US Distorts Iranian Nuclear Rights

The U.S. government and Israel – itself a rogue nuclear-armed state – insist that the Non-Proliferation Treaty doesn’t give Iran the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But the words of the treaty clearly say otherwise, as Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett note.

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

Last month, while testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Wendy Sherman — Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs and the senior U.S. representative in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran — said, with reference to Iranians, “We know that deception is part of the DNA.”

This statement goes beyond orientalist stereotyping; it is, in the most literal sense, racist. And it evidently was not a mere “slip of the tongue”: a former Obama administration senior official told us that Sherman has used such language before about Iranians.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a press conference in Iran. (Official Iranian photo)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a press conference in Iran. (Official Iranian photo)

If a senior U.S. government official made public statements about “deception” or some other negative character trait being “part of the DNA” of Jews, people of African origin, or most other ethnic groups, that official would — rightly — be fired or forced to resign, and would probably not be allowed back into “polite society” until after multiple groveling apologies and a long period of penance.

But a senior U.S. official can make such a statement about Iranians — or almost certainly about any other ethnic group a majority of whose members are Muslim — and that’s just fine. Of course, it’s not fine. But that’s the America we live in.

Putting aside Sherman’s glaring display of anti-Iranian racism, there was another egregious manifestation of prejudice-cum-lie in her testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that we want to explore more fully. It came in a response to a question from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, about whether states have a right to enrich under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Here is the relevant passage in Sherman’s reply:

“It has always been the U.S. position that Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not speak about the right of enrichment at all [and] doesn’t speak to enrichment, period. It simply says that you have the right to research and development.”

Sherman goes on to acknowledge that “many countries such as Japan and Germany have taken that [uranium enrichment] to be a right.” But, she says, “the United States does not take that position. We take the position that we look at each one of these [cases].”

Or, as she put it at the beginning of her response to Sen. Rubio, “It has always been the U.S. position that Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not speak about the right of enrichment at all” (emphasis added).

Two points should be made here. First, the claim that the NPT’s Article IV does not affirm the right of non-nuclear-weapons states to pursue indigenous development of fuel-cycle capabilities, including uranium enrichment, under international safeguards is flat-out false.

Article IV makes a blanket statement that “nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination.”

And it’s not just “countries such as Japan and Germany” — both close U.S. allies — which affirm that this includes the right of non-weapons states to enrich uranium under safeguards. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) countries and the Non-Aligned Movement (whose 120 countries represent a large majority of UN members) have all clearly affirmed the right of non-nuclear-weapons states, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to pursue indigenous safeguarded enrichment.

In fact, just four countries in the world hold that there is no right to safeguarded enrichment under the NPT: the United States, Britain, France, and Israel (which isn’t even a NPT signatory). That’s it.

Moreover, the right to indigenous technological development — including nuclear fuel-cycle capabilities, should a state choose to pursue them — is a sovereign right. It is not conferred by the NPT; the NPT’s Article IV recognizes states’ “inalienable right” in this regard, while other provisions bind non-weapons states that join the Treaty to exercise this right under international safeguards.

There have been many first-rate analyses demonstrating that the right to safeguarded enrichment under the NPT is crystal clear — from the Treaty itself, from its negotiating history, and from subsequent practice, with at least a dozen non-weapons states building fuel-cycle infrastructures potentially capable of supporting weapons programs.

Bill Beeman published a nice Op-Ed in the Huffington Post on this question in response to Sherman’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony. (See here and, for a text including references, here. For truly definitive legal analyses, see the work of Daniel Joyner, for example here and here.)

The issue will also be dealt with in articles by Flynt Leverett and Dan Joyner in a forthcoming special issue of the Penn State Journal of Law and International Affairs, which should appear within the next few days.

From any objectively informed legal perspective, denying non-weapons states’ right of safeguarded enrichment amounts to nothing more than a shameless effort to rewrite the NPT unilaterally. And this brings us to our second point about Sherman’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee testimony.

Sherman claims that “It has always been the U.S. position that Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not speak about the right of enrichment at all [and] doesn’t speak to enrichment, period.” But, in fact, the United States originally held that the right to peaceful use recognized in the NPT’s Article IV includes the indigenous development of safeguarded fuel-cycle capabilities.

In 1968, as America and the Soviet Union, the NPT’s sponsors, prepared to open it for signature, the founding Director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, William Foster, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the same committee to which Sherman untruthfully testified last month — that the Treaty permitted non-weapons states to pursue the fuel cycle.

We quote Foster on this point: “Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III.” [Note: In Article II of the NPT, non-weapons states commit not to build or acquire nuclear weapons; in Article III, they agree to accept safeguards on the nuclear activities, “as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”]

Thus, it is a bald-faced lie to say that the United States has “always” held that the NPT does not recognize a right to safeguarded enrichment. As a matter of policy, the United States held that that the NPT recognized such a right even before it was opened for signature; this continued to be the U.S. position for more than a quarter century thereafter.

It was only after the Cold War ended that the United States — along with Britain, France and Israel — decided that the NPT should be, in effect, unilaterally rewritten (by them) to constrain the diffusion of fuel-cycle capabilities to non-Western states.

And their main motive for trying to do so has been to maximize America’s freedom of unilateral military initiative and, in the Middle East, that of Israel. This is the agenda for which Wendy Sherman tells falsehoods to a Congress that is all too happy to accept them.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bush’s National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and – from 2001 to 2003 – was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. They are authors of Going to Tehran. [This article previously appeared at GoingtoTehran.com.]

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5 comments on “US Distorts Iranian Nuclear Rights

  1. I don’t think we need to listen to W.Sherman while we have a great bunch of international lawyers who can decide what the real text of the treaty mean. In case congress or Windy feel they can decide on this issue, they better be taxed as lawyers too.

  2. Hey Borat or should I say Lieberman, in your view only Israel has rights in the ME. That’s a bunch of garbage as it has always been. You have the right to steal land correct? You have the right to bomb Muslim countries because they resist your Zionist views and control, correct? I am extremely anti Israel based solely on the facts of how it’s conducts itself because all it’s violations are allowed to go unchecked which in turn allows them to continue. I have no issue with Jews or Muslims or Christians but you will say that because I’m anti Israel that I’m also an anti-Semite. Fine by me, it doesn’t hurt my feelings, and just by you and those closed minded people like you accusing everyone who sees what Israel truly is and not what it is portrayed in your far right ideology and media as an anti Semite does not make it true. People like you don’t care about facts or truth or decency. But I promise you, it will be those facts that will eventually lead to the disgrace and downfall of zionistic ideology. You’ve had control and still remain in control of the major media outlets around the world but unfortunately for you that will not last forever because good people only care about the facts and will be able to get them outside of Zionisms control which has already begun. Stay tuned

    • Ah yes, the misuse of the word “defend” to excuse the state of Israel’s actions.

      Like when the USA defended itself against Saddam Hussein by invading Iraq in 2003.

      And still Iran is not an Arab state. In Iran women vote, drive, unlike in the theocracy of Saudi Arabia.

  3. Fifth columnists always say that.

  4. RIGG KENNEDY on said:

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