You are here

Iran and the NPT RevCon 2010

Dr S. Samuel C. Rajiv is Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • May 04, 2010

    In his opening remarks at the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) Review Conference (RevCon) being held in New York from May 3-28, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran’s positions on its contentious nuclear programme and charged NPT nuclear weapon states of being in non-compliance with their treaty obligations, including on nuclear disarmament and on fulfilling their obligations to NPT non-weapon states on the supply of nuclear materials and fuel. The Iranian President is the only head of state among the Treaty’s 189 States Parties to be attending the RevCon. Over the course of the next 25 days, Iran will continue to be the main sub-text on almost on all of the substantive issues that the RevCon is expected to deliberate on, including treaty compliance, verification measures, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, enrichment and reprocessing technologies, nuclear weapon free zones, strengthening of NPT withdrawal clause, etc.

    A war of words between the United States and Iran has ensured that there is a danger of the larger agenda of the RevCon getting hijacked by the political differences between these two protagonists. On his way to New York, Mr. Ahmadinejad asserted that the biggest threat to the world was from the production and stockpiling of nuclear weapons by nuclear weapon countries. In the run up to the conference, at the three Preparatory Committee (PrepComm) meetings held in Vienna, Geneva and New York from 2007 to 2009, Iran, among other issues, pointed out to what it termed the “continued unbalanced, discriminatory and double-standard approach in implementing the Treaty.”1 At the nuclear energy summit held in Tehran on April 17 and 18, 2010 under the theme ‘Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapons for None’, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei branded the United States as the “atomic criminal” for being the only country to have used nuclear weapons and charged that US nuclear weapons were a tool of ‘terror and intimidation’. According to reports, President Ahmadinejad also wanted the United States to be thrown out of the IAEA. Iran’s Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani charged that the April 12-13 Nuclear Security Summit convened by President Obama and attended by 47 heads of state had weakened the NPT by ignoring disarmament requirements and “prescribed the use of atomic weapons” in order to deter nuclear terrorism.2 Iran in fact conducted the Tehran conference as a riposte to the Washington summit, to which it was not invited. For her part, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is heading the American delegation to the NPT RevCon asserted in an interview to ‘Meet the Press’ programme on April 29 that the United States will not “permit Iran to try to change the story from their failure to comply” with the NPT provisions.

    Issues of Contention at the RevCon

    1. IAEA Additional Protocol: Compulsory versus Mandatory
    The Iran issue will be on the conference cross hairs when measures to strengthen treaty compliance will be deliberated upon. For instance, the RevCon is expected to deliberate on making it compulsory for NPT States Parties to adhere to the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP) instead of the current procedure of it just being a voluntary requirement. Out of the 189 States Parties to the NPT, only 139 countries have so far concluded an AP and it is in force in only 98 countries. The other 50 NPT signatories have not even concluded an AP to their standard NPT Safeguards Agreement. Iran on its part had voluntarily suspended the implementation of the AP in February 2006 in the aftermath of it being referred to the UN Security Council. It has since been insisting that it will only reconsider its decision regarding the AP if the IAEA as the “sole competent authority” decides on its nuclear concerns rather than a “politicised” UN Security Council (UNSC).

    2. Article X and Implications
    Another issue that will be important in the Iran context is that of withdrawal from the NPT. Article X Part I of the NPT provides for States Parties to withdraw from the treaty if they make the consideration that “extra-ordinary events” have “jeopardised their supreme interests.” North Korea made such a consideration twice - on March 12, 1993 and January 22, 2003, and Pyongyang’s nuclear activities have been off the international community’s radar since. Tehran has not yet made such a consideration, despite occasional threats to do so in the face of rising international pressure, specifically when it was referred to the UNSC by the IAEA Board of Governors.

    The country most affected by North Korea’s withdrawal from the NPT - South Korea – circulated a Working Paper at the Second PrepComm meeting held in Geneva from April 28-May 9, 2008 urging “preventive and deterrence measures to further dissuade” a State Party from considering withdrawal. The Paper further recommends for the withdrawing party to return equipment and material that it obtained under Article IV of the NPT (dealing with peaceful uses of nuclear energy), with the process to be supervised by a collective response mechanism made up of one-third of the NPT member states.3 A joint US-South Korea Working Paper at the same venue states that “should a party withdraw from a treaty before it remedies its violations, it should remain accountable for those violations.”4 Iran on its part contends that the issue of withdrawal is a “sensitive and delicate issue” and any focus on Article X at the RevCon will only “divert” from the main challenges facing the NPT – the issue of nuclear disarmament and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.5

    3. Multi-lateralisation of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
    South Korea, apart from Austria, presented Working Papers at the Third PrepComm meetings held in New York from May 4-15, 2009 regarding the issue of multi-lateralisation of the nuclear fuel cycle. Seoul urged States Parties to “comprehensively take into account both supply and demand in a way that reduces incentives of States to acquire indigenous sensitive nuclear fuel cycle.”6 It also urged proper attention to the ‘back-end’ (nuclear waste, spent fuel) of the nuclear fuel cycle and not just the ‘front-end’ (nuclear fuel supplies among other aspects) so that proliferation risks are minimised. Austria also favoured a ‘cradle to grave’ multi-lateral supervision of nuclear fuel cycle to ensure maximum transparency and security.7 At the New York PrepComm, Iran insisted that “the inalienable right of all States parties to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes without discrimination indeed constitutes the very foundation of the Treaty.” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister also demanded that industrial States Parties of the NPT that do not fulfil their requirements of ensuring nuclear materials supplies to other NPT member states as mandated under Article IV of the treaty will have to compensate these countries accordingly.8

    4. MEWMDFZ
    An issue that will take up prime slot is that of the Middle East Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone (MEWMDFZ). The 1995 RevCon adopted a resolution calling for a MEWMDFZ to obtain the support of the Arab states to get the NPT extended indefinitely. There has however not been any further progress on the issue, with Israel’s nuclear weapons being the main issue of contention. Iran and the 21 Arab states that are currently party to the NPT insist that as long as the ‘Zionist entity’ is allowed to keep its nuclear weapons and stays out of the NPT, there cannot be meaningful progress towards a MEWMDFZ. Though the United States was one of the three co-sponsors of the 1995 resolution calling for a MEWMDFZ and is still supportive of the idea, the issue of Israel’s arsenal is expected to further stymie discussions. The United States also agrees with the Israeli contention that unless there is comprehensive peace in the Middle East, efforts to establish a MEWMDFZ will be difficult.


    On most of the issues elaborated above, it would seem difficult to bridge the divide at the ongoing RevCon, especially given the fact that the NPT process requires decisions on major substantive issues to be achieved by consensus of all the States Parties. While the United States (along with the IAEA and the UNSC) charge Iran of being in non-compliance with its NPT obligations, Iran points out that the United States and other NPT nuclear weapon states are in non-compliance of Articles IV and VI, among other provisions.

    The prospects of the RevCon not being able to agree on a consensus Final Document are stark given the US-Iran antagonism. This of course will not be a surprise, given that since 1975, only three review conferences – 1975, 1985, and 2000, were able to produce ‘consensus’ documents on implementing the NPT’s various provisions. However, while previous review conferences were bedevilled by challenges of nuclear disarmament, debates about CTBT, countries like Iraq, North Korea exploiting NPT/IAEA loopholes, among other issues, the bilateral political dynamic injected by the contentious US-Iran relationship restricting progress at a major multilateral event that has near universal participation would seem to be a novelty this time around.