Beneath the dispute between Iran and the European Union Troika (EU-3) on uranium enrichment rests a far more fundamental issue: Do Third World countries have the right to develop and use all nuclear technology, including enrichment, as authorized by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), or not?
Iran says, categorically, “Yes,” and the 116-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) agrees. The EU-3–consisting of Britain, France and Germany–does not deny the right. But it wants Tehran to give up its prerogative forever in return for the Europeans’ commitment to build nuclear power plants in Iran and upgrade trade ties with the Islamic Republic. As a result, when the last round of the Iran/EU-3 negotiations started last November, the two sides ended up at a stalemate.
To make sure the United States did not sabotage their diplomatic effort, the Europeans kept Washington abreast of their plans. By contrast, they paid little heed to the Iranians’ repeated statements that they would not countenance the prospect of permanently abdicating their right to complete the whole nuclear cycle–enriching uranium, which is abundant in Iran, using it as fuel for power plants and reprocessing the spent fuel–as allowed in Article IV of the NPT.
The Iranians were focused on providing the EU-3 with “the objective guarantees” of the peaceful nature of their nuclear program. In March they submitted detailed proposals for strict monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran’s nuclear program. The regime they proposed went further than the provisions of the Additional Protocol on the NPT that they had signed in December 2003. EU negotiators received the Iranian document without officially accepting it.
“The Framework for a Long-Term Agreement,” which the Europeans proposed to Iran in early August, made its offer of commercial incentives and building of nuclear electric generating plants conditional on Tehran’s permanent renunciation of its rights under the NPT. At the same time, they demanded that Tehran promise not to leave the NPT under any circumstances–which North Korea had done.
Iran rejected the European package. It resumed its work at the plant near Isfahan, where uranium oxide (called yellowcake) is converted to uranium hexafluoride gas–but only under the watchful eyes of the IAEA inspectors. This gas is the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium to varying degrees: 4 percent for power plants, 20 percent for research reactors and 90 percent or higher for weapons.
This was a clear breach of Iran’s agreement to suspend “all uranium enrichment related activities” while talks with the EU-3 continued, cried the Europeans.