Iran and nuclear concerns

DR. ALI BAGHERI: Core provisions of the NPT cannot be accomplished as long as the nuclear weapon countries are in charge of steering the global nuclear agenda.  

Dr. Ali Bagheri, closely involved with Iran's nuclear diplomacy as Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, spoke on April 18 in Tehran to Atul Aneja on the international disarmament conference in Iran and its likely impact on the upcoming Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in New York. He sought to counter allegations about Iran's lack of cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He emphasised that Iran and India ought to coordinate their work in Afghanistan. Excerpts:

The situation in Afghanistan is turbulent and the Americans may leave soon. Can India and Iran work together in Afghanistan as they have done in the past?

You raised a very important point. Iran's position on Afghanistan is based on the principle that the countries of the region should be responsible for its security. But this is not possible unless we have serious, close and constructive cooperation with the regional countries. Therefore, cooperation within the region is not an option; it's a necessity. During regional interactions at different levels, especially with India, we have emphasised this point. We believe that foreigners are present in our neighbourhood only because we have allowed a power vacuum to develop...

We have had, and continue to have, talks with our friends in New Delhi. We do believe that in the immediate future we will see concrete results of this cooperation. We look forward to the arrival of India's Deputy National Security Adviser Alok Prasad in May, for meetings in Tehran within our strategic dialogue framework.

There has been an attempt in international forums to make a distinction between the “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban” in Afghanistan.

It would be naive to conclude that the foreigners are determined to uproot the terrorists and the Taliban. Using different tools and means at their command, they want to perpetuate areas of existing and potential instability. Therefore, we reject the viewpoints of the occupiers and foreigners: these are not constructive.

What impact will the Tehran conference on disarmament and non-proliferation have on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference scheduled in New York in May?

The NPT has three pillars. One pillar is disarmament, another is non-proliferation and the third is peaceful use of nuclear energy. Over the past 40 years, from the time the NPT was put into practice, we have witnessed that proliferation has increased and not decreased. Nuclear stockpiles have in fact become more sophisticated and improved.

Disarmament… has been put on the backburner. Two conclusions can be drawn. One is that the core provisions of the NPT cannot be accomplished as long as the nuclear weapon countries are in charge of steering the global nuclear agenda. Second, real disarmament will only begin when nuclear weapons are rejected at a popular level across the globe. We are of the view that the success of disarmament will depend on its comprehensiveness. Even if one atomic weapon remains… we would have failed...

You seem to be calling for radical changes in the institutional arrangements that govern the international nuclear regime.

The problem is more fundamental. Those big powers which were triumphant after the Second World War and those who had nuclear power laid the foundations of our present unequal situation. As a result, might and power triumphed over civilisation, culture and humanity. But now that cycle has been completed and we have… a new situation. This means the U.N. Security Council, where all power has been concentrated, has in its present form become dysfunctional.

The changes in the ground rules governing the management and dissemination of nuclear energy are therefore part of a larger call for the democratisation of the international system. Within this larger framework we proposed at the Tehran conference the establishment of an independent commission or committee that would steer the disarmament issue and would be answerable to the General Assembly.

Has the time come for the NPT to be replaced by a new treaty? Countries like India are not part of the NPT, but would have to play a big role if global disarmament is to be achieved.

The principal problem on the question of disarmament is not lack of treaties. However, nuclear weapons states have always wanted exceptional treatment for themselves. We have witnessed that countries inside the NPT have cooperated with technology with countries which have tested atomic weapons and are outside the NPT framework. However, if new arrangements can contribute to real and absolute international disarmament, then it may be appropriate to do so. One recommendation of the Tehran conference was that those countries which are inside the NPT should be barred from working with countries outside it.

One of the unresolved issues between Iran and the IAEA relates to the so-called “Alleged Studies.” Based on information apparently contained in a laptop computer that was taken out in 2004, it is alleged that Iran conducted high explosive testing, warhead designing and “green salt” experiments. These are supposedly related to the development of atomic weapons. Are you closer to a resolution of this issue with the IAEA?

In 2007, we signed a modality agreement with the IAEA. Under this arrangement, the IAEA mentioned six topics, or issues, which in its view were ambiguous. Both sides agreed to resolve these in an 18-month time-frame. On account of constructive cooperation from Iran, the time-frame… was reduced to six months. [Under]… this time table, the Agency sent six… letters to Iran, [saying] its findings complied with Iran's claims.

After this process was completed, the IAEA raised some issues that did not relate to ambiguity. Rather, they were accusations made [about Iran's nuclear programme] by some countries. Had these accusations been based on solid ground or had they been documented, they would have naturally been added to the six outstanding issues. Therefore, those accusations were not critical enough to be considered outstanding or ambiguous... Nevertheless, it was decided that the IAEA should provide details about those Alleged Studies, or accusations. Iran agreed to respond with its assessment and viewpoints, and in a 117-page letter provided its assessment to the IAEA.

The approach followed by some countries has been illogical. They have been unable to provide any documents or proof to substantiate their claims. The former IAEA head, Mohamed ElBaradei, at the time of his retirement announced that regarding Alleged Studies, the ball… was in the accusers' court. Had these countries possessed a single piece of evidence, they would have… publicised those documents.

Why did Iran object to the nuclear swap deal as was proposed in the Vienna conference in October 2009?

That question should be posed in another way. It shouldn't be why Iran rejected the idea, it should be why certain unreasonable conditions were put on Iran. We were told to swap 1,200 kg of Low Enriched Uranium for fuel. Why ask for 1,200 kg? Secondly, we were asked to provide the bulk of our LEU stocks right away. But, we were told that in return, the fuel, which we urgently require to run the Tehran reactor used for making medicines to treat cancer patients, would arrive only after one year. Why one year?

Third... our interlocutors have insisted that the swap should take place outside Iran… Why? The reasons they have given are not logical. We said, isn't it the case that this material is under the custody of the IAEA? Wherever you take this material, you will place it under the IAEA's custody. Our question is: what is the difference between IAEA custody inside Iran and outside Iran? Notwithstanding this, we have not closed the door for talks regarding the exchange outside Iran. Iran wants interaction on this issue.

Meanwhile, we have taken measures to produce and fabricate the required 20 per cent enriched fuel for the Tehran reactor inside Iran: we cannot ignore our patients' demands.

The Bushehr atomic power plant is expected to go online this year. How does it fit into your larger plans to generate nuclear power?

According to the 20-year vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iran's government is obliged to generate 20,000 MW of nuclear power. This plan has two parts. First, foreign companies would be involved in the construction of power plants. Second, domestically developed capabilities will come into play… We have already developed on our own, the prototype of a 360 MW reactor.

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