demanded recognition of its right to enrich uranium since the beginning of
talks on its nuclear program. The
United States has consistently rejected such a right. Both sides have refused to budge over nearly
a decade of negotiations, but Iran recently changed its approach and went public
with a concession that facilitated nuclear negotiations between the sides.
In more of a
political maneuver than a concession, Iran “conceded” that the six world powers
(United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) no longer need to
publicly acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
was recently quoted as saying, “Not only do we consider that Iran’s right to
enrich is non-negotiable, but we see no need for that to be recognized as ‘a
right,’ because this right is inalienable and all countries must respect that.” Zarif’s statement came as a surprise because
less than two months ago, President Hassan Rouhani conditioned any agreement on
recognition by the United States and its allies of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. Although both sides still disagree over the
legal recognition of a right to enrich uranium, Iran’s “concession” allowed the
sides to politically sidestep the issue and come to an agreement.
enrichment is the most sensitive area surrounding Iran’s nuclear program
because enriched uranium can be used both to make reactor fuel and to arm
nuclear missiles. Enriched uranium is
required in commercial light-water reactors to produce a controlled nuclear reaction. Enriching uranium to 20 percent allows it to
be used in nuclear medicines and for reactor fuel, and uranium must be enriched
to 90 percent to be used for a nuclear bomb. Iran claims that its nuclear enrichment is
only for producing power and for scientific and medical purposes. It claims no interest in nuclear arms. However, the United States and its allies point
to Iran’s prior efforts to hide enrichment and claim that Iran’s enrichment
facilities and stockpiles of enriched uranium far outweigh what it needs for
medical and civilian purposes.
On November 24,
2013, the sides reached a nuclear agreement entailing a six-month freeze on
progress at all of Iran’s key nuclear facilities, barring the facilities from
adding new centrifuges and capping (sometimes even eliminating) stockpiles of 20-percent-enriched
uranium that Western officials fear to be fuel for a nuclear weapon. Iran surprisingly agreed to daily monitoring
by international inspectors, and committed to halt construction of a
heavy-water reactor with the potential to provide the country with plutonium
for a nuclear bomb. The freeze of
Iran’s nuclear facilities combined with the increased monitoring makes it
virtually impossible for Iran to work on a nuclear weapon without being
In return, Iran
receives modest economic incentives with the prospect of more substantial
relief under the comprehensive deal to be negotiated in the spring of 2014 when
the six-month agreement expires. Iran gained access to $4.2 billion dollars of its foreign currency
holdings that have been frozen in overseas banks, and Western governments
agreed to ease restrictions affecting Iran’s trade in petrochemical products,
precious metals, and airplane and automobile parts. However, the most severe Western sanctions on
Iran’s oil and banking sectors will remain in place until Iran agrees to a
comprehensive deal. Although the
six-month agreement is historic, it remains to be seen whether both sides will
uphold the bargain, and ultimately whether a comprehensive agreement can be
reached in 2014.
 George Jahn, Iran Nuclear Talks Move a Step Closer to
Deal: Iranian Concedes on Right to Enrich Uranium, The Washington Post (Nov. 19, 2013).
 See id.
 Tehran’s ‘Right’ to Enrich Uranium Need Not
be Recognized by Other Nations – Iranian FM, RT (Nov. 17, 2013), http://rt.com/news/iran-nuclear-talks-deal-869/ [hereinafter Tehran’s ‘Right’]
 See Jahn, supra note 1.
 See id.
 See Tehran’s ‘Right,’ supra note 5; Obama Plunges
Ahead Toward Iran Nuclear Deal, NPR (Nov. 19, 2013).
 Uranium Enrichment, United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, http://www.nrc.gov/materials/fuel-cycle-fac/ur-enrichment.html.
 See Tehran’s ‘Right,’ supra note 5.
 Jahn, supra note 1.
 Iran Agrees to Curb Nuclear Activity at
Geneva Talks, BBC News: Middle East
(Nov. 24, 2013), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-25074729.
Warrick, Nuclear Pact’s Fine Print: A
Temporary Halt in Advances, The
Washington Post (Nov. 23, 2013), http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nuclear-pacts-fine-print-a-temporary-halt-in-advances/2013/11/23/0f71640a-54be-11e3-9e2c-e1d01116fd98_story.html.
 See id.
Warrick, After Iran Deal, Tough
Challenges Ahead, The Washington Post
(Nov. 24, 2013), http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/after-iran-nuclear-deal-tough-challenges-ahead/2013/11/24/9853518e-552c-11e3-835d-e7173847c7cc_story.html.
Posted by Wesley D. Mayberry on Wed. January 15, 2014 8:00 AM
Customary International Law