Clinton’s Expansive Iran Policy, Redux

On Monday, I flagged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on Meet the Press, in which she declared that Iran “[does] not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessingcycle under [its] control.” That seemed to be the most expansive and, perhaps more significantly, the least vague pronouncement on the subject that I’d seen by an Obama administration official to date. Compare it, for instance, to Obama’s language in his Prague speech:

We will support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorousinspections. That’s a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or thegovernment can choose increased isolation, international pressure, anda potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increaseinsecurity for all.

A State Department press officer, in response to an inquiry about what seemed like new language, replied via e-mail:

[T]he Secretary’s statement is consistent with our Iran policy. There has not been any change to the Iran policy.

With a bit of clarification, that’s technically true. As I pointed out in my previous post, the IAEA referred Iran to the UNSC because it was not satisfied with Iran’s transparency regarding Article II of the NPT, requiring non-nuclear weapon states to refrain from seeking weaponization capabilities, as well as with its compliance with its safeguard agreements as required by Article III of the treaty.* By that reasoning, according to Miles Pomper, a senior researchassociate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies ofthe Monterey Institute of International Studies, a case could be made that Iran had temporarily forfeited its rights to uranium enrichment when the UNSC passed a resolution requiring it to suspend that activity.

But were that the meaning of Clinton’s remarks, they would seem to require a bit more nuance. As Pomper wrote via e-mail:

In terms of whether this is consistent with U.S. policy is another matter.Generally, in order to win support from other non-nuclear-weapon states,the U.S. has shied away from engaging in a dialogue about “rights.” It hassaid that Iran has violated the underlying purpose of the treaty byseeking nuclear weapons and has not provided information required of itto the IAEA to prove otherwise. The U.S. has also been careful to speak ofits willingness to support Iran’s legitimate right to peaceful nuclearenergy.

That, for instance, perfectly captures the spirit of Obama’s Prague formula.

Another question remains over whether Clinton’s remarks, as she claimed, represented the “consensus of the international community.” A French official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that by the terms of the NPT, Iran did have the right to enrich uranium on its territory, provided it was in compliance with IAEA safeguard agreements. He mentioned in particular the importance of an Additional Protocol, which allows the IAEA to conduct more intrusive inspections. Iran at one time voluntarily abided by the terms of an Additional Protocol that it agreed to but never officially ratified.* According to him, the UNSC resolutions represented for France — and the EU3+3 group negotiating with Iran — a suspension, not a loss of that right. He reminded me that part of the EU3+3 group’s latest offer to Iran included uranium enrichment on Iranian territory, albeit under multilateral administration.

Theoretically, he said, were Iran to regain the confidence of the IAEA and the international community in the civilian nature of its program, it would also — subject to a new UNSC resolution — regain the right to engage in uranium enrichment activities. Clinton’s statement, Pomper pointed out, leaves the American position in that scenario unclear.

When I read the French official Clinton’s statement, he flagged the phrase “under [its] control” as the clause that kept it in line with both American policy and the EU3+3 position. He said that were Iran to theoretically regain the right to the enrichment process, the program would technically be under IAEA supervision, hence not Iranian control.

The State Department has so far not answered my requests for clarification. Laura Rozen found quite a few people who were surprised by the remarks as well, but when she pressed the State Department for comment, she was told that Clinton “stated existing USG policy, verbatim. So your folks are just plain wrong.”

That could be. But if so, there are a lot of very well-informed folks who are just plain wrong.

*Note: This post was revised to correct technical inaccuracies regarding Iran’s rights and obligations under the NPT.