Congressional Duplicity

While the European Union’s Javier Solana and Iran’s Ali Larijani were making “good progress” toward an agreement that “will provide objective guarantees [to the EU] that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes” that “will equally provide firm guarantees [to Iran] on nuclear, technological, and economic cooperation and firm commitments [by the EU to Iran] on security issues” – the U.S. House of Representatives perversely called up and passed by voice vote HR 6198, an onerous expansion of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) of 1996.

ILSA was a primary cause of Iran’s entering into talks with the EU in the first place.

In 1995, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched a major effort to open up its energy sector – including oil and natural gas exploration, development, and production – to foreign, Islamic-law-compatible investment.

Well, that would never do. So the Likudniks in Congress enacted ILSA, which required the president to impose sanctions on foreign companies – including EU, Russian, and Chinese – that make such investments.

The threat of such ILSA sanctions was enough to get Russia to cancel a contract [.pdf] to supply Iran a turnkey gas-centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility (but not enough to cancel the construction of a nuclear power plant at Bushehr).

Of course, under the Treaty on Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) – to which Iran, Russia, and the United States are signatories – (a) Iran had an “inalienable right” to acquire both facilities, and (b) the International Atomic Energy Agency and all IAEA members (including the U.S.) were obligated to “facilitate” their acquisition and subsequent peaceful operation.

As the Iranians put it in their Note Verbale [.pdf] of Aug. 1, 2005, to all IAEA members:

"While Iran’s rights under the NPT have continued to be grossly and systematically violated, and while major state parties to the Treaty have persisted in their noncompliance with many of their obligations under Articles I, IV, and VI of the Treaty in general, and under paragraph 2 of Article IV vis-à-vis Iran in particular, Iran nevertheless continued diligently to comply with all its obligations under the Treaty. …

"In October 2003, Iran entered into an agreement with France, Germany, and the United Kingdom with the explicit expectation to open a new chapter of full transparency, cooperation, and access to nuclear and other advanced technologies. …

"Regrettably, Iran received very little, if anything, in return and instead has repeatedly expanded its voluntary ‘confidence building measures’ only to be reciprocated by broken promises and expanded requests. The October 2003 promises of the E3 on nuclear cooperation and regional security and nonproliferation have yet to be even addressed."

The Iranians have since made it clear on numerous occasions that attempts by “some members” of the IAEA Board and UN Security Council to transform such voluntary measures “into cessation or long-term suspension were incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Paris Agreement and therefore unacceptable to Iran.”

Such attempts are also incompatible with the IAEA Statute, the NPT, and the UN Charter itself.

So now come various Likudniks in the House to declare (Section 401 of HR 6198),

"It should be the policy of the United States not to bring into force an agreement for cooperation with the government of any country that is assisting the nuclear program of Iran or transferring advanced conventional weapons or missiles to Iran unless the president has determined that –

"(1) Iran has suspended all enrichment-related and reprocessing related activity (including uranium conversion and research and development, manufacturing, testing, and assembly relating to enrichment and reprocessing), has committed to verifiably refrain permanently from such activity in the future (except potentially the conversion of uranium exclusively for export to foreign nuclear fuel production facilities pursuant to internationally agreed arrangements and subject to strict international safeguards), and is abiding by that commitment; or

"(2) the government of that country –

"(A) has, either on its own initiative or pursuant to a binding decision of the United Nations Security Council, suspended all nuclear assistance to Iran and all transfers of advanced conventional weapons and missiles to Iran, pending a decision by Iran to implement measures that would permit the president to make the determination described in paragraph (1)…"

What does that mean?

Well, for one thing, if Russia doesn’t immediately cease its construction of the nuclear power plant at Bushehr, the U.S.-Russia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is dead on arrival.

But beyond that, the Likudniks – who also unreservedly support the U.S.-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement – have just dealt another potentially fatal blow to the NPT, the IAEA, and perhaps even the UN Security Council itself.

Read more by Gordon Prather

Author: Gordon Prather

Physicist James Gordon Prather has served as a policy implementing official for national security-related technical matters in the Federal Energy Agency, the Energy Research and Development Administration, the Department of Energy, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Army. Dr. Prather also served as legislative assistant for national security affairs to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon, R-Okla. -- ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and member of the Senate Energy Committee and Appropriations Committee. Dr. Prather had earlier worked as a nuclear weapons physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.