By Scott Ritter
(The Guardian) – The Qom plant, if current descriptions are accurate, cannot manufacture the basic feed-stock (uranium hexaflouride, or UF6) used in the centrifuge-based enrichment process. It is simply another plant in which the UF6 can be enriched.
Why is this distinction important? Because the IAEA has underscored, again and again, that it has a full accounting of Iran’s nuclear material stockpile. There has been no diversion of nuclear material to the Qom plant (since it is under construction). The existence of the alleged enrichment plant at Qom in no way changes the nuclear material balance inside Iran today.
Simply put, Iran is no closer to producing a hypothetical nuclear weapon today than it was prior to Obama’s announcement concerning the Qom facility.
The facility in question, said to be located on a secret Iranian military installation outside of the holy city of Qom and capable of housing up to 3,000 centrifuges used to enrich uranium, had been monitored by the intelligence services of the US and other nations for some time. But it wasn’t until Monday that the IAEA found out about its existence, based not on any intelligence “scoop” provided by the US, but rather Iran’s own voluntary declaration. Iran’s actions forced the hand of the US, leading to Obama’s hurried press conference Friday morning.
While on the surface, Obama’s dramatic intervention seemed sound, the devil is always in the details. The “rules” Iran is accused of breaking are not vague, but rather spelled out in clear terms. In accordance with Article 42 of Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, and Code 3.1 of the General Part of the Subsidiary Arrangements (also known as the “additional protocol”) to that agreement, Iran is obliged to inform the IAEA of any decision to construct a facility which would house operational centrifuges, and to provide preliminary design information about that facility, even if nuclear material had not been introduced. This would initiate a process of complementary access and design verification inspections by the IAEA.
This agreement was signed by Iran in December 2004. However, since the “additional protocol” has not been ratified by the Iranian parliament, and as such is not legally binding, Iran had viewed its implementation as being voluntary, and as such agreed to comply with these new measures as a confidence building measure more so than a mandated obligation.
In March 2007, Iran suspended the implementation of the modified text of Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part concerning the early provisions of design information. As such, Iran was reverting back to its legally-binding requirements of the original safeguards agreement, which did not require early declaration of nuclear-capable facilities prior to the introduction of nuclear material.
While this action is understandably vexing for the IAEA and those member states who are desirous of full transparency on the part of Iran, one cannot speak in absolute terms about Iran violating its obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. So when Obama announced that “Iran is breaking rules that all nations must follow”, he is technically and legally wrong.
President Obama speaks about UNSC Resolution 1887. Read the Speech [pdf]
Also read White House’s News Release [pdf]
Watch a UN webcast of the UN Security Council Summit [RealPlayer]