Is Iran being victimized by sanctions it doesn’t deserve?

By Yousaf Butt
June 20, 2014

A security official stands in front of the Bushehr nuclear reactor

Iranian officials met this week with their six-power counterparts to try to hammer out the outlines of a comprehensive nuclear deal set to last for several years. But its precise duration remains undecided.

Reaching an agreement will be a monumentally challenging task because all the parties have veered away from international law and are trying to make ad hoc arrangements. They should instead aim for a permanent, straightforward and legal solution whose basis already exists. Successfully sealing a deal with Iran may also help Western efforts to stabilize the situation in Iraq, where Iranian and Western interests align.

Late last year, the United States, Britain, China, Russia, Germany and France reached an interim deal with Iran to freeze and roll back some of its nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. These interim arrangements are set to expire July 20. According to the agreed “Joint Plan of Action,” another six-month stopgap deal may be signed after the first one expires. But a comprehensive long-term agreement should be reached within a year, by late January 2015.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait for the begin of talks in ViennaThough there was a great deal of optimism initially, the negotiations have recently bogged down, with the duration of the comprehensive deal a sticking point. Tehran appears to favor a three-year timeframe, while Washington insiders have suggested a 10-year or 20-year agreement.

The timeframe is important because, according to the existing Joint Plan of Action, after the comprehensive deal expires, “the Iranian nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” — meaning leniently.

So whatever is decided will be temporary — by design.

Up to now, one main point of contention has been the number of centrifuges, used in the enrichment of uranium, that Iran will be allowed to have. Such limits are important, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, because they would lengthen the time needed for Iran to “break out” and enrich uranium to weapons-grade in any presumptive race to build a bomb. But because the comprehensive deal would be temporary by design, this is hardly a lasting solution.

Others have suggested that such limits are meaningless. As one commentator said, “This is completely wrong. Breakout is precisely the wrong measure of whether a deal is successful,” because the Iranians, according to this argument, would use a covert facility to break out if they wanted to do that.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA Najafi attends a news conference in ViennaInstead of obsessing over breakout capability, more emphasis on verification and intrusive inspections above and beyond what is codified in international law has been suggested.

There are two problems with these approaches. First, they are ad hoc requirements imposed on Iran that are not based on any international law. Second, the proposed solutions are not lasting. They may sound like they are harsh on Iran,  but they evaporate after an undetermined number of years.

A better solution is to craft a lasting agreement based on existing frameworks in arms control law.

One such framework is the Additional Protocol. This is a legal document complementing Iran’s existing safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (AIEA). The protocol enables “the IAEA not only to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material but also to provide assurances as to the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in a state.”

Although it is far from perfect — even with this protocol in force, a nation could fool the IAEA if it wanted to — the protocol is a step above the “bare” safeguards agreement between Iran and the IAEA.

There may be some risk that Iran would cheat on this protocol, but the historical record suggests otherwise. Iran has never been accused of manufacturing nuclear weapons. The IAEA did determine that Iran was in “non-compliance” with its safeguards agreement in 2005. But this was a technical matter dealing with accounting for nuclear materials. “Non-compliance” did not mean that Iran was making nuclear weapons.

For example, South Korea, in 2004, and Egypt, in 2005, also  violated their safeguards agreements. But these U.S. allies were never even referred to the United Nations Security Council, let alone targeted for sanctions. Pierre Goldschmidt, a former deputy director of safeguards at the IAEA, has noted the “danger of setting bad precedents based on arbitrary criteria or judgments informed by political considerations” at the IAEA.

In any case, a decade ago Iran did not have the enriched fissile material needed to make bombs. Even if it wanted to. Hans Blix, a former head of the IAEA, has stated: “Iran has not violated the [Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons].” He added, “there is no evidence right now that suggests that Iran is producing nuclear weapons.”

In 2011, following his more than decade-long tenure as the director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said that he had not “seen a shred of evidence” that Iran was pursuing the bomb. “All I see,” ElBaradei said, “is the hype about the threat posed by Iran.”

IAEA records show that all substantial safeguards issues raised in 2005 had been resolved in Iran’s favor by 2008. So Iran was again in compliance with its safeguards agreement at that date.

All U.N. Security Council sanctions ought to have been dropped at that point. Yet Iran’s nuclear file still remains tied up at the Security Council due largely to the IAEA’s and Security Council’s mishandling of the case. The poor quality of the scientific evidence against Iran – some of it possibly fabricated – does not justify continued U.N. sanctions.

Out of all the countries it inspects, the IAEA spends the second-highest amount of money on nuclear inspections in Iran. Only Japan, which has a vastly larger nuclear infrastructure, accounts for a larger amount. About 12 percent of the IAEA’s $164 million inspections budget is spent on Iran, but that percentage has increased to 17 percent during the interim deal because of the even more intrusive — and therefore expensive — inspections being carried out. On a “per nuclear facility” basis, in fact, the IAEA spends the largest amount of its inspections budget on Iran.

Comprehensive deal or not, the IAEA will continue to conduct in Iran one of the most thorough and intrusive inspections it carries out anywhere.

Given this history and the critical situation in Iraq today, it makes little sense going for broke trying – and failing – to get a very stringent but temporary deal. Getting Tehran to agree to ratify the Additional Protocol permanently would be a far more meaningful and sustainable accomplishment — and would have the benefit of being within existing arms control law.


PHOTO (TOP): A security official talks to journalists in front of Bushehr main nuclear reactor, 1,200 km (746 miles) south of Tehran, August 21, 2010. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

PHOTO (INSERT 1): European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton (L) and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wait for the begin of talks in Vienna, June 17, 2014. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency Reza Najafi attends a news conference at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, December 11, 2013. REUTERS/Leonhard Foege


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Let’s see: Certifiably insane political system run by certifiably insane people over a country full of Iraqi that have long ago performed genocide on the Persian. Should there by sanctions? Biblically speaking, worse should happen.

Posted by SixthRomeo | Report as abusive

The question has never been whether or not Iran deserved sanctions. The question is only are they really going to help much at all.

‘according to the existing Joint Plan of Action, after the comprehensive deal expires, “the Iranian nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty” — meaning leniently.’ – now that is scary. They are not like other states. They are developing weapons. They are willing to lie and cheat to do it. They have had true nut jobs running the country.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Is Iran being victimized by sanctions it doesn’t deserve?

Empahtically NO but we are well past this now. The question is really this – when is the world going to grow a pair and tell the US/israel and craven Europe where to go over this most appalling piece of nuclear hypocrisy?

Posted by APNichols | Report as abusive

What an utterly silly article. Where to start?

(1) “The ad hoc requirements imposed on Iran that are not based on international law”. Wrong. They are in follow-up to numerous UN Security Council sanctions.

(2) “There may be some risk that Iran would cheat on this protocol, but the historical record suggests otherwise.” Wrong. Iran has repeatedly cheated, such as by building secret underground U232 enrichment facilities.

(3) S. Korea and Egypt violated their safeguards agreements, but were not referred to the UN Security Council. So what? There was not the same evidence, including public statements of the government, that they were attempting to build thermonuclear weapons.

(4) Poor scientific evidence against Iran. Wrong. Even in the negotiations Iran has admitted it is reaching towards weapons grade enriched uranium. Are massive number of centrifuges not “scientific evidence”?

This article is crooked propaganda. The reality is that thermonuclear weapons are too dangerous for nations to allow the technology to spread. No country has a “right” to produce them.

Posted by WestFlorida | Report as abusive

Then I guess Reagan should be held accountable for spreading these weapons to the Pakistanis? Who form the USA will go to jail over that crime, in defiance of the Non-Proliferation Treaty?

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

WHO IS GOING TO START A NUCLEAR WAR SO THAT THEY CAN BE DESTROYED BY THE OPPOSING COUNTRIES THAT HAVE THE WEAPONS AND MEANS TO annihilate the offending country??? Soooo lets get logical and determine what is really going on. Iran is a well developed country in their area and no other country has the resources physical and knowledge, they have. Saudi Arabia has oil resources, but lacks little than that for the coming times when their oil wells diminish and their kingdom will have to stop supporting the everyday Saudi Arabian. As well it is an Arab country dominated by the Islam of the past, and thus faces becoming poorer and poorer and beholden to its neighbors for protection, as the US no longer needs their oil and will devote their military energies to other resource areas, that are providing resources or markets that are sorely needed to maintain the US standard of life. Let the Iranians go about their business and waste much resources and energy on an outdated idea that they will dominate their region if they have a nuclear warhead or two. Just as Israel has no use for theirs as they would truly become the Devil’s disciple if they used one of theirs. Sooo it gets down to image and the image that plays when nuclear is mentioned. Get real world, and try to stop something in one small area when the greater threat is the US, China, Russia and the UK who are constantly re-polishing their weapons and promoting fear to their neighbors if they make a wrong move. Working on total nuclear disarmament is where the effort and resources should be spent if one is really trying to prevent a nuclear catastrophe!!

Posted by frankinca | Report as abusive

Are we the United States of America still punishing Iran for the hostage taking?

Posted by joebenlabrant | Report as abusive

The secret in all good propaganda is to pose a question whose underlying premise totally confuses and distorts the salient facts. This article is a good case in point.

Iran is facing sanctions because it is defying binding Chapter VII UN Security Council Resolutions which, for example, demanded years ago that it halt all nuclear enrichment activities. Having chosen not to do so Iran has long been in flagrant breach of international law and has, as a result, had a succession of UN mandated sanctions imposed. If it doesn’t like them all it has to do is comply with international law!

Of course Iran is perfectly entitled to believe that it has been a victim of a travesty of justice, but the whole idea of suspending enrichment was to allow Iran to prove its peaceful intentions after having been found cheating on its safeguarding agreement by hiding an enrichment programme for 18 years.

So what’s Mr Butt’s solution? Quite simply to turn history on its head. To forget that Iran hid an enrichment programme for 18 years and then defied Security demands that it halt enrichment for many more years and instead let Iran agree a protocol with the IAEA that even he thinks it could cheat on if it wanted to. Why?:

“There may be some risk that Iran would cheat on this protocol, but the historical record suggests otherwise.”

Really, what historical record is that?

Posted by Steve157 | Report as abusive

all the sanctions imposed on iran or better saying on iranian people are unfair and baseless.
in fact some hegemonic & bullying powers like the u.s & its allieds are calling themselves as international community are following double standards policies because its a bitter reality for them to sea a developed & progressed country in which they did their best to prevent it .why is it that the un & the self imposed security council the so called the representative of the global community has changed its essence & prefers to act as the u.s puppet.

Posted by sajjad.m | Report as abusive

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