Washington, 16 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- To former nuclear inspector John Wolfstahl, there can be no doubt that Iran has violated at least the spirit of the NPT.
For 18 years, Tehran secretly bought nuclear material and tools for creating nuclear reactors, says Wolfstahl, who served in the administration of Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, as a nuclear monitor in North Korea.
But now that Iran's nuclear program has been discovered, Wolfstahl concedes, technically Tehran is n-o-t violating the treaty by pursuing nuclear power -- if that is all it intends to do.
"You have 180-plus countries that are members of this treaty. Any amendments or new language would have to be re-approved by each and every parliament. It's something that would simply be logistically impossible, in my view. What we want to see is a real effort by the United States n-o-t to dictate a new interpretation. What we'd like to see is an effort by the United States to build a consensus with like-minded countries and see if, in fact, there is some common ground."
This doesn't necessarily point to an inherent weakness in the NPT, Wolfstahl says. The authors of the treaty, he says, had no illusions about the possibility that a government might use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and eventually try to shift to weapons. That's why they set up the inspection protocols.
But Wolfstahl stresses that when the treaty was drafted 35 years ago, the world was becoming aware that petroleum-based energy was n-o-t limitless, so most countries were expected to limit their efforts to power production.
"You could not have a hope of a real economy unless you were going to invest heavily in nuclear power," Wolfstahl said. "And the treaty was designed to reflect that understanding because the developing states said very clearly, 'We have no problems with giving up nuclear weapons, but we want to make sure that you're n-o-t (developing countries are n-o-t) going to restrict us in our development as economies.'"
Wolfstahl says he hopes that Bush will n-o-t push Washington's European allies to unilaterally reinterpret the NPT to put more restrictions on nuclear power development. And he says a complete renegotiation of the treaty is out of the question.
"The general premise is that renegotiation is impossible," Wolfstahl said. "You have 180-plus countries that are members of this treaty. Any amendments or new language would have to be re-approved by each and every parliament. It's something that would simply be logistically impossible, in my view. What we want to see is a real effort by the United States n-o-t to dictate a new interpretation. What we'd like to see is an effort by the United States to build a consensus with like-minded countries and see if, in fact, there is some common ground."
Already, Wolfstahl says, the Bush administration and the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency have made similar proposals on how best to apply the existing NPT to current circumstances. One would permit any country to build nuclear reactors, but only under strict international controls.
But Peter Kuznick says the United States itself might be as guilty as Iran of undermining the NPT. Kuznick is the director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University in Washington.
Kuznick notes that the treaty calls for a reduction in nuclear weapons by all countries. He says the United States is violating at least the spirit of the treaty by developing new nuclear weapons, such as low-yield bombs designed to penetrate bunkers.
Thus, Kuznick says, Iran feels that Europe and the United States are ganging up on [joining forces against] it: "Countries like Iran look at what's happened to India and Pakistan -- countries that have tested nuclear weapons recently -- and they see that there's really very little sanctions against them, and [countries like Iran ask], 'Why is Israel allowed to have nuclear weapons without even any serious discussion about eliminating their nuclear weapons, and why can't Iran [have the same weapons]?' So it seems to them that there's a lot of double standards being imposed at this point."
Kuznick suggests that the United States, like Europe, take a more conciliatory approach. And he points to what he calls a promising plan agreed to last month between Tehran and Moscow under which Iran would send all spent nuclear fuel to Russia to ensure that it wouldn't be reprocessed into weapons-grade material.
"I think the approach that the Europeans have been taking to Iran makes a lot more sense," Kuznick said, "offering positive inducements to going along with this kind of treaty -- plus the way that Russia has been approaching this, allowing Iran to develop its own nuclear power industry but controlling the fuel cycle. That seems to be a much more sensible way to go."
If the United States maintains its hard line, Kuznick says that it can lead only to more resentment in Iran, and that is n-o-t conducive to preserving peace.