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Iran acquired goods for its nuclear program illegally

Whilst the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on the former’s nuclear program have crossed the deadline of the Interim Agreement this summer, there are interesting new reports regarding the supply of relevant materials for Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

In a previous essay, I have argued that the continuous extension of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure could not have gone by without the illegal supply of goods. Speaking on TV, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: ‘Of course we bypass sanctions. We are proud that we bypass sanctions because the sanctions are illegal.’ Additional to the notion of illegality, key Iranian politicians have a track record of emphasizing the uselessness of international sanctions. Let’s take two steps back and look at the issues of illegality and uselessness more thoroughly.

First, to date there is a holistic sanctions targeting Iran. Just to get a brief glimpse of what kind of supplies this regime legitimizes or de-legitimizes, have a look at the EU sanctions regime. From an Iranian perspective, this regime is critically dangerous to the development of its economy and hence, one might understand why expressions such as ‘illegal sanctions’ are utilized. However, one may argue that certain sanctions, certainly not all of them, are existentially important to the maintenance of international peace and security. These days, the ‘proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (WMDs) and its prevention are commonly used terms. How are they governed internationally? Following the unveiling of the spectrum of the ‘Khan’ network in the early 2000s, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1540 in 2004, which obliges all states to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and to establish appropriate domestic controls over related materials to prevent their illicit trafficking. In conjunction with the règlement of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), trade in nuclear materials is governed strictly, imposing guidelines on nuclear states to refrain from sending items of nuclear and dual-use applicability to countries like North Korea. While Iranian politicians may not like it, the sanctions regime regarding supplies of nuclear materials is legal and enjoys political support internationally.

Secondly, the uselessness-argument is also an incredibly interesting one to look at more closely. Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif proudly stated that the sanctions regime was a failure as the amount of centrifuges could be up-scaled from 200 to 19.000 in spite of the international sanctions regime. More recently, President Rouhani tweeted:

What are ‘useless’ sanctions? The normative response would be sanctions which incur unjust systems. This is the Iranian stance. The technical response would be sanctions which simply do not work. And this is the response I would like to focus the concluding paragraph on.

The fact that Iran was able to procure supplies for its nuclear infrastructure is troubling against the backdrop that there are international restrictions on nuclear materials supply to Iran. Just or unjust sanctions aside, for positivist fans of UNSC resolutions it is sad to accept the truth that some country or countries have supplied Iran with materials illicitly. To contextualize this rather theoretical and maybe normative view, it is noteworthy that the Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced a massive extension of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure, increasing its centrifuges up to 190.000. Is this going to work without the illicit help of un-abiding NSG and all UN member states? To date, I would bluntly say no. Without a fundamental change and ease in the relations between the P5+1 and Iran, finding a legal way of procuring necessary technologies and supplies for the future is highly unlikely. The question which, perhaps very undeservingly, enjoys so little attention is how Iran could procure these materials. Who sold them nuclear materials? Who are the cheaters? Who is not implementing UNSC Resolution 1540?

Comments are welcome!

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