Clinton’s Expansive Iran Policy

A friend pointed me in the direction of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Meet the Press appearance yesterday (video here, transcript here). And I, like he, was suitably impressed by the tone and professionalism. I never gave in to the Hillary demonization during the primary campaign. As things turned out, we got what I think is a very competent president and secretary. I think, had she won, we would have gotten the same thing.

That said, I only found one remark “significant,” in terms of both raising my eyebrows and adding an element to my thinking about the administration’s policies. It comes at the 12-minute mark, when Clinton, in discussing Iran, says:

Our hope is — that’s why we’re engaged in the President’s policy ofengagement toward Iran — is that Iran will understand why it is intheir interest to go along with the consensus of the internationalcommunity, which very clearly says you have rights andresponsibilities; you have a right to pursue the peaceful use of civilnuclear power, you do not have a right to obtain a nuclear weapon, youdo not have the right to have the full enrichment and reprocessingcycle under your control. (Emphasis added.)

Now that’s about as uncategorical a pronouncement of the administration’s policy on the Iranian nuclear program as I’ve seen to date. It clearly suggests that expectations, my own included, that the Obama adminsitration would walk the “red line” back from the current “no domestic uranium enrichment” position were premature.

But aside from policy implications, that’s also a very expansive interpretation of the vague Article IV “authorizations” of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which reads as follows:

1. Nothing in this Treaty shall be interpreted asaffecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty todevelop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peacefulpurposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I andII of this Treaty.

2. All theParties to the Treaty undertake to facilitate, and have the right toparticipate in, the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materialsand scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses ofnuclear energy. Parties to the Treaty in a position to do so shall alsoco-operate in contributing alone or together with other States orinternational organizations to the further development of theapplications of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, especially in theterritories of non-nuclear-weapon States Party to the Treaty, with dueconsideration for the needs of the developing areas of the world.(Emphasis added.)

As I’ve always understood it, the basis for the enrichment freeze demanded by UNSC, and as referred to it by the IAEA, is that Iran has not been sufficiently transparent in its inspection compliance to re-establish international trust in its peaceful intentions. The need to re-establish that trust stems from the very revelation of Iran’s nuclear program, coming after an almost 20-year clandestine effort that at one point included weaponization components.

Now, according to, in discussing Article IV, “It is important to note that when the NPT was first conceived in thelate 1960s, it was generally assumed that not all member states shoulddevelop full fuel cycle capabilities because of the sensitivetechnological components involved.” This brief paper by Lawrence Scheinman (.pdf), commissioned by the U.N.-sponsored WMD Commission in 2004, discusses the questions and ambiguities surrounding Article IV rights and obligations in more detail.

Nowhere, however, does there seem to be clearcut de jure support for Clinton’s ironclad and expansive pronouncement. Indeed, in discussing the U.S.-UAE nuclear agreement, much was made of the UAE’s willingness to forego its fuel enrichment rights, flagged as a nonproliferation concession and contrasted with Iran’s position.

So I’ll be watching this closely to see if there’s any clarification offered by the Obama administration, or any requested by either our European partners or Iran.

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