Combating Iran’s cycle of denial, deception, and delay

There are a series of specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as doing, if it is to comply with its international legal obligations.

July 19, 2012 22:40
Ashton and Jalili at Moscow nuclear talks

Ashton and Jalili at Moscow nuclear talks 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Next Tuesday, Iran and six major powers – the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) – will hold yet another “technical” meeting in Turkey – in the words of the leading EU negotiator – also yet again – to “look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward.”

These technical discussions follow three sets of “substantive negotiations” in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, between Iran and the P5+1, all of which ended inconclusively.

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While one may hope that the narrowed focus of these talks will somehow produce a dramatically different result than the previous sets of both substantive and technical negotiations, experience demonstrates that such negotiations benefit Iran alone and are part of a comprehensive Iranian strategy. Simply put, while negotiations continue, uranium enrichment is accelerated, the centrifuges spin, and Tehran approaches “breakthrough” capacity for nuclear weaponization – the whole in line with an Iranian strategy of using negotiations as a means for advancing uranium enrichment and the nuclear weaponization program itself.

That this, in fact, may be Iranian strategy was revealed by the Iranians themselves on the eve of the Baghdad negotiations on May 14, where Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and close to the Iranian negotiating team, summed up the Tehran’s “successes” during negotiations as follows: First, Western countries did not want Iran to have a nuclear power plant, but its Bushehr reactor was now connected to the national grid.

Second, the West had opposed Iran having heavy water facilities, but the country now has one in Arak.

Third, the West had said no to any enrichment, “But here we are, enriching as much as we need for our nuclear energy program,” Taraghi said, referring to the thousands of cascades of centrifuges spinning for years in the half-underground facility in Natanz.

Fourth, since January, and on the eve of the resumed substantive negotiations in Istanbul in April, dozens more advanced centrifuges were installed in the Fordo mountain bunker complex, near Qum, built to withstand a heavy attack.

Fifth, Taraghi also said that in the Istanbul talks, Iran had managed to convince the West of the importance of a religious edict, or fatwa, against the possession of nuclear weapons.

In a word, Taraghi and other Iranian officials concluded that their policy “forced the United States to accept Iranian enrichment,” and in effect, the related nuclear program.

Earlier this year, Iranian negotiator Hassan Rowhani elaborated on this strategy: “While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan.”

Rowhani added, “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work on Isfahan.”

Indeed, just as with Isfahan, Iranians completed their work on the secret Fordo plant – uncovered by the West in 2009 – but where the groundwork for this facility was laid as early as 2006 according to the International Atomic Energy Agency – and at a time when Iran was offering to return to negotiations.

Moreover, statements this week from Iranian officials – such as Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the chairman of an Iranian foreign policy committee – that substantive talks will resume if sanctions against Tehran are lifted – itself an ongoing Iranian negotiating mantra – support the notion that not only are negotiations themselves a delaying tactic, but delaying the negotiations is itself a tactic – part and parcel of the comprehensive Iranian 3D strategy of denial, deception and delay: Denial of any nuclear weaponization program to begin with; deception as to the depth and breadth of that program; and delay, delay, delay! In addition, the focus on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran is itself receding from the international radar screen in the shadow of the dramatic developments in Egypt, Syria, Libya and the like, thereby advancing the Iranian 3D strategy.

Accordingly, one may well overlook the underlying intersecting dynamics that underpin the Iranian weaponization program and the overall toxic convergence of the Iranian four-fold threat: nuclear; statesanctioned incitement to genocide; statesponsorship of international terrorism – and indeed, Iranian footprints appear yet again in this week’s attack on Israelis in Bulgaria – possibly through its proxy, Hezbollah; and massive domestic repression of human rights. Simply put, this four-fold threat constitutes a clear and present danger to international peace and security, to Middle East and regional stability, and increasingly, and alarmingly so, to the Iranian people themselves.

An understanding of the current negotiating context requires an appreciation of the underlying intersection dynamics, which include: First, there is the standing violation by Iran of international legal prohibitions respecting the development of a nuclear weaponization program. In particular, Tehran continues to violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions involving repeated demands for complete and comprehensive suspension of its enrichment related, reprocessing and heavy water activities – as well as repeatedly violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by denying the IAEA permission to openly inspect their facilities.

Second, there is compelling evidence – particularly that which has emerged from the international nuclear monitor – the IAEA – that Tehran’s nuclear program is, in fact, a nuclear weaponization program. As international expert Anthony Cordesman recently concluded after an examination of IAEA reports, “Anyone who concludes that Iran is not yet pursuing a nuclear weapons program is deluding themselves.”

Third, while the comprehensive economic sanctions – themselves authorized by UN Security Council resolutions – are having an important effect – i.e. Iranian currency has lost half its value, inflation is above 25 percent, unemployment is approaching 35 percents, Iranian oil sits idle in Iranian tankers – the Iranian government is already finding ways to circumvent some of their more detrimental effects by procuring new super-tankers from China, disabling tracking devices in their ships, securing alternative methods of banking, and forging strong trading relationships with countries not in the pro-Western camp.

Fourth, even countries in the pro-Western camp are continuing their trade with Iran.

Indeed, The Jerusalem Post reported last week that “hundreds” of German and Iranian enterprises have a “flourishing trade relationship.”

In particular, German engineering giant Herrenknecht AG reportedly delivered heavy tunnelling equipment to Iran – some of which is promoted as having the capability of “drilling down to depths of 6,000 meters,” which could facilitate the building of an underground nuclear facility.

Providing such “dual-use” items to Iran – items that have civilian utility but could easily be used for prohibited military purposes – is in breach of the sanctions themselves, and runs directly contrary to the stated purposes, goals and objectives of the P5+1.

Equally troubling is the recent Swiss refusal to adopt and endorse EU sanctions barring energy and financial transactions with Tehran. Indeed, some fear this “loophole” may be exploited by oil companies, and it should be noted that Switzerland is one of the top centers for oil trading, and also hosts a branch of the National Iranian Oil Company NICO, although the country does not import oil from Iran.

Fifth, while the P5+1 has affirmed that an Iranian nuclear weapon is “unacceptable” – that the objective is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon as distinct from containing a nuclear Iran – and that no option “is off the table,” the protracted negotiations and the Iranian 3D strategy exploiting these negotiations – have undercut these declared positions of the P5+1.

Sixth, while there is increasing reference – and indeed indulgence – of the purported fatwa issued by Khamenei prohibiting a nuclear weaponization program as “sinful” and “contrary to Islam” – which some commentators have taken as conclusive in and of itself that Iran’s intentions are peaceful and its nuclear program civil in intent and consequence – this ignores not only the findings of the “military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program, as determined, inter alia, by the IAEA, but the permissibility within Islam itself to deceive the enemy where it serves a higher interest – including the specific authority in Islam for the supreme leader to do exactly that.

One should recall the report by the IAEA itself in 2009 to the effect that Khamenei as early as 1984 had endorsed a decision by the then-leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to launch a secret nuclear weapons program.

In the words of the IAEA report – and a chilling reminder of Iranian intent and consequence – “according to Khamenei, this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies... and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mahdi.”

Accordingly, the crucial question, then, is how to prevent what the P5+1 has deemed “unacceptable” – a nuclear Iran – given that the Iranian 3Ds have thus far prevailed? How do we ensure that these P5+1 negotiations succeed in halting the nuclear weaponization program rather than continuing their path of inconclusive results, leading to more weaponization?

There are a series of specific undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as doing, if it is to comply with its international legal obligations. Among these undertakings, which should serve as a benchmark for an effective negotiation, are the following:

1. Iran must undertake to abide by, and fully implement, its obligations under Security Council resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iranian compliance should not be seen as a “concession” for which the West must necessarily reward Iran, but rather a set of obligations that Iran must independently adhere to and comply with. Simply put, there is no Iranian “right to enrich,” the most recent of the Iranian negotiating mantras.

2. Iran must – as a threshold requirement – verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program, so as to counter the Iranian strategy of delay, or buying time for a nuclear breakthrough. Indeed, as US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta put it – and international experts have similarly made this point – if the Iranian enrichment program is not suspended, Iran will have a nuclear bomb by the end of 2012, with all the consequences relevant thereto.

3. Iran must ship its supply of enriched uranium out of the country where it can be reprocessed and made available to Iran, under appropriate inspection and monitoring, for use in its civil nuclear program.

4. Iran must verifiably close – and dismantle – its nuclear enrichment plant at Fordow, embedded in a mountain near Qom, which the Iranians had initially denied had even existed. Otherwise, Iranian enrichment at Fordow will enter the zone of impenetrability rendering it closed to inspection and immune from any military strike.

5. Iran must suspend its heavy water production facilities at Arak. It is sometimes forgotten that heavy water is an essential component for producing plutonium, which is the nuclear component North Korea used to build its own nuclear weapon. Simply put, the path to nuclear weaponization need not be traveled by uranium enrichment alone – and the suspending of uranium enrichment, however necessary, will not alone result in Iran verifiably abandoning its nuclear weaponization program.

6. Iran must allow IAEA inspectors immediate and unfettered access to any suspected nuclear sites. Indeed, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is bound by its obligations not to pursue nuclear weapons and to open its nuclear sites and installation.

7. It should not be forgotten that Iranian authorities had announced – even boasted – in 2009 and 2010 of their intention to build 10 additional uranium enrichment facilities. The IAEA still has not received any substantive response to its request for information about this nuclear archipelago of additional uranium facilities.

8. Again, one should not ignore that Iran’s nuclear weaponization program continued to advance against the backdrop of the 3Ds of denial, deception, and delay. For example, in 2007 and 2010 Iran continued to conceal its nuclear activities by not informing the IAEA of its decision to build a new nuclear plant at Denkhovia, or the additional enrichment facility – the aforementioned Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Therefore, the need for inspection – and verification – is crucial, and must include the Iranian authorities providing the IAEA the requisite access, as the IAEA has called for, to the necessary documentation, personnel, sites etc. that Iran is concealing.

9. Iranian authorities need to grant the IAEA access to the Parchin military complex near Tehran. As the IAEA has reported, Iran has conducted high explosive testing – possibly in conjunction with nuclear materials – at the complex. As Anthony Cordesman has reported, these are “strong indicators of possible weapons development.”

Yet Iranian authorities have repeatedly denied such access to the IAEA – including refusing such visits in January and February 2012, while at the same time dismissing the IAEA information as a set of “forgeries.” Moreover, Yukiya Amano, the IAEA chief, has called access to Parchin a “priority,” citing also the sanitization of the site – and possible removal of incriminating evidence of weaponization – this past March.

This might explain information that emerged to the effect that the Iranians were prepared to grant access to Parchin.

Interestingly enough, Iran is already being credited for this “concession,” which its alleged sanitization – and cover-up of the evidence – would have made such access less meaningful in any case, and where access to Parchin alone is but a minuscule part of the undertakings to which Iran must adhere.

10. Iran needs to allow the IAEA to install devices on centrifuges for the monitoring of uranium enrichment levels. Simply put, Iran could move to weapons grade uranium even if it is using only low enriched uranium, by increasing both the number and the speed of the centrifuges.

11. As Senators Joe Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham put it in their recent Wall Street Journal article, there needs to be an additional agreement respecting “intrusive inspections based on the Additional Protocol under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ensure the Iranians aren’t lying or cheating about the full scope of their program, as they have in the past.”

12. Negotiations should not ignore, marginalize or be allowed to sanitize Iran’s massive domestic repression, or provide cover for their continuance.

When the US negotiated an arms control agreement with the Soviet Union, it did not turn a blind eye to the USSR’s human rights abuses. Indeed, the Helsinki Final Act linked the security, economic and human rights baskets. Negotiations with Iran should do no less.

13. Nor should the negotiators ignore Iran’s ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, a standing violation of the Genocide Convention. Simply put, Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under international law and should be called to account to cease and desist from such incitement, and its perpetrators called to account.

In summary, given the Iranian 3D pattern of denial, deception and delay, the whole while uranium continues to be enriched and centrifuges continue to spin – and while the nuclear weaponization program is on the verge of a “breakthrough” – only a verifiable abandonment by Iran of its nuclear weapons pursuits will suffice.

For that objective to be secured, negotiations must not be a cover for the 3Ds, but a password to full Iranian compliance with their international obligations, and a benchmark for international peace and security.

The writer is a member of the Canadian Parliament and a former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada. He is cochairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran, and a member of the advisory board of United Against Nuclear Iran. He is a professor of Law (Emeritus) at McGill University.

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