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Nuclear Disarmament and Nonproliferation Letter re Iran to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee

February 28, 2006

Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman
Senator Joseph Biden, Ranking Minority Member
Members of the Committee
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee
Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-6225

Re: Committee Hearing on Iran, March 2, 2006

Dear Senator Lugar, Senator Biden, and Members of the Committee,

Together with other non-governmental organizations, the Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy has been meeting with UN missions of members of the Security Council and other interested states. We also have been closely following IAEA reports and resolutions. The Iran situation now appears likely to be considered by the Security Council in March, and shows signs of turning into a crisis. We offer the following points and recommendations as you consider U.S. policy at this juncture.

The urgency of the matter is overstated. Numerous governmental and non-governmental analysts believe that Iran is at least three years from acquiring the material necessary for a single nuclear explosive, should it make the decision to do so. In reality, given the current pace of Iran’s nuclear development and the technical problems it has encountered, the true date may be more than five years. There is time for diplomacy to work. Escalation undermines this possibility.

There has been no diversion of nuclear material to military purposes. The IAEA’s nearly three year old investigation uncovered broad and undeclared Iranian research programs involving all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle going back nearly two decades. However, the IAEA concluded in November 2004 that all declared nuclear materials had been accounted for and therefore none had been diverted to military purposes.

Drawing the conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities takes a great deal of time in any circumstance. Further, the IAEA is only able to reach this conclusion for states the have implemented the additional protocol. As an example, Japan’s additional protocol entered into force in 1999, yet the IAEA was only able to confirm the absence of undeclared nuclear activities in Japan for the first time in 2003. As of the latest annual IAEA Safeguards Report, of the 61 states where both the NPT safeguards and the additional protocol are implemented, in only 21 of these states has the IAEA concluded that undeclared nuclear activity is absent. The IAEA has stated this process will take longer in Iran due to the history of concealed nuclear activities.

Verification is a matter separate from enrichment. Two issues underlie this standoff, which must be kept separate. The first issue relates to the IAEA fulfilling its statutory obligation to verify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. The second issue is Iran’s pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle capabilities, which has been the focus of U.S. and EU efforts. However, members of the Security Council, especially the permanent members holding a veto, may limit the Council’s role to facilitating and reinforcing the IAEA’s task of verifying Iran’s peaceful use of nuclear energy. To achieve an outcome where the international community can be assured of Iran’s ultimate intentions, active diplomacy outside the Security Council may be needed to dissuade Iran from pursuing fuel cycle activities or to persuade it to limit their scope.

Requiring suspension of enrichment activities would seek to have the Security Council enforce what until now has been a voluntary, non-legally binding, confidence-building measure, and may just lead to confrontation that fails to end Iranian nuclear fuel cycle activities and erodes the non-proliferation regime. When Iran’s extensive concealment of nuclear activities first came to light three years ago, a reasonable case could have been made that Iran should have been required to suspend the pursuit of nuclear fuel cycle technologies, at least pending the resolution of all outstanding safeguard issues. But now, after extended negotiations that contemplated “objective guarantees” that would enable Iran’s program to proceed, an absolute halt seems less appropriate. One compromise worth considering is operation of the pilot uranium enrichment plant under continuous, in-person IAEA monitoring, perhaps in combination with a facility located in Russia.

Direct U.S. engagement with Iran is critical for a satisfactory outcome. To date U.S. diplomatic efforts from a distance have succeeded in hardening the EU position while bringing few U.S. inducements to the table, resulting in the collapse of the negotiating framework between Iran and the EU.

Formation of a negotiating group wider than the EU3 should be considered. It might include Russia, China, the United States, an EU representative, a Non-Aligned Movement representative, and the IAEA.

U.S. policy regarding Iran and the general challenge of the spread of nuclear fuel cycle technology would be more effective if the United States was upholding its commitments under the NPT, for example to negotiation of a verified fissile materials treaty and to application of the principles of verification and irreversibility to the reduction and elimination of nuclear arsenals.

I invite you to visit our website to see more of our Iran-related analysis. And please do not hesitate to contact us directly for more information.

Very truly yours,

John Burroughs
Executive Director
Lawyers’ Committee on Nuclear Policy

 

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