA access to military facilities would be a dealbreaker. My reply:
Two central sticking points have to do with sanctions and IAEA access to military sites. Iran has consistently insisted that sanctions be immediately lifted under any agreement. The US has consistently rejected this. It wants to be able to go on punishing Iran until it is satisfied that Iran has shown enough obedience to Washington, which is what it is really all about. The US has also demanded that Iran allow IAEA inspectors access to sites like the Parchin military compound. Even under the Additional Protocol, which grants the IAEA access above and beyond its standard safeguards agreement with NPT member states, this is not a requirement. To illustrate how unreasonable this demand is, here’s a simple thought experiment: What would be the US’s reaction if the IAEA demanded to conduct inspections and surveillance at Quantico, Fort Detrick, or Fort Meade?
The IAEA can under the Additional Protocol request access to military sites for the sole purpose of taking environmental samples, but member states aren’t obligated to allow such access, only to make every reasonable effort to satisfy its requirements. A country isn’t obligated to jeopardize its own national security without reasonable grounds that prohibited nuclear-related activity is taking place there. Foreign intelligence agencies could piggyback IAEA inspections at such locations, just as the US did with UN inspections in Iraq in the years before its illegal war on that country. This is a serious risk to Iran in light of threats to bomb its nuclear facilities, explicitly made by Israel in the past and implicit in the US’s policy of keeping “all options on the table” for dealing with Iran if it refuses its ultimatums.
The demand for unfettered access to such locations as Parchin is a dealbreaker. Iran has been consistent in its position that it would be required only to grant access according to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA, no more nor less than any other member state. I do not foresee Iran backing down on this point. Nor will the US withdraw this demand.
Last, he asked my view of how well Iran’s negotiating team has been handling itself. My reply:
In the sense that they have maintained a position that Iran is willing to make compromises for peace and to restore international relations, but will not surrender its rights, they have done well. However, they have failed in another sense, which is that the Iranian point of view has no chance of being accurately portrayed in the Western mainstream media. They have no chance of combatting the Western propaganda, such as one of the most recent fictional narratives dominating headlines, this claim that Iran has somehow reneged on earlier agreements and is walking back from them as negotiations draw near their deadline. They have no chance of combatting the US government’s narrative, parroted mindlessly by the media, that demonizes Iran and treats the issue as though Iran’s nuclear program was the real issue. The real problem is Iran’s disobedience to Washington. Hence the manufactured “crisis”. This is another reason why, in my view, Iran would be better off going to the ICJ than trying to reason with a government that has proven continuously that it isn’t capable of mutual respect or reason.