The international community, spearheaded by the P5+1 (USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany), is currently engaged in talks with Iran in an effort to dismantle the global threat posed by the theocratic regime’s race toward acquiring nuclear weapons. With negotiations set to resume November 7-8 in Geneva, the following backgrounder analyzes the negotiating process over Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons capability.
The Nature of the Threat
Other countries, such as the USA, Russia, India, and reportedly Israel, possess nuclear weapons. Why is the international community up in arms over Iran’s pursuit of a weapons program?
Other countries have pursued atomic weapons programs for the purpose of deterrence and have, for decades, demonstrated such a policy. Iran, on the other hand, has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Israel. Further, Iran calls for the demise of the West. Indeed, as Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu told American journalist Charlie Rose recently, “They’re not developing those ICBMs (ballistic missiles) for us. They can reach us with what they have. It’s for you.”
It is also for countries across the Middle East. So fearful are Saudi Arabia and Gulf states of the prospect of Iranian hegemony that countries with no diplomatic ties to Israel have engaged in high level meetings with Israel with the aim of forming a regional alliance against Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Indeed, the global dimension of the Iranian threat to international peace and security is often overlooked. An Iran with military nuclear capabilities would threaten world peace and stability. Rather than deterrence, Iran’s policy is terrorism and destruction. Iran’s authoritarian, non-democratic, theocratic regime is a foremost state sponsor of terrorism and denies basic human rights to its own citizens,.
Nuclear Energy or Atomic Bomb?
Iran insists on its “inalienable right to enrich” and asserts it’s pursuing nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes only”.
However, Iran’s nuclear stockpile significantly exceeds requirements for a peaceful nuclear program. Nuclear weapons capability requires centrifuges and enrichment. Seventeen different countries peacefully produce nuclear energy without uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran currently has 19,000 first-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges installed, with 2,000 buried deep under a mountain at the Fordow facility – and 600 additional centrifuges being installed each month.
Iran possesses a plutonium heavy water plant which is required for nuclear weapons, not nuclear energy, as well as advanced fissile material. Its nuclear program is underground rather than aboveground, also suggestive of military purposes.
Negotiations with Iran over its nuclear weapons program began in 2003, but Iran has continued to pursue its program unimpeded. Recently, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) estimated Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium to build a nuclear bomb within a month.
Complying with International Law
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The P5+1, U.S. lawmakers and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have called for Iranian compliance of UN Security Council resolutions and with Iran’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran, which is a signatory to the treaty, is therefore required to end enrichment and enrichment capability and end plutonium heavy water capability toward fissile material for nuclear weapons (which provides Iran with an alternate pathway to a nuclear bomb). Iran must export its existing stockpile of enriched material, and open up its suspected nuclear weaponization facilities for inspection, which it currently denies IAEA inspectors.
Iran is seeking relief from sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.
Sanctions imposed in 2011 by Washington and the EU have combined to slash Iran's oil exports by more than 1 million barrels per day, depriving Tehran of billions of dollars worth of sales per month and helping to drive up inflation and unemployment.
European governments took steps recently to re-impose sanctions on Iran's main cargo shipping line. US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said that Washington would not offer sanctions relief to Iran in the absence of "concrete steps" to address international concerns over its nuclear program.
Is Iran Sincere?
Iranian President Rouhani has been characterized as “moderate”, yet, Rouhani’s own statements betray his hardline stance toward nuclear weaponization. Rouhani’s2011 memoir describes his time as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. In his own words, Rouhani stated: “While we were talking to the Europeans in Tehran, we were installing equipment in Isfahan… By creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan.” These are Iran’s true nuclear intentions.
Since June, when new Iranian President Rouhani was elected, Iran has installed thousands of new centrifuges.
The threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program does not affect Israel primarily, as some have suggested. Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a global threat that pose a dire challenge to international peace and stability.
Jonathan Spyer Senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
A Middle East analyst, author and journalist specializing in the areas of Israel, Lebanon, Syria and broader issues of regional strategy. He is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a Fellow at the Middle East Forum.