Iran's nuclear programme: towards de-escalation of a nuclear crisisJune 13, 2012 - nr.20
Conclusions and recommendations
Since the early 1990s, there have been recurrent tensions between Iran and the international community (or parts of it) as to whether or not Iran’s nuclear programme has purely peaceful intentions. The AIV knows of no evidence to suggest that Iran is currently building nuclear weapons. Nor are there any indications that Iran’s leaders intend to give the country’s nuclear programme a military dimension. At the same time, it must be noted that it is not certain that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.1 This uncertainty will remain as long as Iran is unwilling to clarify promptly, unconditionally and in full all the IAEA’s outstanding questions on the possible military dimension to its nuclear programme. This is the primary objective of the round of talks with Iran launched by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (P5) and Germany on 14 April 2012.2
The AIV notes that it cannot guess at the precise reasons for the Iranian leadership’s refusal to be completely transparent. It can only say that the international sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council, as well as the harsher unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States, the EU and Canada, have not led to greater transparency on the part of the Iranians. The AIV believes that the economic sanctions affect Iran’s economy and population, but that they do not yet appear to be having any direct impact on the rulers in Tehran.
The AIV further believes that any military action against Iran would at best delay the nuclear programme, that it would drive the programme even further underground, and that it could actually prompt Iran to convert its nuclear programme into a nuclear weapons programme. What is more, a military strike against nuclear facilities in Iran, which are under the supervision of the IAEA, would mean the end of the international inspections, and encourage the political and social forces within Iran to close ranks and pledge their support to the Iranian government. The AIV would further note that there may be a link between the threat of a military strike on Iran and the substantial public support within Iran for developing a nuclear weapon, as emerged from the two recent opinion polls conducted there. Leaving aside the effects of military action on international peace and security in the wider sense and on the global economy, the AIV therefore considers that taking the military option would not contribute towards finding a long-term solution to the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme.
On the basis of studies and interviews, the AIV would conclude that the vast majority of government and academic researchers believe that there is no imminent risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear-weapons capability or indeed a nuclear weapon. This means there is scope to continue searching for a diplomatic solution to the outstanding questions about Iran’s nuclear programme.
In the light of the impasse outlined above, the AIV favours a thorough reflection on the question of whether new avenues could be explored in the diplomatic process with Iran, and if so how. The AIV favours a wider-ranging, step-by-step approach to this process as a way out of the current impasse:
- A shift in the negotiating climate is required, in which the choice between further sanctions or - eventually -military action no longer forms the dominant discourse of the negotiators, and both sides exercise restraint in their rhetoric.
- The negotiating process should take account of national sensitivities on both sides, and of the security risks in the region as perceived by Iran. Iran merits a place as a full partner in international consultations on a range of security issues in the region.
- One route towards achieving such a process would be to agree to widen the scope of the existing negotiating agenda. This would make it possible to broach concerns on either side, outside the issue of the nuclear programme, insofar as relevant to that issue. In this connection it is important to guard against involving too many parties in the negotiation process, since this would be counterproductive.
- A package of confidence-building measures is needed to smooth the path to reopening a negotiating process geared towards finding a long-term diplomatic solution. Measures introduced one step at a time, aimed at building confidence on both sides, could help to reinvigorate this negotiating process.
- If Iran cooperates by responding to the IAEA’s outstanding questions, the international community could proceed to gradually relax its economic sanctions.
- Finally, Iran could be offered help in developing other, sustainable energy sources as alternatives to its finite oil and gas stocks.
The AIV is of the opinion that it is in any case essential to gain certainty, during the negotiation process, that Iran’s nuclear programme will not at some point become a nuclear weapons programme. To gain certainty on this issue, it is important to clarify the following.
- It should be acknowledged that Iran’s pursuit of a peaceful nuclear programme, including uranium enrichment, would not be a contentious issue provided;
- Iran, like any other country that is party to the NPT, is completely transparent regarding the matters described in the IAEA reports. Iran should also ratify the Additional Protocol.
The AIV recommends that Dutch policy in international forums be aimed at taking the aforementioned steps towards de-escalating the nuclear crisis surrounding Iran, and that the Dutch government take advantage of its ties with Israel to warn that country’s government against the dangers and counterproductive consequences of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
1 IAEA Report, ‘Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran’, 24 February 2012, pp. 10-11.
2 Letter from HR Catherine Ashton to H.E. Dr Saeed Jalili, 6 March 2012. See: <http://www.europa-nu.nl/ id/vixkjoxgt0y5/nieuws/verklaring_hoge_vertegenwoordiger_ashton?ctx=vhschxm4w6ut>. Consulted on 3 April 2012.
Mr F. Korthals Altes
Chairman of the Advisory Council
on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061
2500 EB The Hague
Date 21 November 2011
Re Request for advice on Iranian nuclear programme
Dear Mr Korthals Altes,
On 14 September 2011, a Parliamentary debate was held in the House of Representatives of the States General on the Iranian nuclear programme. The government considers that developments concerning this programme remain a cause of serious concern. During the debate a number of MPs asked me to consult with you on the scope for a study by the Advisory Council on International Affairs on this issue. Further to our subsequent consultation, I am now writing to request that the AIV produce an advisory report on Iran’s position in the region and the role of its nuclear programme in geopolitical relations in the region.
After many years and countless inspections, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains unable to establish that Iran’s nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in nature. In September 2011, the IAEA expressed concern about the possibility of a military dimension to the nuclear programme, without drawing any conclusions. If true, this would be in violation of Iran’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a party. The country has furthermore refused to heed resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors, ordering that Iran suspend its nuclear reprocessing and enrichment activities.
Iran’s refusal to cooperate fully with the IAEA or to meet its international obligations is a matter of grave concern, not least because it is a threat to stability in the region. The IAEA’s Director-General made the following observations in his report of 8 November 2011:
- While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs (locations outside facilities) declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
- The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. The information also indicates that prior to the end of 2003, these activities took place under a structured programme, and that some activities may still be ongoing.
In January 2006, the AIV produced an advisory report on strategies for combating the spread of nuclear materials (‘The nuclear non-proliferation regime: the importance of an integrated, multilateral approach’, No. 47, January 2006). The report included analysis of the non-proliferation issue as regards Iran and recommended, ‘with regard to the crisis concerning Iran, [that the Netherlands] help in the search for a diplomatic solution, for which purpose as much joint international pressure as possible must be brought to bear on the unpredictable regime in Iran’ (Recommendation 7, p. 40).
Against this background, the government would request that the AIV address the following question:
Partly in view of the most recent developments, what is Iran’s position in the region and what role does its nuclear programme play in geopolitical relations in the region?
Bearing in mind the start of the NPT review cycle and the frequency of IAEA reporting on the Iranian nuclear programme, the government would request that the AIV produce its advisory report by 1 April 2012.
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Government response to the AIV advisory letter ‘Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Towards de-escalation of a nuclear crisis’
On 19 April the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) presented its advisory letter ‘Iran’s Nuclear Programme: Towards de-escalation of a nuclear crisis’. The government is grateful to the AIV for this advisory letter. It is a valuable contribution to the debate about the Iranian nuclear programme, and will help the government to further develop and consolidate its policy in this area. In the following pages, the government will discuss the Netherlands’ policy on Iran’s nuclear programme and respond to the AIV’s observations and recommendations.
Summary of the government’s response
- The government is unable to conclude, on the basis of the IAEA reports, that Iran’s nuclear programme is peaceful in nature. It continues to harbour grave concerns about a possible military dimension to the programme.
- This raises further concerns about precisely what is going on in Iran.
- Iran must be completely transparent, cooperate fully with the IAEA, and comply with its international obligations under the terms of resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors.
- The Netherlands supports the efforts of the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, chaired by High Representative Ashton) to resolve the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme through diplomacy.
- The framework for a wider-ranging, step-by-step approach to the political process in relation to Iran, as advised by the AIV, has already been proposed.
- The AIV advocates widening the current negotiation agenda with Iran. The government believes, however, that adopting a wider-ranging agenda should be made conditional on Iran’s compliance with its international obligations.
- The AIV asserts that sanctions have not led to any increased openness on the part of those in power in Tehran. The government believes that it was international pressure (in the form of sanctions) that led Iran to decide on 14 April 2012 – for the first time since January 2011 – to discuss its nuclear programme with the P5+1. It is essential to maintain this pressure in order to keep Iran at the table.
- The government believes that the sanctions are effective and must be maintained until Iran takes the action requested of it. Until then, relaxing the sanctions would be inappropriate.
- The government does not wish to speculate about, or exclude, other options at this juncture. It therefore considers that warning Israel about the dangers and counterproductive consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, as the AIV advises, would not be expedient at the present time.
Iran’s nuclear programme
The government shares the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran is proceeding with the enrichment of uranium, in defiance of a number of resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors. In addition, the IAEA is still unable to establish whether Iran’s nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in nature. It is therefore essential, as the AIV emphasises, for Iran to fulfil its obligations as a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and to be wholly transparent about its actions. In its reports of 8 November 2011 and 24 February 2012, the IAEA continued to express serious concerns about the possibility that Iran’s nuclear programme may include a military dimension, although the Agency drew no conclusions in this regard. After careful critical analysis, the Agency concluded that the information at its disposal was reliable. It reveals that Iran has conducted activities that are relevant to the development of nuclear weapons. It also indicates that these activities were part of a structured programme until 2003, and that some of them may still be going on. Exactly when Iran conducted certain activities, and for how long, are questions that remain unanswered. The government does not wish to speculate about such matters, but considers that it is up to Iran to convince the international community that its nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful in nature. To this end, it is Iran’s responsibility to comply fully with its international obligations.
The government supports the international two-track policy on Iran, consisting of sanctions combined with a political component. Sanctions are aimed at forcing Iran to engage in political dialogue with the international community about its nuclear programme, to be completely transparent, and to cooperate fully with the IAEA. The government believes it is important in this regard to allow the sanctions to do their work and not to speculate about, or exclude, other options at this time. It therefore considers that warning the Israeli government about the dangers and counterproductive consequences of a military strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, as the AIV advises, would not be expedient at this time.
The international community has signalled clearly and repeatedly to Iran that the country’s current attitude is unacceptable. This has been made clear, for instance, by the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Iran, added to which the EU has adopted its own package of sanctions. The object of the sanctions is to change the behaviour of the Iranian authorities, initially by inducing them to return to the negotiating table. The government takes the view that it was the strong international pressure on Iran, in the form of sanctions, that led the country to enter into dialogue with the P5+1, for the first time since January 2011. It is therefore important to keep up the pressure on Iran and so sustain the political track. In the government’s opinion, the resumption of talks between the P5+1 and Iran on 14 April 2012 shows that the sanctions are in fact having an impact on the regime in Tehran. This is also clear from Iran’s vociferous response to the latest sanctions introduced by the EU. The oil embargo recently adopted will take full effect on 1 July 2012. Any relaxation of sanctions, as advised by the AIV, would be contingent on concrete action taken by Iran, and would then have to be considered in the light of Iran’s transparency regarding the IAEA’s outstanding questions, and its full cooperation with that agency.
It is up to Iran to embark on serious, substantive negotiations with the international community about its nuclear programme. The P5+1 are conducting these negotiations on behalf of the international community. On 14 April 2012 the P5+1 and Iran met in Istanbul to discuss the nuclear programme. They agreed to continue this dialogue in Baghdad on 23 May 2012. The government agrees with the AIV that increasing the number of participants in the political track would be counterproductive.
The AIV envisages a wider-ranging, step-by-step approach to the political track, to reinvigorate the talks between the P5+1 and Iran. The framework needed to arrive at such cooperation has already been defined. The P5+1 have proposed several areas of cooperation with Iran in recent years. For instance, on 14 June 2008, Iran was offered a cooperation package covering nuclear energy, political and economic cooperation, energy partnership, agriculture, environment and infrastructure, civil aviation and socioeconomic and human development/humanitarian issues (see annex IV to UN Security Council resolution 1929). International cooperation of this kind is conditional upon Iran’s compliance with its international obligations.
The AIV appears to envisage a widening of the current negotiation agenda with Iran without this being made conditional on Iran’s compliance with its international obligations. In the government’s view, however, such an approach could be counterproductive at this stage, since it would reward Iran for adopting an irresponsible and unacceptable attitude in the international arena. It would also give Iran an opportunity to disrupt the negotiating process. Iran must show itself to be a responsible international partner. The government takes the view that it is up to Iran to face up to its international responsibility and to comply with its international obligations.
Aims pursued by the Dutch government
The government supports the efforts of the P5+1 to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomatic channels. Both within the European Union and in its dealings with international partners, the Netherlands advocates exerting maximum pressure on Iran to be completely transparent. Relaxing the sanctions at this point in time would be inappropriate. As a member of the IAEA’s Board of Governors, the Netherlands likewise strives to maintain the pressure on Iran. Iran must cooperate fully with the IAEA and reply to all the Agency’s outstanding questions. The next meeting of the Board of Governors will be on 4 June 2012. Both at this meeting and during the next talks with the P5+1, on 23 May 2012, Iran can demonstrate that it intends to comply with its international obligations. The government will work actively to promote this outcome.