In August 2002, an Iranian exile opposition group publicly disclosed the locations of two secret nuclear facilities in Iran that were confirmed by the United Nations. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in June 2003 concluded that the Iranians had failed to comply with Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The efforts that resulted in the current Paris agreement between the European Union 3 (France, Germany and United Kingdom) date back more than a year. In October 2003, Iran in a deal with the EU capitulated over the prospect of a formal finding by the IAEA and the resultant referral to the UN Security Council. The deal made Iran suspend enrichment, reprocessing and adhere to the IAEA's Additional Protocol (Iran has yet to ratify the Protocol) that stipulated intrusive inspections. The Iranians were promised that the issue would not be raised in the Security Council and EU would provide civilian nuclear technology to continue the peaceful program.
By early 2004 it was evident that the deal had unraveled and Iran was continuing with enrichment related activities. In February 2004 it was discovered that Iran had even experimented with Polonium-210, which can be used to trigger a chain reaction in the nuclear bomb. As is evident, Tehran's compliance with past resolutions of the IAEA has been uneven at best. The Iranian flip-flop over the international community's pressure is now falling into a pattern where intense pressure bears short-term results and then the activities resume.
The Paris Agreement
Despite these developments, EU continued negotiations with Iran to plug as a first step the uranium enrichment facility amidst growing American pressure calling for military action and/or also regime-change. In an agreement on 14 November 2004 at Paris, Iran notified the IAEA that it would suspend its uranium-enrichment activities for the duration of the EU-Iran negotiations. On 29 November, IAEA Director-General confirmed to the IAEA board of governors that Iran has implemented the decision.
Tehran is to suspend the manufacture, importation of gas centrifuges and assembly, installation, testing, or operation of such centrifuges. The agreement also prohibits separation of plutonium or constructing a plutonium-separation facility. The agreement recognizes Iran's rights under NPT and states that the freeze is voluntary, rather than a legal obligation. A steering committee met on 13 December 2004 and the objectives of the talks were to create confidence and set up working groups on nuclear, security and economic cooperation. The objective of the groups is to reach to an agreement within the next three months on exactly how Iran's nuclear programme will be monitored.
The Iranian nuclear imbroglio epitomizes the issues at stake in international politics in our times - in particular that of American unilateralism, democracy, religious fundamentalism, proliferation of WMDs and terrorism. There is an obvious difference in the way EU and the US approach the matter. The United States has concentrated on technological safeguards to stem proliferation as opposed to exploring its demand side and when this fails, the military option is seen as the only way out. The European Union prefers engagement rather than isolation or a military strike. President Bush has so far been reported to "appreciate the European efforts" but he was "deeply skeptical" as to whether Iran would comply. A CIA report released on 23 November states that despite the IAEA inspections and safeguards "Iran could use the same technology at other covert locations for military applications." There have been calls from both Europe and America to harmonize their policies at the earliest. Under such conditions, the US is to support the current EU effort and also consider engaging Iran directly. If Iran comes to a weapons potential, the EU must be prepared to impose sanctions and take the matter to the Security Council.
The non-proliferation regime is under severe pressure due to the proliferation activities from China and now Pakistan. The North Korean problem remains a festering sore that keeps East Asia on its toes. At the heart of the matter is the failure of the nuclear states to move towards disarmament as enshrined in the NPT. For the Iranians the ability to deter the American threat appears to be an important motivator of the nuclear program as also the Israeli one. In such a situation it would be pertinent to note that there is a tension in enforcing non-proliferation and increasing American unilateralism and this does not bode well for any anti-American regional power or the world in general.
Lastly for the Paris agreement to have any impact, the security concerns of Iran need to be factored. The Iranian concerns come from it being adjoined by neighbours who have sizeable US presence as well as a nuclear capable Israel. The quagmire in Iraq is going to be a deterrent for the Americans to consider the military option at least for the immediate future. For the Iranians, it is going to be a difficult time as the Presidential elections are approaching in early 2005 and the nuclear issue could kick up a lot of dust by becoming politicized. Iran must be aware of the odds it is against in its drive towards nuclear potential but it will want a frank endorsement of the Paris deal from the United States if it ever is to turn the nuclear tap off in the near future.