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Iran Sends a Message to the West at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference
Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, addresses the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons April 27, 2015 at the UN, New York. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

Iran Sends a Message to the West at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference

Rebeccah L. Heinrichs

Reza Najafi, Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), used his speech this month at the 2015 Review Conference on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to lecture the West on its behavior and “remind” states of the importance of eliminating nuclear weapons. Speaking for the non-aligned movement, Najafi called the use of nuclear weapons a “crime against humanity.” Given Iran’s abysmal human rights practices and illicit nuclear program, the speech provides ample evidence that the entire conference may be an exercise in futility.

The purpose of the “NPT Revcon” is to evaluate the treaty’s implementation and find ways to improve it. Here’s a modest suggestion for the conferees to consider over the coming weeks: The P5+1 should not reward an NPT member state by condoning its transition to a nuclear threshold state, one that will certainly use economic relief to support terrorist operations and global destabilization, repeatedly violate the NPT, and threaten to produce a nuclear weapon outright.

Vice President Joe Biden recently publicly defended the efficacy of tough sanctions while reiterating that Iran has relentlessly pursued nuclear weapons and has a history of cheating. He noted that, “they already have paved a path to a bomb’s worth of material. Iran could get there now if they walked away in two to three months without a deal.”

Those who support the political framework and the eventual final deal will say that the nonproliferation regime, including the NPT, has worked. To their way of thinking, if it were not for the NPT, the IAEA would never have noticed Iranian violations and turned Iran in to the IAEA, and the U.N. Security Council would never have condemned Iran and imposed sanctions.

But Iran knows how to get the bomb; the vice president just said it is a couple of months away from having it. And it knows how to do this, and is only months away, precisely because it has been violating the NPT. The money that sanctions relief has injected back into the Iranian economy could only be helpful to any covert activity Iran may already be pursuing, and if Tehran’s R&D program is not closed down in the final deal, it could develop more efficient ways to get to the bomb while abiding by the deal’s parameters.

Reams have been written on the many concessions the United States has made to secure a final deal with Iran—the number of centrifuges allowed, the failure to include missiles in the deal, the kinds of limited inspections permitted (however “unprecedented” they may be), the duration of the agreement, and access to facilities where weaponization activities have almost certainly occurred.

But the biggest concession of all is allowing Iran an enrichment program in the first place. It cannot be overstated what a severe blow this is to the NPT and the nonproliferation regime.

Countries that have sworn off a nuclear weapon will now look to the Iranian model and demand the same treatment. By violating the NPT for so long, Iran wore down U.S. resolve. Washington is now not only tolerating, but even condoning, Iran as a nuclear threshold state, even allowing enrichment. Why would Saudi Arabia not demand the same treatment? And what leg would the United States have to stand on if it wished to say no?

President Obama, despite his utopian dream of a world without nuclear weapons, could leave the White House with Iran in possession of an internationally affirmed nuclear program and other nations with a solid argument for permitting them the same. Indeed, proliferation could be all the more likely and the world far more unstable and closer to war.

The entire goal of U.S. nonproliferation efforts ought to be to prevent catastrophic war, not to move the world to zero nuclear weapons, as President Obama advocated in his 2009 Prague speech.

The administration has taken other steps in pursuit of the “Prague Agenda,” by brokering the New START Treaty with Russia and beginning to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons. However, despite administration hype, in reality the treaty has reduced only the U.S. arsenal. In addition, Russia has withdrawn from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, which for two decades enabled Washington to help Moscow secure and dismantle nuclear weapons and material throughout the former Soviet Union. Russia has also been found in violation of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, has threatened to employ nuclear weapons against U.S. allies, and has invaded and continued to occupy a portion of Ukraine.

Washington’s Russian “reset” has resulted in abysmal failure, but the administration, like Russia, will not be deterred in pursuing its next Prague Agenda “achievement.”

Obama’s State Department believes that if it forgives Iran—for decades of NPT and Security Council resolution violations and for past and ongoing trespasses—Tehran may have a change of heart and begin conducting itself as a peaceful, tolerant, now-almost-nuclear world power.

The best way to prevent catastrophic war and preserve peace is to strictly enforce the NPT, for Washington to credibly threaten to destroy illicit nuclear programs and for the United States to maintain a reliable nuclear deterrent that allies and enemies take seriously.

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