The Iranian Nuclear Case and the Illegality of Sanctions

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mohammad Kordzadeh Kermani

Is It a Discrimination or One Aspect of the West against the Rest?

The current crisis over Iran's nuclear issue, which has been created by Washington, is centered around Iran's right under NPT to enrich uranium on its soil, and the West opposition to it. This western opposition has been crystallized by several rounds of tough economic sanctions and threat of war. Analyzing this crisis raises many questions including legal aspects of the imposed sanctions. This article tries to study this crisis from historical and legal perspectives.

The main cause of this crisis might be the Islamic revolution and the strain in Iran-US relations after the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. After the revolution, all Iran – US ties broke down and a chapter of US hostility toward Iran opened by freezing Iranian assets and imposing sanctions. 33 years ago there was no excuse available like the nuclear enrichment for imposing sanctions which US officials claim nowadays. At that time Iran did not have any facility for nuclear enrichment. So, why US imposed sanctions against Iran? The reason is clear. The American statesmen did not want to accept an independent Islamic state in the region. They had lost their influence over Iran which was not recoverable through an independent and inspiring Islamic system. So, American policy makers resorted to sanctions as a tool for punishment. The US pressures has increased year by year within past 33 years. American lobbyists also succeeded to change the EU leaders’ views to support the new rounds of pressure and sanctions against Iran. But as a matter of fact, in spite of the escalating sanctions, the Islamic system in Iran has proved to be sustainable, because of its internal popular support, as well as international “non-West”, or “Rest” support.

Within this historical context, the main layer of the Iranian nuclear case is not the quarrel on Iranian nuclear enrichment. It is a struggle over identities and values. While the West imposes its values trough sanctions, it is not ready to hear the voice of the Rest. This is against justice. In his book, “the law of peoples-1999”, John Rawls, the English philosopher, insists political, economic and cultural differences among nations are tolerable, provided such differences are consistent with principles that all can accept as a reasonable basis for public order. To him, cultural differences and moral significances should not acquire injustice. Global justice is distributive justice, (Nardin-Rawls 300). The unanswered question is why a nation has the nuclear enrichment right and another nation does not have such a right? This discrimination is not justice!

This injustice clearly originates from shortcomings of the dominant paradigms in international relations. This deficiency indicates that a paradigm shift should happen. Paradigm shift can occur when the principles of the existing one are under question. New principles and deeper insights are needed in a new paradigm today. (Charles Huss-1996-123)

The Iranian Nuclear Principles

Iran signed treaties repudiating the possession of mass destruction weapons, including biological weapons convention, chemical weapons convention, and the nuclear non proliferation treaty (NPT) in 1970. Iran as the signatory of the treaty accepted all obligation of the treaty.

Iranian practical experiences assisted to form its nuclear principles. After the revolution the Iranians have paid high human costs and suffered the horrible results of the usage of mass destruction weapons. More than 100000Iranians were the victims of chemical weapons, during the war1979-1986, which 60000 of them died instantly .Upon this horrible suffering Iran logically does not have any intention to produce or use of mass destruction weapons, because the Iranians have been victimized by such weapons, as Japanese have been the victims of the nuclear bombs in 1945.

The role of religious codes is a basic element in the Iranian atomic principle. The religious perspective of this issue has been defined by “fatwa”, or a public religious decree. The fatwa against nuclear weapons has been issued by the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on national security matters. This fatwa, which issued in August 2006, clearly forbids production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Based on this Islamic code production and usage of such weapons is considered a great sin. Within this principle Iran invited Western companies for a joint venture to develop its civilian nuclear technology, together with the strict safeguards of the IAEA, which excludes any possibility of diversion into a weaponization program.

From the international point of view, the IAEA has done many inspections in Iran within past 8 years. All of the IAEA's findings in fact do not contain any conclusions about the presence of undeclared nuclear activities in Iran. Most IAEA officials including Mohammad Albradai, the ex-head of IAEA have said many times that there is no evidence that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon program. In years 2007, 2010 and even in February 2012, the U.S National Intelligence Estimate, representing the consensus view of all 16 American agencies with high level of confidence concluded that Iran does not follow a nuclear weapon program.

Based on these facts many international officials say it is immoral and illogical to impose sanction against Iran. On June 12 ,2011 former ambassadors of major powers to Tehran led by the former head of the British diplomatic mission to Tehran , Richard Dolton published an article , entitled “ Iran is not in breach of international law ” in some major British and American newspapers on the status of negotiation between Iran and the 5+1 countries. In that article they recognized that Iran nuclear activities are consistent with international law and there is no diversion of nuclear activities in Iran to military purposes. The former ambassadors noted “nothing in the international law or in the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty forbids the enrichment of uranium” and that “the IAEA has never uncovered any attempted diversion of nuclear material to military use”. “Like Iran several other countries are on their way to or have already reached such a threshold of this technology but have committed not to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody seems to bother them”.

The former director of U.S. programs for production of nuclear materials and components for nuclear weapons, Clinton Bastin, sent an open letter to President Obama on January 13, 2012, explaining that there is no weapons threat from Iran’s fully safeguarded nuclear power and research programs. He has said “this is a great wrong that Americans and Europeans are doing. “ Sanction of Iran based on false claims is a type of irresponsibility”.

The Hidden Side of the Story and the Illegality of Sanctions

The IAEA imbalanced / biased reports, upon the US political pressure, have provided some baseless doubts about Iran nuclear projects. Those biased reports have the potential to flame instability and endanger peace in the Middle East and even in other parts of the world.

Based on those imbalanced IAEA reports, the United Nations Security Council(UNSC) has passed four resolutions 1737(year-2006), 1747(year-2007), 1803(year-2008) and 1929 (year-2010),upon the US pressure, and step by step imposed new rounds of sanctions against Iran. Those resolutions from international legal aspect are unlawful, since there is no document available about Iranian infringement of non- proliferation treaty to support them. The UNSC decisions on imposing sanctions were taken based on doubts, not facts. So they are illegal. It is easily understandable, without committing any crime you cannot accuse or punish anyone. This fundamental principle of law has been neglected or intentionally ignored by UNSC. If those resolutions passed as preventive measures, those sanctions are legally baseless, since Iran does not have any intention to build weapons of mass destruction.

For example, one bias in the IAEA report, November 8, 2011, has illustrated by the failure to acknowledge that 20% enriched is medical grade. If Iran is not able to acquire the medical grade uranium from the international market and does not produce it locally, how it can provide this material for the treatment of patients in the hospitals? It is questionable why the IAEA failed to meet the Iranian requirements for enriched uranium for medical use?

Based on NPT there is no legal bar for having nuclear fuel cycle. The World has acknowledged this right for Iran the first time in Istanbul on April 2012. While the Iranian right of having nuclear fuel cycle is acknowledged by P5+1, in Istanbul, there in no logic for extension of the sanctions. The P5+1 should take some commitments for removing the sanctions.

The West should take more receptive attitude toward the Iranian peaceful program. Bear in mind that the US has 5113 nuclear arsenal, as Obama says, Russia has more than 3000 nuclear warheads and Turkey as an Iranian border country has hosted a number of US nuclear bombs for decades, and none of them are facing economic sanctions. While Iran does not have any nuclear weapon is facing sanctions. Upon these facts the west should end sanctions against Iran. This is the first moral step to be taken.

The West knows Israel is not signatory of nuclear non- proliferation treaty. It means Israel is not committed to this internationally binding treaty, which is a threat to the world peace and security by itself. While Israel has threatened Iran militarily many times, no sanction has been imposed on it by UNSC.

Upon the mentioned facts confidence deficiency of western states toward Iranian nuclear program is baseless. Nuclear technology does not mean producing weapons of mass destruction. What the Iranians are doing is nuclear fuel production which is legal in the framework of the NPT, and these facilities are available for many countries.

International realities are changing. It is very timely that the U.S and Europe to fully acknowledge the Iranian right of nuclear enrichment and the legality of Iranian actions in this industry , as Cathrin Ashton announced in her interview after her negotiation with Saied Jalili in Istanbul, 14 April. It is suggested that western countries to continue equitable dialogues with the IR of Iran in order to melt down suspicions and lack of confidence on the nuclear issue, in order to guarantee peace and stability in the region. The interdependence theory as a fundamental theory of international relations suggests the future dialogues should provide a basis on win – win solutions.

*Mohammad Kordzadeh Kermani is a research fellow at the Institute for Political and International Studies ( IPIS),Tehran – Iran. He could be reached at:

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