On April 22nd, delegates from NPT member states gathered in Geneva at the 2nd Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) meeting for the 2015 Nuclear Non-proliferation Review Conference. This PrepCom, spanning two weeks, was set to focus on a variety of nuclear issues, but ongoing international concern over Iran’s nuclear program meant many member states singled out Iran in their statements and reports, specifically narrowing in on issues such as non-compliance with NPT safeguards and the country’s opaque nuclear ambitions. These concerns over Iran’s nuclear program meant that what Iran had to say at PrepCom would garner some attention from other states and have some influence on the NPT review cycle.
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna and delegation leader to the NPT, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, delivered Iran’s opening statement in the general debate on April 23rd in his usual robust style, and expressed the wide array of interests Iran would seek to address during the conference. The statement was critical of the NPT nuclear weapon states (NWS) for dragging their feet over their disarmament commitments. It also sought to affirm Iran’s right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program and outline concern over the lack of progress in developing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East.
Ambassador Soltanieh’s formal statement in the Cluster I session (issues associated with the NPT’s nuclear disarmament pillar) called on NWS to adopt eight measures and principles leading towards disarmament: transparency, irreversibility, verifiability, ban on use, time frame for disarmament (proposed for 2025), budget reduction on nuclear weapons, qualitative and quantitative disarmament measures, and changing nuclear doctrines. The NWS, of course, have their own less ambitious agenda on disarmament which they are developing in private P5 meetings currently centred upon the first principle, transparency, the fourth of which was held under Russian leadership in Geneva just before the start of the PrepCom.
Iran’s statement in the Cluster II session (on non-proliferation measures) suggested that other states are in non-compliance with their non-proliferation obligations and requested the IAEA verify safeguards and obligations of European NATO countries hosting US nuclear weapons under burden-sharing arrangements. By declaring the IAEA as the “competent authority” to verify the compliance of states party to the NPT, Iran is thereby acknowledging the Agency’s competence to arbitrate in the dispute over their own nuclear program.
Ambassador Soltanieh’s statement in the Cluster III session (on peaceful nuclear energy) re-iterated Iran’s inalienable right to develop a peaceful nuclear program as set out by Article IV of the NPT. Successive UN Security Council resolutions have called upon Iran to stop nuclear fuel-cycle activity, but Iran affirmed it will continue under the agency’s supervision in accordance with its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA. Furthermore, Iran expressed its commitment to building up a safe nuclear infrastructure, though it has yet to adopt the IAEA Convention on Nuclear Safety or the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials.
Iran also submitted two national reports to the PrepCom on the establishment of the nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East and one on the implementation of Article VI (in which all states commit to cessation of the nuclear arms race and to nuclear disarmament).
Iran is currently serving as the President of the influential Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest coalition of states at the PrepCom which emerged from the group of states unaffiliated to either side during the Cold War, and will be in this role until after the NPT Review Conference in May 2015. This has raised many people to question how successful the NAM will be given on the focus on Iran’s nuclear program. Will Iran attempt to use its position to bring the NAM around to supporting its claims, or will Iran rather see its role as President as a constraint on its own freedom to act, and modify its position?
The NAM’s collective opening statement to the general debate stressed the group’s commitment to complete disarmament, emphasized the significance of Article IV (the right to civil nuclear technology), recognized the IAEA as the sole competent authority for verification, and strongly supported a WMD-Free Zone in the Middle East. The NAM offered additional statements in Cluster I (nuclear disarmament) and specifically on Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances. In Cluster II (nuclear non-proliferation), the NAM urged states to remember their commitments to disarmament and praised the establishment of Nuclear Weapon Free Zones as a positive step in achieving nuclear disarmament.
The issue of establishing the Middle East WMD-free zone (MEWMDFZ) overshadowed the second week of the PrepCom. The failure of states to convene a conference on MEWMDFZ by their agreed 2012 deadline, which was established at the last NPT Review Conference in 2010, has increased frustration among many states. The lack of progress on the Helsinki Conference, as it is now referred to, and the apparent unwillingness of the co-sponsoring states (United States, UK and Russia) to generate a sense of urgency for hosting the meeting, caused Egypt to walk out of the plenary room on April 29th. Iran, however, used their time on the floor to re-iterate their support of the MEWMDFZ, and later praised Egypt for their symbolic action. From the perspective of many states in the region, lack of progress on the MEWMDFZ comes down to Israel, and Western states not pushing them to agree to attend the conference.
Iran’s rhetoric over the discrimination at the heart of the NPT regime, and the claim of double standards will have appealed to some states in the room in Geneva, but it will not have changed minds. Though many other states have some sympathy with the sentiments expressed, they will have their own reasons for suspecting Iran’s motives and their pursuit of nuclear technology. Its charm offensive will have to go beyond the walls of the NPT and more concretely convince their neighbors of the exclusively civil nature of their program, and accept a higher level of inspection and verification to build that confidence. If Iran is serious about developing a safe, civilian, nuclear program it could demonstrate its will to do so by becoming a party to treaties regarding nuclear safety. If Iran is serious about other countries increasing their transparency, it could increase its own transparency and settle disputes with the IAEA.
Just as many rightly call for the NWS to go beyond their rhetoric on disarmament and show feasible evidence in actions, Iran needs to take action to prove their willingness to cooperate on nuclear issues in a tangible way, perhaps inspiring other states to move towards transparency and disarmament. Just as the British government declared its intention in 2007 to become a disarmament laboratory, so the Iranians could adopt a similar approach and declare itself to be a non-proliferation laboratory. By opening up its activities in this way they would quickly wrong-foot their detractors, divide the coalition against them, and strengthen the regime. It may be just the step necessary to shift the gaze of the international community towards other states not yet in step with the aims of the Treaty.
- Statement on behalf of NAM, April 22, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/22April_NAM.pdf (as Chairman of the NAM)
- Iran’s opening statement, April 23, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/23April_Iran.pdf
- Iran’s statement in Cluster I, April 25, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/25April_Iran.pdf
- Iran’s statement on specific issues (Cluster I): Nuclear Disarmament and Security Assurances, April 26, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/26April_Iran.pdf
- Iran’s statement to Cluster II, April 29, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/29April_Iran-C2.pdf
- Iran’s statement on specific issue (Cluster II): Regional Issues, including the Middle East Nuclear Weapon Free Zone, April 29, 2013:
- Iran’s statement to Cluster III, April 30, 2013: http://www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/npt/prepcom13/statements/30April_Iran.pdf
- Iran’s statement on specific issues (Cluster III): Other Provisions, May 1, 2013:
Full list of Statements: