Iran's Nuclear Roadmap: Which Model Applies Best, South Africa or Argentina?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seyed Mohammad Eslami
Expert on Middle East Issues

Iran's negotiations with the member states of the P5+1 group of countries are going on in New York while, undue focus on presumptive ideas like what David Sanger had already published in his New York Times column, have once again drawn attention to the issue of breakout point in Iran's nuclear energy program. The Western countries allege that they are going to formulate a final nuclear agreement with Iran in such a way that it would take between 9 and 12 months for Iran to reach that point. However, it goes without saying that more than being a technical concern, such issues are raised mostly as a result of political motivations. The Western diplomats know better than anybody else that after a possible comprehensive agreement is reached between the two sides, it is not the figures and numbers that can help to build confidence, but earning the other party’s political trust is the main factor, which can do away with all the existing concerns.

The United States has more experience than any other country in this regard and has also experienced it with regard to such treaties as the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START), Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and similar agreements. They have clearly proven it to Washington that agreements are not carried out because of the figures contained in them, but it is a change in political equations and geopolitical conditions that clears the way for the implementation of the agreements.

So, given the above facts, what path should be taken by the two sides in order to boost political motivations for dispelling the existing security concerns? During past few months, some political circles, including American senators have referred to past experience of  South Africa, mentioning the country’s nuclear case as a suitable role model for negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries. According to their view, Iran should follow suit with what South Africa did at that time by accepting 20 years of suspension on all kinds of its nuclear activities. They claim that if Iran does not concede to behave like South Africa, it will be bound for a fate similar to that of North Korea. There are, however, certain points in this regard, which can serve to shed more light on this issue. First of all, it should be made clear what kind of political system may exist to whom the case of South Africa’s nuclear program can be applied as a standard?

A) Are the nuclear cases of Iran and South Africa similar in nature?

The Apartheid regime of South Africa was under mounting pressure from international community in early 1970s for the possession of nuclear weapons. However, for a period of 20 years, the country did not give in to any kind of supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and kept its six nuclear bombs up to 1989. The pressure, however, increased so much that the then government of South Africa faced inevitable international isolation. In November 1989, the nuclear weapons program of South Africa came to a halt under the rising pressure from international community. As a result, the government of Pretoria destroyed its arsenal of nuclear weapons in July 1991 and joined the NPT. Two months later, the country signed a comprehensive agreement, known as the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA). As a result of such efforts, the case of South Africa was announced back to normal only for years ago, that is, in 2010.

A closer look at this case, however, will reveal more important aspects of South Africa’s nuclear issue. The most important point is the main motivation, which prompted the then government of South Africa to stop the country’s nuclear program. Explaining on the relationship between Iran's nuclear case and that of South Africa, Dr. Mark Hibbs, a senior associate in Carnegie's Nuclear Policy Program, wrote in an article, “I suspect at least some of the critics who see South Africa as a model for Iran understand that and will draw their own conclusions. Neocons among them should be aware that the pressure which drove white supremacists to give up nuclear weapons was generated inside the country, not outside.

He added, “…the Apartheid state’s decisions from 1989 through 1993 to terminate the secret program and destroy its infrastructure were based upon a strategic calculation. That calculation ultimately expected that a black majority would in the near future take power, spearheaded by an African National Congress that ruling white supremacists did not want to see inherit a nuclear weapons arsenal or capability.

Therefore, there are three main components to South Africa’s nuclear case: 1) stockpile of nuclear weapons; 2) Apartheid regime; and 3) opposition to any kind of international supervision or intervention by the IAEA. If we wanted to find a similar case on the basis of these three components, the case of Israel would be the best example. Israel is an apartheid regime which is also a clear nuclear threat to the entire Middle East region and the whole world. This regime has already proved to everybody its brutal nature by massacring civilians. According to the most optimistic estimates, Israel is in possession of 80 nuclear warheads and no international body has been ever allowed to inspect the Israeli regime’s nuclear facilities. Therefore, if the day came when international community found the courage to see into numerous cases of violation of international regulations by Israel, the South Africa’s model would be most appropriate for interacting with this regime over its nuclear program.

B) Comparing Iran's nuclear case with that of Argentina

In addition to the above facts, if the United States does really have the necessary political will to dispel suspicions about Iran's nuclear energy program; there are other logical cases, which are more suitable to be taken as role model for Iran's nuclear case. One of those cases is that of Argentina. Similar to Iran, the South American country was accused of trying to acquire nuclear equipment during the 1990s. However, the IAEA was never able to produce documents to back up its accusations. At that time, some sources claimed that Argentina was trying to develop nuclear weapons as a counterbalance to an alleged nuclear weapons program pursued by its northern neighbor, Brazil. In other words, the issue of weapons arms race was also a problem in the case of Argentina.

From the very outset, the International Atomic Energy Agency and international community decided not to take a wrong approach to this case. They put simultaneous pressure on Argentina and Brazil to annihilate their nuclear weapon stocks. The first step was the formulation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, also known as the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, in 1992. On March 24, 1993, the Argentine Senate ratified the treaty. The country became a member of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) in 1994.

The NSG is a multinational group which is responsible for reducing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and is also in charge of controlling the export and transfer of nuclear materials, which may be used for the purpose of building nuclear weapons. As a final step, the Latin American country joined the Non-Proliferation Treaty in February 1995. Therefore, this model, which can be also applied to Iran with certain modifications, can be defined as consisting of three distinct steps: A) freeing the entire region of nuclear weapons; B) creating a logical, legal and controlled path to allow industrial-scale use of nuclear technology and, finally, C) voluntary accession of the country involved to the Additional Protocol of the NPT.

C) What if a comprehensive agreement is not reached?

Iran has already accepted to act according to a formula, which is similar to that applied to Argentina and is even much stricter than Argentina’s formula, in order to address all concerns raised by any country that considers itself as a member of international community. If the claims by the IAEA and member countries of the P5+1 group about not treating Iran's nuclear case along political lines were true, even one of these formulas would be sufficient to provide necessary answers to alleged technical ambiguities surrounding Iran's nuclear energy program. However, the way that those countries as well as the IAEA have chosen to deal with Iran's nuclear case so far has clearly proved that they are approaching Iran's nuclear case on the basis of a political and non-technical motivations and this is the main factor that has cast serious doubt about the future outlook of nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Under the present conditions that Iran has come up with a diverse collection of technical solutions in order to address suspicions raised by certain countries, inability to achieve a comprehensive agreement will only signal lack of necessary political resolve on the part of the P5+1 group. It will also prove that negotiators representing these countries in nuclear talks with Iran lack enough powers to make final decisions. Despite the above facts, Iran has proven to all world countries that are true members of international community that it is always open to dialogue and interaction. This behavior has set Iran apart from the case of North Korea by a long distance.

Key Words: Iran's Nuclear Roadmap, South Africa, Argentina, P5+1 Group of Countries, IAEA, Comprehensive Agreement, Additional Protocol of the NPT, Eslami

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