Jeffrey LewisParis Negotiations Update 4:Terms of the Iranian Enrichment Bill Still Unclear

Confusion continues to reign over whether or not a bill recently passed by the Iranian parliament actually requires the resumption of uranium enrichment.

The New York Times has a dreadful story, based on an Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) story, describing the bill as “supporting the resumption of uranium enrichment.”

Supporting? (E-N-R-I-C-H-M-E-N-T, What’s that spell? ENRICHMENT!)

Reuters continues to maintain that the law the does not require the resumption of enrichment

In a story entitled “Iran Would Freeze Enrichment for 6 Months at Most,” Reuters reports that Hossein Mousavian was asked whether the bill could force the government to resume enrichment as some deputies have demanded. Mousavian replied: “No, it just means that Iran’s rights should be respected and there should be no discrimination against it.”

I suspect the distinction is that the bill prohibits negotiators from surrendering Iran’s right and capability to enrich uranium, but does not require the resumption of enrichment right now (The bill also does not set a date for the resumption of enrichment activities).

An Iranian radio report on the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (“Iran Majlis approves nuclear bill,” October 31, 2004 in Persian, translated by the BBC Worldwide) seems to support this hypothesis:

Presenter: The approval of the bill on “gaining access to peaceful nuclear technology” in principle, in today’s Majlis session, which is the first decision of the legislative branch of the state on Iran’s nuclear case, is indicative of the country’s will and determination to continue its peaceful nuclear activities. Mr. Haji-Baba’i, Majlis MP explains the reasons and necessities for presenting this bill by the Majlis deputies:

Haji-Baba’i: As you know, As a result of the pressures exerted on Iran and the climate of psychological warfare conducted by Europe during the discussions between the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Islamic Republic in the past few months, the Majlis prepared a bill which was signed by 238 MPs. The reason was to legalize this matter and give it legal back up. What is important and is considered the main point about this bill is the issue of the fuel cycle. This bill makes it obligatory for the government to maintain the fuel cycle. In fact this is a strong, decisive and powerful response by the Majlis to the US and the three European countries which states that we will never accept the cessation of the nuclear technology fuel cycle and the enrichment of uranium. The fuel cycle and uranium enrichment are our red lines which constitute our minimum demands.

Presenter: One of the strong points of the bill is its inherent legal logic which gives it rational form and content. Dr. Mottaki, Majlis MP, will further explain the legal aspects of the bill which are based on international law:

Mottaki: The Majlis ratified the bill in the first round of discussions. It emphasizes the importance of the Islamic Republic’s rights on the basis of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In international law, there are two aspects to joining an international treaty which need to be considered in tandem. First, are the commitments and duties of the countries that join a treaty. The second, are the rights and advantages accrued to the countries involved as a result of joining a treaty.

In the absence of such an equilibrium, countries will not have the necessary motivation to join the treaty in question. The Western countries on the Board of Governors and the European Union have acted in a non-technical, illegal and political manner and have politicized the issue under pressure from America. They want to deprive Iran of its natural rights. The Majlis has legally blocked any attempt to make us forego or ignore the rights of the people. In other words, by passing this bill, the Majlis has sent a message to the Iranian nation, saying that it is safeguarding their interest. It has also sent a message to other nations, particularly to those nations which have taken action to deprive us of our rights in an effort to impose their will on us.

That would be constistent with the desciption of Iranis position, as Mousavian described it to Reuters:

.bq The cessation of uranium enrichment is already rejected. It is our red line and if it is the Europeans’ condition then it is better to leave the talks now.

(But) if the Europeans’ concern is to be assured that Iran’s (uranium) enrichment will never in the future be diverted from peaceful purposes … there’s a very good chance of reaching a compromise.”