The Fight for a “Right”: How an Iran Deal Might Hinge on One Simple Word

Avoiding conflict will require finessing a thorny sticking point

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Adrees Latif / REUTERS

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks to journalists during a news conference in New York September 27, 2013.

Talk of war is in the air as envoys from Iran and six major powers head into a new round of talks over Tehran’s nuclear program in Geneva later this week. The goal will be to craft an interim agreement that can buy time and trust for a grander bargain sometime next year. The two sides will haggle over several technical issues, like how much uranium Iran is allowed to retain and how may centrifuges it can operate. But one of the hardest questions is an abstract one: does Iran have a “right” to enrich uranium?

The United States says definitely not. Iran says absolutely yes. The difference in opinion, western diplomats say, was a key reason why the last round of talks earlier this month hit a dead end. It is no academic matter: both sides understand that the point cuts to the heart of the effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear bomb. At some point, it could be central to the argument for a potential U.S. military strike on Iran if negotiations fall apart.

Iranian leaders take the idea of a “right” to enrich uranium—the process that purifies harmless uranium ore into the stuff of nuclear bombs—extremely seriously. “The mastery of civil nuclear technology, including the enrichment of uranium, on Iranian soil is the absolute right of Iran,” Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Monday. In a November 10 address to parliament, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani declared domestic enrichment to be a “red line” that can’t be crossed.

(MORE: The Best Test of Iran’s Intentions Isn’t in Geneva)

In part, Iran is simply making clear that it will never accept a deal that requires giving up its enrichment program—including by dismantling the 19,000 centrifuges it now possesses. And while Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and many members of the U.S. Congress insist it must do so, but most experts say there’s little chance of a final deal that doesn’t allow Iran to continue enriching uranium at home—albeit under strict limitations to prevent it from quickly developing a bomb.

“Do I envisage a deal where they give up all their domestic enrichment? I don’t envisage that deal,” says Robert Einhorn of the Brookings Institution, who formerly worked on arms control and nonproliferation issues at the Obama State Department.

A different but related issue is a legal one. Iran has insisted that the U.S. and its allies explicitly concede in writing its legal right to enrich uranium under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a signatory. The treaty does allow for “the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.” Iran says that obviously the right to enrich uranium. The U.S. says domestic enrichment is not specifically cited in the treaty, and notes that many other nuclear powers—including South Africa, Spain and Mexico—get their fuel from outside their borders.

“There is no right that is specific within the NPT about enrichment,” Secretary of State John Kerry told the BBC on November 11. A top Israel minister more bluntly calls the notion “an insult to human intelligence.”

Why the bluster over one little word? One reason is precedent. The NPT is meant to allow peaceful nuclear programs, but under strict safeguards—like International Atomic Energy Agency inspections—to prevent countries from shifting to military purposes. (Bombs require more highly enriched uranium than do nuclear plants; countries that import nuclear fuel can’t turn it into bombs.) Granting Iran the right to enrich, says Blaise Misztal of the Bipartisan Policy Center, “would put the lie to the NPT and the attempt to divide enrichment technology between peaceful and military purposes.”

(VIDEO: Iran Nuclear Talks Losing Traction)

But there’s also a crucial implication for the world’s ability to police Iran’s future nuclear activities. If the major powers grant Iran a “right” to enrich uranium, suddenly the case for limiting or sanctioning Tehran’s nuclear program gets more complicated. Einhorn says the U.S. resisted Iranian demands for a guaranteed “right” for fear that “they would try to exploit any acknowledgment of that right in order to insist on an unfettered enrichment program.”

While the NPT insists its signatories not “manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices,” it doesn’t clearly prohibit them from enriching uranium to bomb-grade levels of purity. And doing that could position Iran to quickly “break out,” and sprint to the development of a bomb within weeks—potentially faster than the world can detect what’s happening and respond.

If the U.S. has dealt away an explicit declaration that Iran has a “right” to enrich uranium, the case for international sanctions on Iran—even if it continues to enrich uranium at levels beyond what is needed for peaceful purposes—loses its legal footing. And should it come to a scenario that might involve military force, the case for striking a country over an explicitly guaranteed “right” won’t be easy to make at the United Nations.

Which means any currently plausible nuclear deal with have to perform a neat two-step, allowing Iran a de facto right to enrich without explicitly declaring a legal one. The good news is that Zarif may have signaled new flexibility on that point over the weekend “We do see right of enrichment not only nonnegotiable but see no necess[ity] for its recognition as a right,” he was quoted as saying by Iranian media. Zarif appeared to argued that the right is so self-evident that the major powers needn’t bother granting it.

That agree-to-disagree language  may suit the U.S. just fine. “Any deal will fudge the issue of right to enrichment,” says Gary Samore, who served until earlier this year as Obama’s White House nonproliferation czar. “We will agree that Iran can have a limited enrichment program without explicitly accepting right to enrichment, and Iran will claim we have recognized its right to enrichment because we agreed it could have a limited enrichment program.”

Sound complicated? Everything about striking a deal with Iran will be.

MORE: The Dummies Guide to Iran’s Nukes

26 comments
ForgetJournalism
ForgetJournalism

We must continue to remind our professional journalists to seek the "right" source for their information - regrettable!

Independent international legal scholars will tell you unequivocally that Iran, or any other NPT signatory, have the right to enrich.  

The operative words are: "independent", "legal scholar", and "international".  Journalists, politicians, think-tankers, advocates, and so on can opine, but they are not in a position to render opinion regarding matters of international law.

SheinAriely
SheinAriely

part 2

The free world after WW1 didn’t confront the Nazi ideology.
Theypleasedthem by the Munich agreement.
The result was WW2.
--
Obama administration reminds the Chamberlain naivety.
They are giving away USA and the world interests.
During Obama administration Islamism advanced all over/
This policy has left USA without almost any friends all over the ME.
(Except Israel that is USA alley by common values, regardless the running presided or party)


Following a deal with Islamist Iran that will not dismantle their NUK infrastructure the energy reach ME will be controlled by the Islamsit Iran- not a USA and the worldlong term interest.

Israel is not the 21 century Obama Czechoslovakia

SheinAriely
SheinAriely

part 1

"Experience is a great teacher.” -John Legend
-

InIran the supreme theocrat leader has the power to dictate whatever policy he desiresover-night
The agreement should dismantle Islamist Iran NUK infrastructures
Governments and policy of using NUKS may change in a short time>
However NUK infrastructure building takes long time.
--
Islamist Iran constitution:
" *This century will witness the establishment of a universal holy government and the downfall of all others"
*Hierarhy of power:
""All democratic procedures and rights are subordinate to the Guardian Council and the Supreme Leader"
Wikipedia Islamic Iran constitution
*4000 lesbians, gays have been executed.
http://wikiislam.net/wiki/Persecution_of_Homosexuals_Iran Islamist
 *The Islamist Iranian obsession to destroy Israel is similar to the 20 century obsession against the Jews.
No wonder that Islamist Iran denies the holocaust.
--

josephinehydehartley
josephinehydehartley

Yes , to me the most important word isn't "right" - it's civil. The point of the Iranian nuclear endeavour is to benefit the domestic, civilian market. All this talk and reference to military work and military modelling is actually pointless.

cent-fan
cent-fan

  This could all be a mute point if the west got off the fossil fuel kick.  If the prices of fossil fuel crashed because nobody was buying it then the states that rely on easy income from oil would have to think of something else... something that would force them to feel a part of the world economy with all the doubt and dangers included.  They would be far less willing to rock a boat they were standing in.

  If you're a major oil producer and/or heavily invested in the supply side of the oil market and that's your only game then rocking the boat only makes you more money... especially when you're only opposition is a bunch of oil addicts.

smehgol
smehgol

Israel has ICBM nukes and openly threatens Iran, actually campaigns for an American war against Iran. The Jewish state instigated all our other Mideast wars and benefited from all. None were in American interests, yet we did the dying and wrecked our economy. The Jewish state has occupied not just Palestine, but America too. Cunning distribution of enormous amounts of Jewish money have wrested control of our congress, wrecked our economy and enabled Israel's wars and racist malevolence. The Wall Street felons remaining unpunished, AIPAC actually writing congressional legislation and lack of treason indictments attest to the depth of the occupation. Our democracy is cunningly being overthrown from within and transformed into a world dominating racist ultrapower, the JEWISH STATE OF AMERICA.

boulderfinfan
boulderfinfan

Instead of worrying about IRan's non existent nukes the US should worry about the 300 illegal nukes in possession of Israel. You're worried about Iran's rights and not the actual nukes in Israel. Unlike Iran, Israel hasn't signed the NPT and it's facilities have NEVER been inspected by IAEA. hypocrites.

delight
delight

ALBERT EINSTEIN AN AMERICAN GENIUS ---- WARNING ---- 

ABOUT THE ATROCITIES TODAY AS HE PREDICTED...

Albert Einstein's 1948 Letter to the New York Times  

Albert Einstein, who was a great humanitarian and peace activist in addition to being one of the greatest scientists of all time. In his landmark letter to the New York Times in 1948, Einstein clearly and candidly explained why the leaders of Israel were not to be trusted and did not deserve money or support from Americans, including American Jews who believe in equality and democracy for all human beings. You can see a scanned image of the Einstein Letter by clicking the hyperlink. The letter was written by Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt, Sidney Hook and more than 20 other prominent Jewish intellectuals, to alert Americans and the larger world to the dangers represented by the emergence of racism, fascism, terrorism and religious fanaticism among the Zionist leadership of the newly-formed state of Israel. The letter accurately predicted some of the terrible results we see today. I have annotated the letter with [bracketed comments] to help readers understand how the "Einstein Letter" relates to the present situation. 

 http://www.thehypertexts.com/Albert%20Einstein%201948%20Letter%20New%20York%20Times%20Nakba.htm... 

WARNING AMERICA ZIONISM IS NOTHING BUT ETHNIC CLEANSING . JESUS WAS ALSO A JEW / JEWISH RELIGION AND BRANCHED OUT OF THIS RELIGION AND WAS CRUCIFIED, FOR OUR FREEDOM,  WE IN AMERICA ARE MOSTLY THE DECEDENTS / FOLLOWERS OF JESUS CHRIST / CHRISTIANS . ZIONISM AFTER THEIR DONE USING AMERICA THEY WILL DO WHAT THEY DID TO JESUS CHRIST. ZIONISM'S ULTIMATE ETHNIC, RELIGIOUS CLEANSING WILL BE OF CHRISTIANS. 

ALBERT EINSTEIN WAS RIGHT ZIONISM / FANATICISM SO MUCH DESTRUCTION TO HUMANITY ALBERT EINSTEIN WAS ALSO ON THE MARK THEY ARE AS EVIL OR EVEN WORSE EVIL THAN THE NAZIS. ALL THOSE HUMAN LIVES CHILDREN AND FAMILIES BROKEN AND SHATTERED. NOTHING BUT EGOTISTICAL ARROGANCE " GODS CHOSEN ONES " SUCH DISREGARD FOR HUMAN SUFFERING AND THE HUMAN RACE. IMAGINE PEACE ON EARTH WITHOUT THIS EVIL. 

THE BIGGEST THREAT TO DEMOCRACY AND THE FREE WORLD IS  ZIONIST ISRAEL. IT TOOK US CENTURIES TO FREE OURSELVES FROM  THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND NOW IN THIS CENTURY EVIL IS SETTING UP THEIR VATICAN CITY. 

AS  AMERICANS WE FIND IT INSULTING TO BE CALLED ANTI SEMITE AFTER OUR ANCESTORS FOUGHT AND DIED FOR YOUR FREEDOM . WE CANNOT HAVE A CONSTRUCTIVE CONVERSATION ABOUT THE DANGERS OF ZIONISM / TO EQUATE RELIGION WITH NATIONALISM. THAT IS WHY WE ARE IN THE SITUATION WE ARE IN NOW. IMAGINE PEACE ON EARTH WITHOUT THIS EVIL. I SUPPOSE ALBERT EINSTEIN WAS ALSO ANTI SEMITE !!!!!!!!

http://www.american-integrity.tumblr.com

NOTHING BUT ARROGANT IGNORANCE " GODS CHOSEN ONES " THAT SURE DID NOT BOLD WELL WITH ANOTHER ARROGANT EVIL / HITLER. NOTHING BUT IGNORANT STUPIDITY BUT EVERYONE IS TO BE BLAMED FOR YOUR IGNORANCE / STUPIDITY. EVERYWHERE THEY GO  TROUGHOUT HISTORY THERE HAS BEEN  NOTHING BUT DEATH AND DESTRUCTION


Z4BS
Z4BS

The author states that South Africa, Spain and Mexico get their fuel from outside their borders as support for the argument that Iran does not have a right to enrich under NPT. I'd be curious to know what other members of the NPT do. The article does not mention Japan. Does Japan enrich uranium themselves? If so it follows that they use the NPT as legal justification for their right to enrich. It seems to me that other members of the NPT have a right to enrich but because the West consider Iran to be untrustworthy they are arguing that they should not have such a right. Which is clearly contrary to the principles of International Law.

My interpretation of the right (as a lawyer) is that the treaty gives all countries a right to enrich for civilian purposes. The right as drafted is absolute and is not dependant on relying on a third party nation to supply the uranium. My reasoning is based on the wording :

"the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

It states that the right is inalienable (thus incapable of being lost) and without discrimination. Relying on the goodwill of third party nations to supply can never be considered an absolute right. It is conceivable that third party nations would refuse to supply which would mean the right is no longer inalienable or without discrimination. The only way the right would be inalienable and without discrimination would be if a nation has the right to control the whole process rather than relying on the good will of a third party nation.

It should be for those doing the accusing to prove that the process is being used for military purposes rather than those subject to the accusation to prove that their intentions are innocent. Just as in a criminal court where a defendant does not have to prove their innocence but rather the prosecutor prove their guilt.

kinolurtz
kinolurtz

“the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

how is this not explicitly stating that all countries that have signed up can develop and produce domestically? Israel are quickly losing all credibility on the world stage.

Rostam
Rostam

@SheinAriely Wow, you are for sure dumber than I thought or just plain and simple PRO Israeli lobbyist. You have nerve to compare Iran to NAZI Germany! Are you that ignorant or you just think the whole world is just dumb? From all the garbage you are typing on this forum you keep forgetting to mention Israel with her 240 nuclear warheads!!!

REALY????? your time has come to an end, Iran is entitled and has the right to enrich uranium. period. So just get used to it or drink a cold glass of water. Mr. Ariel....

Tochorian
Tochorian

@SheinAriely Comparing Iran to Nazi Germany is vicious far-right Israeli war propaganda, to try to convince people to commit a genocidal war against Iran that would kill hundreds of thousands of Iranian civilians.

Iran is not occupying other countries and building colonies to expand its territory. Iran doesn't have the most advanced military in the Middle East, along with a nuclear weapons arsenal.

If you want to see a state that is in danger of giving into supremacist racial ideology, look at Israel, where Rabbi Ovadia Yosef said:

"Goyim (gentiles, non-Jews) were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world – only to serve the People of Israel,"

"Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like aneffendi and eat. That is why gentiles were created."

800,000 Israeli men mourned this supremacist's death. Netanyahu called this man, who said these evil words, one of the country's "wisest men".

All you fascist hyper-nationalists do is come to internet discussion forums and spread hate and war propaganda against other countries, and try to persuade other countries to start wars.

Vinayprasad
Vinayprasad

@SheinAriely USA should get the hell out of the ME. Period. Let Iran control the ME. What is your problem?

mikevolze
mikevolze

@cent-fan True, but the U.S. is showing signs of energy independence.  So I think these sanctions are hurting Iran far more than the U.S. or other oil needy nations.

mikevolze
mikevolze

@smehgol And Iran doesn't threaten anyone?  Please, they openly fund terrorists and proclaim DEATH TO AMERICA daily.  Get a grip.

mikevolze
mikevolze

@boulderfinfan Quick question, have the Arab countries complained about Israel's nukes?  Have they tried to get possession of nukes to counter Israel?  Not since Syria right?  So why are the Saudi's suddenly in the market for Pakistani nukes, it's not because of Israel I'll tell you that much.  And stop using the IAEA, especially considering that the IAEA hasn't been allowed into some Iranian facilities YET IRAN STILL CITES THE NPT AS THEY BREAK IT.

lunawatson85
lunawatson85

@boulderfinfan Non-existent now, but give them a few more months and they won't be so "non-existent' anymore. You do know how many thousands of centrifuges they have going right?

Vinayprasad
Vinayprasad

@delight Do not worry Sir, if these Zionists cause direct harm to America, these guys will get retribution. Why do you think there was repeated retribution and persecution from totally different world communities the past thousands of years? There was no America at that time.

lunawatson85
lunawatson85

@Z4BS It's not an inalienable and undeniable right when you have an atrocious human rights record. A country with the fastest execution rate in the world absolutely does not deserve nuclear weapons.

Tochorian
Tochorian

@mikevolze @cent-fan The sanctions require the U.S. to sanction numerous companies outside of Iran that happen to deal with Iran, which the National Association of Manufacturers estimates costs the U.S. $25 billion in exports per year and 250,000 jobs.

It benefits no one but the far-right Israeli warmongers.

Tochorian
Tochorian

@mikevolze every major country in the Middle East openly funds groups that have targeted civilians, or does so itself. What Iran hasn't done is make a threat to initiate a war against Israel. Israel has broken international law by threatening to attack Iran and repeatedly attacking Syria. It's held its nuclear weapons arsenal as a tool to blackmail Iran and the countries it attacks to not retaliate.

Tochorian
Tochorian

@mikevolze They have voraciously complained about Israel's nukes.

As for the Saudis, they might have different regional ambitions than other Arab countries, due to overlapping regional ambitions. That doesn't mean Lebanon and Syria are happy with Israel's nuclear warheads being held as a threat against them.

Tochorian
Tochorian

@lunawatson85 Netanyahu claimed in 1992 that Iran was "two to five years" from a nuclear weapon, and has made similar predictions ever since that turned out to be wrong.


He claimed in 2002 that Iraq definitely had a WMD program and needed to be invaded by the  U.S.


He supported the war against Libya.


How many more times are you going to believe the war propaganda from people like him?

Tochorian
Tochorian

@lunawatson85 

""the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”


It says right there, no "discrimination". 

Z4BS
Z4BS

@lunawatson85 @Z4BS  The NPT did not say that. The NPT stated that it was inalienable and not dependant on any concerns regarding the conduct of the state. If it meant that I imagine it would have been included in the text. International Law is based on either treaty or convention and while you may have a moral argument for Iran not to have a Nuclear program you do not have a legal one.

Regarding your moral point about a country not deserving nuclear weapons because of human rights issues and the death penalty. Well firstly we are not talking of Iran having Nuclear Weapons but rather their right to enrich. Secondly if human rights record or death penalty is an indicator of who deserve Nuclear Weapons I suggest you send a memo to USA, Israel, China, Pakistan and India.