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Bush Seeks to Alter Global Nuclear Pact (Read 636 times)
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Bush Seeks to Alter Global Nuclear Pact
Oct 18th, 2005 at 6:51pm
By David E. Sanger

WASHINGTON Behind President George W. Bush's recent shift in dealing with Iran's nuclear program lies a less visible goal: to essentially rewrite the main treaty governing the spread of nuclear technology, without actually renegotiating it.

In their public statements and background briefings in recent days, Bush's aides have acknowledged that Iran appears to have the right - on paper, at least - to enrich uranium to produce electric power. But Bush has managed to convince his reluctant European allies that the only acceptable outcome of their negotiations with Iran is that it give up that right.

In what amounts to a reinterpretation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Bush now argues that there is a new class of nations that simply cannot be trusted with the technology to produce nuclear material, even if the treaty makes no such distinction.

So far the administration has not declared publicly that its larger goal with Iran is to remake a treaty that dates to the early 1960s one that the United States largely inspired under the cold war banner of "Atoms for Peace." To state publicly that Iran is really a test case of Bush's broader effort, a senior administration official said, "would complicate what's already a pretty messy negotiation."

But just three days before the White House announced its new approach to Iran in which it allowed Europe to offer broader incentives in return for an agreement to ask the United Nations for sanctions if Iran refused to give up the ability to make nuclear material - Bush issued a statement that left little doubt about where he was headed.

The statement was advertised by the White House as a routine commemoration of the treaty's 35th anniversary, and a prelude to a meeting in May in New York to consider its future. It never mentioned Iran by name.

But after praising the past accomplishments of the treaty, also known as the NPT, in limiting the spread of nuclear arms, Bush went on to say: "We cannot allow rogue states that violate their commitments and defy the international community to undermine the NPT's fundamental role in strengthening international security.

"We must therefore close the loopholes that allow states to produce nuclear materials that can be used to build bombs under the cover of civilian nuclear programs," he said.

On Sunday, Bush's new national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, made clear the connection with the Iran crisis.

Yes, he said on CNN, the Iranians claimed their nuclear work was entirely for peaceful purposes. He cited no new evidence of a secret Iranian project to build a bomb, though that is exactly what the CIA and officials like Hadley insist is happening. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency said they joined in the suspicion, but had no compelling evidence.

But Hadley emphasized that Iran's leaders "keep their secrets very well." They hid much of their enrichment activity from international inspectors for 18 years, then insisted it was not really for weapons, he said. He said that secretiveness "raises serious suspicions" about Iran's true intent.

Now, he said, the Europeans have come around to the view that "the best guarantee is for them to permanently abandon their enrichment facilities."

Bush could have called for renegotiating the treaty. But in background interviews, administration officials said they had neither the time nor the patience for that process. By the time all 189 signers come to an agreement, said one official who left the White House recently, "the Iranians will look like the North Koreans, waving their bombs around."

"We can't afford to make that mistake again," the official continued. North Korea has declared it is no longer a party to the treaty, though it signed it. Israel, India and Pakistan never signed it.

After a visit to Tehran last week for a conference that the Iranian government sponsored to explain its nuclear ambitions, George Perkovich, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said he had concluded that Bush had the right instinct, but might not be taking the right approach.

"The Iranians have decided to go on the offensive and simply assert their right, even if the treaty doesn't explicitly say that they have a right to enrich their own uranium," Perkovich said Monday. The view expressed by Iran's nuclear negotiators, he said, amounted to "we're not hiding it, we're not embarrassed by it, and no one is going to take our right away."

At the heart of Bush's concern is a fundamental flaw in the treaty.

As long as nations allow inspections and declare their facilities and nuclear work, they get the International Atomic Energy Agency's seal of approval and, often, technical aid.

But there is nothing to prevent a country, once it has learned how to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel rods, from withdrawing from the treaty and moving full-bore toward a bomb. North Korea did exactly that two years ago, and the CIA now estimates it has produced bomb fuel for six or eight nuclear weapons.

While Bush and the director general of the agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, have different proposals to deal with the problem, they agree that established nuclear nations should supply fuel to countries that need it. While this would help ensure that no nation could secretly produce bomb-grade fuel, smaller countries say they should not be dependent on the West or international consortiums for a major source of energy.

A little more than a year ago, after the arrest of Abdul Qadeer Khan the Pakistani nuclear engineer who helped arm Iran, North Korea and Libya Bush announced a proposal: In the future, the world would not allow countries to manufacture nuclear fuel. He exempted any nation already producing it - meaning the United States, many European nations and Japan, among others.

So far, Bush has done little to turn that proposal into legal language, and so far he has garnered almost no support.

But the nuclear clock is ticking, and some of Bush's aides fear that Iran is heading the same way North Korea did in the 1990s - playing out the negotiations while its scientists and engineers pick up the skills they need, leaving open a withdrawal from the treaty in the future.

The Iranians deny that, but admit they have built huge tunnels at some key sites, and buried other facilities altogether. Perkovich said that when Iranian officials had been asked about that at the conference, they had answered with a question of their own: "If you thought the Americans were going to bomb you, wouldn't you bury this stuff, too?"

The above article is from New York Times.

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