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Assessment of Iranian Violations of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (2010)

Updated on May 30, 2014

In assessing the current status of Iran and whether or not it has been compliant to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency’s Safeguard Agreements, it is necessary to look at the agreements themselves between Iran and the nation-states involved with non-proliferation. It is also important to look at the past behavior of Iran and its habits of dealing with those nations – when it has cooperated and when it has not and how. Several should be addressed, such as the question of Iran’s rights of sovereignty and the rights of reprisal of the other nations in the event that a violation has, in fact, occurred. The first look should be taken at the historical pattern of behavior between Iran and other non-proliferation states with regard to nuclear facilities and processing of nuclear materials. First, though, it is important to note that Iran has continued to maintain its argument that they are not working towards nuclear weapons because it is opposed to nuclear weapons “based on religious and Islamic beliefs as well as based on logic and wisdom. Nuclear weapons have no benefits…Nuclear weapons do not bring power to a nation because they are not applicable. ” In 1974, the United Nations amended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968 (NPT) to include the The Iranian Safeguards Agreement, in response to the shah establishing the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) in order to grow the nuclear capacity of Iran. The Islamic Revolution of 1979 gave rise to concerns about the safety of Israel in the event of Iran coming to have nuclear weapons and as a result, questions of Iran’s intentions for their nuclear program have since occurred on a regular basis. The question of trusting Iran’s motives and attempts to do nuclear construction deals with Argentina, Chile and Russia in the 1980’s and 1990’s has lead to a number of sanctions on Iran including The Iran-Iraq Non-proliferation Act of 1992, The Omnibus Consolidated and Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act of 1999, The Export Administration Act, and a number of other economically debilitating sanctions for both Iran and the countries involved in trade with Iran. Since those sanctions have been placed, the AEOI has had a habit of being less than forthcoming with its information regarding its nuclear facilities, particularly in 2003 . The secrecy was a necessity due to Washington leaving Tehran little options to make decisions on its own about its own protection, according to Mohammad Javad Zarif of Columbia University’s Journal of International Affairs. In 2006, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1737, reaffirming the NPT and Iran’s place as a non-nuclear weapons actor. It reiterates several concerns regarding relations between the AEOI and the IAEA and amends the NPT to include actions to be taken in the event of a violation by Iran or any state supporting it . In both an August 28th, 2009 briefing and a February 18th, 2010 briefing the Director General of the IAEA states that requests have been made and unanswered regarding the letter Iran gave to the UN revealing its new secret base in the Qom and its fuel enrichment programs rising from the original code standard of 5% Uranium-235 yield to the current yield of 19.8% at the Natanz Facility measured on February 11th, 2010. The AOEI justified its actions of raising the yield citing that it had unilaterally suspended its agreement to hold to Iran’s Safeguard Agreement Article 39 and IAEA Safeguard Code 3.1 in a letter dated March 29, 2007 . The Security Council found this to be in violation, as the NPT and Safeguards are considered multilateral agreements, and thus require multilateral suspension. This behavior of has directly influenced the increasing amount of doubt the UN Security Council has with regards to Iran’s ability to honor the general principle of international law, pacta sunt servanda. In addition to untimely release of information, Iran has been said to have violated the Safeguard’s Section 11 articles by disallowing the IAEA to inspect the Qom Facility in its full capacity to ensure validity of building design meeting Section 5’s codes and regulations in 2009 after Iran released knowledge of its existence . While having been moderately cooperative since September of 2009 with regards to inspections, the IAEA has still repeatedly had to ask for clarifications on the nature of the cascades of Uranium, purposes for reprocessing plutonium and the lack of IAEA containment and surveillance at the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Program, which Iran has yet addressed or responded to . Should they fail to respond, this would also be in violation of the Article 8.3 of the Safeguard codes. While no recent inspections that have been successfully been coordinated between the IAEA and the AEOI have yielded any specific evidence of Iran seeking to use nuclear plants for military purposes, recent occurrences of misinformation and secretive behavior, as well as military displays of new technology have lead U.S. intelligence agencies to conclude “with moderate-to-high confidence, however, that Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons” despite its standing as a non-nuclear actor . A National Intelligence public estimate in December 2007 assessed that Tehran had “halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003 .” In a December 29, 2009 release of Nonproliferation Analyst Paul Kerr’s Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status by the Congressional Research Service, Kerr warns that “any decision to end a nuclear weapons program is inherently reversible.” U.N. leaders, including President Obama and Russian President Medvedev have shared their thoughts on solutions and Iran’s position recently. President Medvedev had previously stated that, “Our task is to create such a system of incentives that would allow Iran to resolve its fissile nuclear program, but at the same time prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons…we believe we need to help Iran to take the right decision…but in some cases sanctions are inevitable.” President Obama followed up more recently at a press conference on February 9, 2010: “The difficulties of dealing with Iran over the last several months is not always clear…we get a lot of mixed signals…indicates to us that despite their posturing that their nuclear power is only for civilian use, that they in fact continue to pursue a course that would lead to weaponization. And that is not acceptable to the international community, not just to the United States. So we what we’ve said from the start was we’re moving on dual tracks. If you want to accept the kinds of agreements with the international community that lead you down a path of being a member of good standing, than we welcome you…and if not, the next step is sanctions.”

This brings up the question of Iran’s rights. What right does Iran have to unilaterally suspend Articles of the Safeguards agreed upon multilaterally for its own benefits? Political scientist Hossein Alikhani would argue that a change of circumstances may be a legitimate cause for considering changing Iran’s actor status. “Khatami…declared Iran’s nuclear programme to be for ‘peaceful purposes’…The position of the Iranian public is contrary to that of the authorities. Most Iranians, as long as they are encircled by nuclear-armed countries, would support a nuclear Iran.” The mere violations of the treaty and safeguards would be enough to allow the dissolution or, at least, review of the agreements. Considering the recent outbreak of conflict in the Middle East between Muslim countries and the U.N., particularly the United Sates, Iran could possibly find grounds of termination due to hostilities. While the NPT itself is vague on the terms of termination, it has been reviewed and the Resolution 1737 (2006) includes terms by which Iran has agreed to adhere. Regardless, by the nature of international law, Iran holds its non-binding ability to simply decry the NPT and its addendum safeguards and continue at its own risk to make any nuclear developments it chooses. This brings to light the questions of the rights of the States bound to the NPT and IAEA Safeguards that Iran is accused of violating. What methods of retorsion are they allowed should they find direct evidence of Iran producing nuclear grade weapons? The concept of ‘good faith’, comity and equity play a role in how the non-proliferation states continue to view Iran and base reprisal decisions. Defined in the NPT/Iranian Safeguard Amendment of Resolution 1737: “Calls upon the States to exercise vigilance regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals who are engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of a nuclear weapon delivery system…Decides that all States shall freeze the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories at the date of adoption of this resolution or at any time there after, that are owned or controlled by the persons or entities designated in the Annex.”

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Ultimately, it is within the rights of the States to elect to remove Iran or other violators from both the NPT and the U.N., but this would be more likely, a detriment towards the goal of non-proliferation. However, “if the violation is of such a nature that it has eliminated the basis for the agreement, and the state committing the violation has deliberately undertaken the action, clearly the requirement of good faith no longer applies…a state may undertake an act of retorsion or reprisal as a measure of punishment.” In which case, should proof be brought forth, the remaining non-proliferation States would have the right to take action against Iran and punish it or other accomplices with any means they saw fit. It is important to have a full perspective of Iran’s history of interactions, its rights regarding the treaties

and the rights of fellow non-proliferation States when assessing the possible danger of Iran’s programs. While no evidence directly proves their actions will lead to nuclear weapons proliferation, their behavior is counterintuitive to the trust building that is required in such a global aspiration. Perhaps Iran simply has ‘yet’ to adhere to the codes it is being accused to violating or perhaps it is intentional diverting information in order to maintain a covert objective – regardless, it is important to pay close attention to the details of its activities and for it to maintain open lines of communication about its actions with the IAEA and UN Security Council. Failure to do so could result in far worse than sanctions, not only for Iran, but for all non-proliferation states.


Kerr, Paul. “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status.” Congressional Research Service. 29 December 2009. . March 3, 2010.

Bruno, Greg. “Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Council on Foreign Affairs. February 19, 2010.

Bruno, Greg. “Iran’s Nuclear Program.” Council on Foreign Affairs. February 19, 2010.

Shire, Jacqueline and Albright, David. “Iran’s NPT Violations – Numerous and Possible On-Going?”. United Nations Security Council. 27 December 2006.

Report by the Director General. “Implementations of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835 in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” IAEA Board of Governors. 18 February 2010.

Report by the Director General. “Implementations of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835 in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” IAEA Board of Governors. 28 August 2009.

Report by the Director General. “Implementations of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835 in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” IAEA Board of Governors. 18 February 2010.

“Continuing U.S. and Multilateral Efforts to Curb Iran’s Nuclear Program.” American Journal of International Law. Vol. 102. No. 1. January 2008. P. 187-190.

]Kerr, Paul. “Iran’s Nuclear Program: Status.” Congressional Research Service. 29 December 2009. . March 3, 2010.

News Conference by the President September 23, 2009. White House: Office of the Press Secretary. September 23, 2009 4:26 pm. March 3, 2010.

Von Glahn, Gerhard and Taulbe, James Larry. Law Among Nations: An Introduction to Public International Law. Longman. Pearson Education. 2010. p. 88.

Alikhani, Hossein. Sanctioning Iran: Anatomy of a Failed Policy. London. GBR: I.B. Tauris & Co., Ltd., 2001. p.408.

Von Glahn, Gerhard and Taulbe, James Larry. Law Among Nations: An Introduction to Public International Law. Longman. Pearson Education. 2010. p. 86


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