Iran has refused to endorse the NPT 2010 Review Conference's Preparatory Committee's agenda that proposes 'full compliance of the NPT'. It maintains that the agenda unfairly targets Iran and has reiterated that its nuclear program is fully legal and peaceful and that it has not committed any violation of the NPT obligations. This suggests that loopholes exist within the legal framework of the nuclear verification regime despite six decades of its existence. The treaties and agreements entered into, though comprehensive, leave enough space for ambiguity and problems of interpretation. The legality of Iran's nuclear program is a manifestation of this ambiguity which has brought the over-heated West Asian region to the verge of yet another conflagration.
Iran is accused of violating the NPT by concealing its nuclear facilities for almost two decades. Iran contends, however, that being a NPT signatory state, it is only obliged to disclose its nuclear activities no later than 180 days prior to the introduction of the nuclear material into the facility, which is legally tenable (Article 42 and the subsidiary arrangement). Therefore, revelation of Iran's gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment program at Natanz in 2003 does not indict Iran as violating the NPT.
To date, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not been able to establish any diversion of nuclear material to develop nuclear weapons or nuclear explosive devices. It is also not in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran, and is unable to make further progress to fully verify the past development of Iran's nuclear program and aspects relevant to the nature and scope of this program. Iran has rejected the IAEA's request for transparency going beyond the Additional Protocol.
There are, however, substantial grounds that bring the Iranian nuclear program under suspicion. Iran has not declared, for instance, as required by safeguard agreement, experimentation with nuclear material like uranium enrichment efforts in the Kayle electric company centrifuge workshop in 1999 and 2002 or uranium imports in 1992 from China. The discovery of Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) samples from various facilities in Iran suggests that it has conducted nuclear activities that it has not yet admitted, and that it may be concealing nuclear material that it either produced or imported. Iran claims that the HEU samples were contaminants. If that be so, Iran is guilty of not reporting its import of fissile material or that its program is linked to clandestine networks operated by A Q Khan. Besides, Iran can also be accused of not providing access to IAEA inspectors.
Enrichment of uranium is critical for manufacturing weapons grade fissile material and a state acquiring that technology is very near to weaponizing its nuclear program. That Iran's right to enrich uranium is being contested is significant here. However, whether Article IV of the NPT, which allows non-nuclear weapon states to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy must be compliant with Articles I and II of the treaty, is a contentious issue. Hence, a certification by IAEA about the peaceful nature of the program is necessary. That certification is not forthcoming in case of Iran and therefore its right to enrich uranium has no sanction until it is established that Iran's nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. It is on this ground that the IAEA board of governors referred Iran's case to the UN Security Council and the latter has imposed a second set of sanctions on Iran to put a cap on its enrichment program. The international community is unlikely to tolerate a non-nuclear weapon state signatory to the NPT developing nuclear weapon capabilities.
Though there have been violations on Iran's part, there has also been overreaction by the international community. The allegation that Iran is pursuing a non-peaceful nuclear program still lacks a legal basis. That could explain why, till date, there is no consensus in favor of sanctions of a military nature. While recognizing Iran's right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, the international community has been exploring alternatives like supplying enriched uranium to Iran to meet its needs for power generation.
Iran has convinced itself that it has the legal right to pursue enrichment of uranium despite various pressures. The breaches on Iran's part require it to establish its credibility to the international community. Iran has to display greater transparency going beyond its treaty obligations, and stop its enrichment program till the peaceful nature of its nuclear program is established by the IAEA. The international community should also strengthen efforts towards concluding a universally recognized treaty, to replace the present outdated treaty, and introduce new stringent verification measures that would leave no scope for a similar situation to arise again.