24 November 2013

Nigeria: Iran's Nuke Programme


International concerns about Iran's nuclear programme have reached a crescendo. Last week, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad still contended that the country would not "back down" on its nuclear programme.

It should be remembered, however, that the US had supported the Iranian government's nuclear programme in the 1960s "to produce nuclear fuel". Iran had also, in compliance with international treaty that regulates international nuclear activities and aims to prevent the proliferation or spread of nuclear weapons, in 1968 signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In the face of international condemnation it remains to be seen how the world will get Iran to back down. Sometime in 2003, Iran had voluntarily suspended its enrichment programme. But the suspension was short-lived. In 2006, when a deal with the international community wasn't achieved, Iran began enriching uranium again.

It should not be forgotten that, under international law, Iran has a right to develop nuclear fuel. The current tension is a deviation from what it used to be between Tehran and Washington. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has expressed concerns about Iran's nuclear programme, it has stated that there is no definitive proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

The suspicion may, however, not be misplaced. Iran supports radical Islamic groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Other countries in the region- Pakistan, India and Israel - have nuclear weapons and it will be unfair to deny Iran its right to join the club, particularly as it does not have a record of unprovoked aggression. Even if it has a nuclear weapon, Iran is unlikely to attack others except when its security is threatened. Indeed, no country has used a nuclear weapon since 1945.

The US should tread softly. There are economic incentives for the country to reduce tensions with Iran. The US and its key allies should know that they are dependent on oil from the Persian Gulf. Any instability in the Middle East could distort world oil markets and their economic recovery plans. But we applaud the current rapprochement whereby the Obama administration and its allies have been quietly bargaining. Before last week's formal Geneva conference, "modest' sanctions worth $40 billion with Iran had been reached. The US relaxed banking and financial restrictions as demanded by Tehran. This relaxation alone would put $100 billion in Iran's coffers. Israel was not pleased.

Concerns over proliferation risks are not misplaced. It's not only for Iran's nuclear programme but also for others who have access to nuclear power. Targeted military strikes, drone attacks, and cyber warfare may not help. It could irreparably harm Iran's nuclear capabilities, but send a clear signal that US has fulfilled the doomsday scenario painted by warmongers.

The greatest risk today is not that Iran will get a nuclear weapon, but that the US will be drawn into another costly war in a volatile region. We urge Iran to fully comply with all UN Security Council Resolutions to keep to the NPT terms in the interest of global peace. But the global community should respect the rights of Iran to have nuclear facility for peaceful means.

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