Iran has every right to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy agenda, insists Kamal Kharrazi. America’s double standards have increased mistrust around the world

Extremism doesn’t only breed terrorism. It also chips away at the solidarity of nations united against terrorism, undermines the rule of international law and creates chaos in international relations.

Recent years have been tragically marked by extremism in its various forms. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and other subsequent acts have claimed thousands of lives. However, the US administration’s response to those attacks, as well as its counterproductive approach to world affairs – which has only increased uncertainty and instability in the world – could also be described as extremist.

The same can be said of America’s approach to Iran’s peaceful energy programme – a stance which runs explicitly against efforts made by my government, together with the European Union (EU), to build confidence in it.

An extremist and unilateralist approach is at work in Washington’s view to undermine recent constructive efforts to resolve the misunderstanding over Iran’s nuclear programme. Washington does not view Iran’s nuclear file objectively or on its own merits. By insisting on referring the Iranian case to the Security Council and dismissing the valuable efforts undertaken by the Europeans, the US government is instead trying to settle its own scores with Iran.

This approach persists, despite the latest developments that demonstrate Iran’s readiness to go to extra lengths to prove that its nuclear programme is peaceful and to do whatever it takes to build confidence with the entire world in this respect.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) board of governors in its last resolution “welcomes the fact that Iran has decided to continue and extend its suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities”. At the same time, it recognizes that the suspension “is a voluntary confidence-building measure, not a legal obligation”.

Demonstration of goodwill
The agreement we reached with Britain, France and Germany and other EU countries on November 14, 2004, paved the way for the reasonable outcome at the end of the board’s deliberations on Iran’s nuclear energy programme. Despite the difficulties and misgivings on the domestic scene, we reached an agreement that demonstrated our goodwill, in the hope that it would be reciprocated and allow us to continue down the path of further confidence-building.

These two developments came on the heels of the latest IAEA report in mid-November, which confirmed that inspectors had uncovered no evidence of concealed nuclear activities or an atomic weapons programme in Iran. The report specifies that “all the declared material in Iran has been accounted for and therefore such material is not diverted to prohibited activities”. The new developments, along with the other measures we adopted in the past two years, demonstrate Iran’s full commitment to the non-proliferation treaties, particularly the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to strengthen the NPT safeguards regime. This is the course we are prepared to continue pursuing. At the same time, we are unwavering in our refusal to succumb to those who may wish to deprive us of our inalienable rights under the NPT.

The Iranian approach
The following considerations lie at the heart of the Iranian approach to its nuclear energy programme.
First, Iran must diversify its energy resources in order to ensure its sustainable development, as well as the livelihood of its present and future generations. We therefore decided to develop nuclear energy – as early as the beginning of the 1970s. In fact, by the eve of the Islamic Revolution, the Iranian nuclear energy programme was well advanced, having benefited from the active assistance of a number of European countries, and a favourable and encouraging stance by the United States.

All Iranian governments in recent history – both royal and Islamic – have sought nuclear energy, not out of political affiliation, but rather because of a strong economic rationale for diversifying the country’s energy mix. Iran’s desire to become economically self-sufficient and to be able to redistribute its wealth while doing away with overdependency on oil export revenues is a sentiment widespread throughout Iranian polity and society.

The country’s population, currently around 70 million, has doubled since 1979, and is projected to hit 105 million by 2050. And with a territory of 1.6 million square kilometres, we have no choice other than gaining access to a more diversified and secure source of energy.

Iran’s economy is growing at around 7%. It consumes half its crude oil production inside the country, and needs an additional 2,000 megawatts of electricity per year.

It would be profoundly negligent of any government to shun the needs of future generations and jeopardize their wellbeing by not taking action now. Oil and gas are finite resources that will be depleted in a few decades at the current rates of consumption, unless we find alternative sources of energy – and foreign currency. If Iran continues on its current trajectory, we may end up being a net importer of energy in about 20 years. So we cannot sit back and not prepare ourselves for such eventualities.

Aside from the economic and environmental justifications for Iran’s quest for nuclear energy, it is a matter of principle that a mid-sized emerging economy such as Iran’s cannot and should not deprive itself of the powerful momentum that nuclear technology would provide. The national consensus on this issue is based on the fact that all economic sectors would thrive upon achieving nuclear-grade standard, across all industries.

A legitimate right
Second, given that Iran is technologically and materially capable, legally entitled and politically – in terms of public opinion – mandated to pursue a peaceful nuclear energy programme, how could any Iranian government give it up? Since we possess all the necessary components of such a programme, including uranium mines, technical know-how, human resources and equipment, every Iranian asks why we should therefore deprive ourselves of it.

The international mechanisms governing nuclear programmes provide for rights and obligations. While Iranians abide by their obligations, they expect, at the same time, to be able to enjoy their rights. No-one is entitled to seek arbitrarily to deprive a sovereign state of its legitimate rights.

Third, Iran is legally bound to forgo the pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also in its interest, as the largest and the most populous country in the region, to discourage an arms race in the region. Moreover, given the prevailing international climate, developing nuclear weapons would be a liability, not an advantage. Going nuclear will not enhance Iran’s security, and on this understanding we signed the NPT in 1968 and proposed, in 1974, to declare the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone.

Iran’s commitment to its NPT obligations stems not only from its contractual obligation and security considerations, but also from its religious and ethical considerations. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has reiterated on several occasions a fatwa prohibiting the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. He repeated this fatwa in an address on November 5, 2004. Given the importance of the fatwa institution in Shia Islam, the broad significance of this should not be underestimated. Fourth, Iran’s efforts to strengthen the safeguard regime so far have included the signing of the Additional Protocol on December 18, 2003 and its immediate implementation; the voluntary suspension of the enrichment and reprocessing activities; active cooperation with the IAEA in providing information, making people available for interviews and granting the agency access to and permission for environmental sampling at all locations in respect of which the agency had made requests; agreeing on February 24, 2004 to suspend voluntarily the manufacture, assembly and testing of centrifuges and the domestic manufacture of centrifuge components; and, finally, suspension of all tests and production of uranium conversion facility, as well as suspending the manufacture of components, and assembly and testing of centrifuge, on November 14, 2004.

Failures blown out of proportion
On some occasions in the past several years, the IAEA has highlighted certain failures on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and has then asked that officials take corrective measures. Yet in the politically charged environment created by American and Israeli officials alike, cases that would typically be considered routine elsewhere were blown out of proportion and led to irresponsible speculation.

True, over the past 18 years Iran has not always provided the agency with all the information it has demanded. But this should be viewed against the backdrop of illegal restrictions, including the United States’ extraterritorially imposed sanctions. Moreover, hardly any member-state can claim to be flawless, as any cursory review of the IAEA’s Safeguard Implementation Reports will show. Negligence or failure on the part of NPT signatories is routine.

It is also important to recall that the IAEA report from November 2003 had confirmed that “to date there is no evidence that the previously undeclared nuclear material and activities… were related to a nuclear weapons programme”.

Fifth, the only way to counter the challenges related to the proliferation of nuclear weapons is to strengthen the relevant international instruments through multilateral, comprehensive and non-discriminatory efforts. The NPT is the cornerstone of international efforts to achieve complete nuclear disarmament; to halt vertical and horizontal proliferation of this deplorable weapon.

However, it is worrying to note shortcomings and a number of setbacks, particularly since 2000, such as the United States’ intention to develop and stockpile a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons for use in conventional conflicts and against non-nuclear adversaries; America’s reliance on nuclear weaponry for the foreseeable future; and the notion of pre-emptive strike, developed as a part of the US national security strategy.

While the NPT constitutes an integrated structure, its effectiveness lies in full compliance with all its provisions by all parties. The selective approach by a few states to the provisions of the NPT undermines international interest in its full implementation. The refusal of certain states to address the issue of nuclear disarmament, as referred to in the NPT, is the treaty’s key provision which remains unaddressed and unimplemented. Selective and discriminatory approaches towards the implementation of the NPT will impair its credibility and thereby its effectiveness to address the challenges at hand.

America’s extremist approach towards Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme, as well as towards non-proliferation issues in general – including double standards, such as its tacit acceptance of Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons programme – has increased mistrust among countries not only within the Muslim world but in the entire world. We must take corresponding and appropriate measures to allay such mutual suspicion. But, given the depth of the mistrust, drastic action is required. Otherwise, the gulf between the moderate mainstream in both the Islamic world and the west could widen, and the bleak notion of a clash of civilizations might prevail.

Kamal Kharrazi
Kamal Kharrazi is Iran’s foreign minister.