The burden of proof is on Iran

Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani is clearly determined to get economic and financial sanctions on Iran lifted.

September 23, 2013 22:04
4 minute read.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani [file].

Hassan Rouhani 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Fars News)


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Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani is clearly determined to get economic and financial sanctions on Iran lifted. To that end, he obviously must conduct dialogue with the P5+1 world powers, especially with the US; as such, he has – not surprisingly – put out concrete feelers in this direction.

From the US perspective, Iran must take clear steps toward resolving international concerns about the military direction of its nuclear program, and the assumption seems to be that if Rouhani wants to talk, he understands what this will entail.

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The problem is that Rouhani has said nothing so far to indicate that he has any intention to reverse course in the nuclear realm. Quite the contrary: He has said Tehran will not even discuss uranium-enrichment suspension.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report of late August underscores that Iran is on track in the nuclear realm, with the worrying information that some 1,000 newgeneration centrifuges have been installed at Natanz and are ready to be tested. These centrifuges spin much faster, and thus have a much greater enrichment efficiency and are more durable than the previous generation – and will greatly improve Iran’s ability to move quickly to nuclear breakout, should it so decide.

Rouhani has said that Iran never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb, and will not be doing so, but this stands in stark contradiction to IAEA reports on Iran and US intelligence assessments on past activities. The supreme leader of Iran has been hailed for calling for flexibility in dealing with the international community, but his full sentence was that Iran may exercise flexibility for a tactical reason, while not losing sight of its rival and goal.

This is completely in-line with Iran’s approach toward the international community over the past decade; it has displayed impressive acumen at playing a tactical game in nuclear negotiations, while using the time to steadily progress toward its goal.

Rouhani will most likely repeat his conciliatory messages at the UN General Assembly this week, but the first real test of Iran’s nuclear intentions comes on September 27, when a longdelayed meeting with the IAEA is scheduled to take place. Although Tehran’s incessant refrain in almost all Iranian media commentary is that the country has cleared up all of the outstanding inquiries with the IAEA, this is hardly the case.

In fact, the IAEA has a long list of requests it has made of Iran, which include: the application of the Additional Protocol that Iran signed long ago, but did not ratify; responses to the list of military-related aspects of the nuclear program; and updating the Design Information Questionnaire related to the construction of the IR-40 natural uranium reactor at Arak – which has the potential to produce plutonium, a fissile material suitable for the production of nuclear weapons.

The IAEA will also insist on an inspection visit to Parchin, a site suspected of hosting a facility for the development of the weaponization aspects of nuclear weapons, even if it is quite certain that the inspectors will find nothing incriminating there, due to the lengthy cleanup operations carried out by Iran. But this is only a beginning.

In the next round of negotiations, Iran’s potential for nuclear breakout – namely, the ability to produce a nuclear weapon so quickly that the world will find out about it only after it becomes a fait accompli – must be on the table. Stopping activities at Fordow, discontinuing enrichment to 20 percent and removing stockpiles from the country are a first step.

Equally important are dealing with stocks of low-enriched uranium and creating mechanisms to closely monitor and inspect all of Iran’s nuclear activities, including the plutonium route.

These actions have to be accompanied by Iranian transparency regarding its past activities, with special emphasis on the military dimensions – studies and developments of both weaponization and nuclear warheads, partial evidence of which has already been uncovered and presented.

As for Iran’s “inalienable right” to enrich uranium according to the Non- Proliferation Treaty, this was negated after Iran was found by the IAEA and the UN Security Council to be in noncompliance of its treaty obligations.

Tehran could regain this right if it begins to unwind its enrichment program and stops construction of its Arak reactor. It could go on producing electricity from its power reactor at Bushehr, and it could purchase all the isotopes it needs on the free world market. The nuclear fuel for its power reactor could easily be supplied by Russia. This could be a blueprint for a quick and lasting solution to the Iran nuclear issue, including the removal of sanctions. Would Iran do this? According to Iran’s past record, the chance of this is currently not high.

Iran has concealed, lied and acted in contravention of its obligations.

Moreover, while the pressure of sanctions is pushing Iran to talk to the US, there is no indication this has been enough for Iran to consider backing down from its nuclear goal.

It is not enough for Rohani to act according to Lewis Carroll’s immortal lines: “I have said it twice: That alone should encourage the crew… I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.”

In this case, words are not enough – it is the deeds that will count. And the deeds must come quickly enough, or the world will know that Iran has been using the time-buying tactic all over again.

Dr. Ephraim Asculai is a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, having joined it following more than 40 years of service at the Israel Atomic Energy Commission.

Dr. Emily B. Landau is director of the Arms Control and Regional Security program at INSS and author of
Decade of Diplomacy: Negotiations with Iran and North Korea and the Future of Nuclear Nonproliferation.

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