Europe is celebrating the British, French and German foreign ministers' diplomatic coup in Tehran last week. The three foreign ministers succeeded in convincing Iran to agree to suspend uranium enrichment activities and to sign the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement, authorizing more intrusive inspections. Most European commentators are hailing this breakthrough as an important achievement for Europe. The Austrian Der Standard called it "the greatest success for European diplomacy in ten years of political union, since the Maastricht Treaty."
On October 21, Iran announced that it would temporarily suspend its uranium enrichment program and sign the Additional Protocol, requiring more robust inspections. Iranian officials declined to specify the duration or form of this suspension. The tougher inspection system would authorize International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to perform spot checks of any suspicious sites, without prior notice. Dr. Rowhani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, stated that Iran would probably sign the protocol before the November 20th IAEA board meeting.
On October 8, Iran's President Mohammed Khatami said Tehran will cooperate "to assure the world that we are not pursuing nuclear weapons, which truly we are not.'' He also, however, reaffirmed Iran's determination to continue enriching uranium as its "obvious legal right." This is the core dilemma. The October 31 IAEA-imposed deadline for Iran is fast approaching. Will Iran, as required, resolve all outstanding questions on its nuclear program, and suspend all its uranium-enrichment activity?
The International Atomic Energy Agency has demanded that Iran give a full and final accounting of its nuclear activities by Oct. 31, or risk action by the U.N. Security Council. Iran's eastern neighbor, Pakistan, and Pakistan's traditional rival, India, have already tested nuclear weapons. India's neighbor and rival, China, has been a nuclear power for many years.
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Even during the depths of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union often worked together to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to new countries. Unfortunately, the approaches being pursued by both countries will do nothing to slow Iran's ability to produce nuclear weapons, and a new approach and better coordination is desperately needed before it is too late.
Reports indicate that samples taken by international inspectors in Iran reveal the presence of enriched uranium. If true, this could be the first hard evidence that Iran has purified uranium outside of safeguards and in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article III of the NPT requires the full application of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards over all nuclear activities within a member country. Iran recently disclosed that it has been building a uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and claims it plans to place the facility under safeguards. The United States and others maintain that the plant is intended for the production of uranium for use in nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.