Cycle of conferences of Mr Bruno Tertrais, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research. (Mr. Bruno Tertrais is a private researcher).

Report In-House Meeting with

Dr. Bruno Tertrais on “A European Vision of the Iranian
Nuclear Problem”

The Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad (ISSI) organised an in-house meeting with Dr. Bruno Tertrais, Senior Research Fellow, Foundation for Strategic Research, Paris, on “A European Vision of the Iranian Nuclear Problem” on October 13, 2005. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Inam-ul-Haque, Chairman, ISSI.

Dr. Bruno Tertrais

Dr. Tertrais highlighted European perceptions and identified real problems regarding Iranian nuclear programme. He said that the Iranian nuclear programme has advanced because for the last 18 years, the IAEA was not informed about the Iranian nuclear activities. Tehran is not interested in military option, but wanted to achieve a threshold to go ahead for the weapons option if the time arrives. He focused on EU’s involvement in the Iranian nuclear issue since October 2003, and said that the Iran-EU negotiations were not only focused on nuclear issues, they also covered political and economic issues. On the nuclear front, positions are hard to reconcile because Iran considers uranium enrichment as its inalienable right, which is a violation of the NPT because the NPT does not say anything about the nuclear fuel cycle. NPT is not a clear treaty and Article IV must not be interpreted as an inalienable right to the nuclear fuel cycle, since peaceful nuclear technology can be explored without acquiring the complete fuel cycle. When recently Iran decided to resume part of its enrichment process it actually violated an Iran-EU agreement.

He explained why the EU joined this process of negotiating with Iran to solve the standoff on the Iranian nuclear issue. Initially, when France and Germany initiated the process, the EU felt convergence of interests on different issues, and the EU also wants to demonstrate that there are approaches other than using force. France and Germany wanted to reconcile with the US because they were not happy with the souring of relations over the Iraq invasion. They also wanted to show that they are concerned with nuclear proliferation and wanted to institutionalise the Iranian nuclear issue. At that point, the UK also wanted to demonstrate that it could follow an European approach. There were some personal commitments by some members of the European team to solve the Iranian nuclear issue. For instance, on the German side, Joschka Fischer’s personal involvement was a very strong element in the cohesion of the European team. As a result, the EU took a very strong stance that it does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, because this would be dangerous for the Middle East and Europe.

Dr. Tertrais termed Iran as a potential threat to Europe due to its missile programme, and (its sponsorship) of terrorism. He said that the EU believes that a nuclear Iran would have a negative impact on the region, and others will follow it. It would lead to a reassertion of Iranian power in the region, which might very well be destabilising. Iran, he said, viewed itself as a major power and was not feeling comfortable with the US presence in the region. It wants to be like India, which has eventually been accepted as a nuclear weapon state by the West. Iran believes that at some point in future, the West would end up accepting the nuclear status of Iran. On a more concerned note, he said that a nuclear Iran could extend its nuclear umbrella to Syria, which would be a destabilising element for the region. As a counter-reaction, other countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia might seek nuclear weapons. The future of the NPT will depend on how the Iranian nuclear issue is resolved, and that the Iranian nuclear issue is a test for Europeans.

He pointed out that there are also commercial interests involved, and which can play against the Europeans if the Iranian nuclear issue escalates. The EU would not be able to develop the kind of commercial and trade relationship that it would like to have with Tehran and that Tehran would like to have. The deepening of the trade and commercial relationship between Iran and Europe is conditional to the resolution of this crisis.

He said that the US and the EU are on the same wavelength, but there are some minor differences between them. For instance, both care about non-proliferation issues, but Europeans care more about the NPT than the US. Europeans are not like Americans in terms of perceptions, and it is much easier to deal with Europeans than with Americans.

Dr. Tertrais concluded that currently it is very difficult to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue. There is a lack of trust between EU and Iran, and the latter is not sure about EU commitments. The EU agrees that Iran has the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy; however, there are possibilities of unilateral sanctions on Iran if the matter is not sent to the UNSC. If Iran really wants to go all the way, the consequences would be dramatic. There is a possibility that in future the Iranian nuclear weapons programme can grow from a symbol to reality. However, this is not an issue that is going to be solved soon or in the near future. It would hold the world’s attention for a long time.


Q: From a national security point of view, why is the EU not taking into account Iranian and Middle Eastern security perceptions vis-à-vis Israel which are dominated by the US?

A: Every country has a right to secure itself and no one is challenging Iran’s right to security. Israel would become a threat to Iran only if Iran develops nuclear weapons. Relations are improving between Iran and Israel, and Israeli nuclear weapons are in no way a threat to Iran. The possibility of American action against Iran or the hypothetical possibility of such action only exists if Iran goes nuclear. The EU has proposed new security initiatives and continues its support for a nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East.

Q: The present situation will continue in a sense of stalemate with the American and Europeans pressurising Iran to back-off and Iran insisting that it has a moral right to continue with its programme. So this stalemate will continue as the US is involved in the Middle East and bogged down in Iraq, and has its commitments in Afghanistan, it is unlikely that it will move forward on Iran.What level of intelligence do you have that Iran has benefited from this time period?

A: It is assumed that Iran has not told everything and it will continue its nuclear programme. It would be a surprise if any EU country says that it knows everything about Iran. It would continue to develop centrifuges even during the negotiations and has doubled its efforts.

Q: Why does the EU fear Iran’s drive for nuclear energy, because as a sovereign nation Iran can do whatever it wants to do and the IAEA is also there to verify things?

A: The EU sees the Iranian nuclear programme as a breach of the NPT obligations, because Iran had hidden its nuclear activities for the past 18 years from the IAEA, and moved towards the military dimension. I think Iran want to be smart and does not want to do what other countries are doing across the Gulf of Oman, by relying entirely on oil and not thinking about their future. Iran thinks about its future. There is some form of rationale to develop peaceful nuclear energy. I am not saying that this is a programme designed for the bomb, but it has a dual nature.

Q/C: You raised the issue that Article IV of the NPT does not in fact entitle states to the complete nuclear fuel cycle, but it does not prevent the need from having them. So, how you interpret that I suppose depends on where you are examining it from. What it does allow for is for states who are signatories to be allowed the right to develop the civilian nuclear capability. So if the term fuel cycle is not used in the NPT, it is implied that there is a sort of acceptance that states who are non-nuclear states signatories to the NPT can develop their civilian capabilities which includes acquiring the complete fuel cycle. So I think it is a debatable point, but as you said, the treaty is vague and it is not clear, but to me it seems clear cut that if it allows developing civilian technology than it allows the acquisition of the nuclear fuel cycle. And Iran is not the first country to do so; Japan has a huge enrichment programme, so if you are saying that okay there is no smoking gun, but it is a dual purpose programme, one could have the same implications for Japan as well. Japan’s programme also has dual purpose because they can go nuclear within weeks if they leave the NPT. So it is basically the way the West perceives Japan and the way the West perceives Iran, and it really does not have to do with the actual situation on the ground if one looks at it in terms of the NPT.

On the second point about Iran: the US being a strong supporter of non-proliferation, I think I have serious problems in the wake of Indo-US nuclear agreement, because again depending on how you interpret it, if you look at the NPT, it does not allow signatory states to transfer civilian nuclear technology even to non-signatory, non-nuclear weapon states. And since India, under the NPT, remains a non-nuclear weapon state, so if the US has signed this agreement then the implication is that it has undermined the articles of the NPT. Therefore, the US commitment to non-proliferation is seriously questionable. It appears that the US is concerned about the WMDs programmes of certain states, not proliferation per se.

Two points on the other issue that there is no threat to Iran today, at least not from Europe and America, but that depends on if you are sitting in Iran and you see European and American governments fund the Iranian Diaspora that is committed to undoing the revolution. You see the American government setting up clandestine radio networks specifically to call on the Iranian people to overthrow the regime. I think from the Iranian perspective there is a very real threat to them coming from Europe and America. Even the so-called broader Middle East Initiative in itself is a threat, because it seeks to use interventionism to alter regimes. So I am not clear how you say with such surety that there is no real threat to Iran, and that obviously Iran is merely imagining it. I don’t think that is correct. As for the Israeli threat, Israel views Iran as a source of threat because it sees Iran as a very strong player in supporting, for example, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or giving support to Hamas. Let’s not forget that in that sense then Israel does see an antagonistic relationship with Iran. And statements have come from Israel calling on the Americans to take out the Iranian nuclear programme. That also signals at least an indirect threat voiced by Israel vis-à-vis Iran.

Finally, there is also a problem with the EU negotiations with Iran. The red lines have shifted. It was first temporary suspension of uranium enrichment; then it was suspension. Now the EU wants Iran to totally renounce and to give a commitment not to acquire the complete nuclear fuel cycle. Even if Iran was to ratify the Additional Protocol to the NPT, what is the guarantee that the Europeans would not then demand other things, because signing the Additional Protocol does not prevent one from acquiring low-level uranium enrichment and other civilian technologies? When you are looking at the Iranian nuclear issues these things have to be taken into account, it is simply not prestige and so on. If a country is really serious about acquiring the capability they do not put it up for negotiation, there is nothing to negotiate if you want the capability.

A: There is a difference between something that is ‘not forbidden’ and ‘inalienable right’. Iran argues that Article IV creates an inalienable right to the fuel cycle. Divergences of interpretations matter. About Japan, I think there are big differences. First of all, I agree that technologically Japan would be able to build nuclear weapons in a relatively short period of time. But do they have an interest in doing so? Nothing shows it, whereas the record of Iranian activities in recent years shows that there is an Iranian interest in doing so. That is one difference.

There is also the regional dimension, this region carries particular risks. Even the Pakistani government says that it will not welcome if Iran becomes a nuclear weapon state. On the threat as seen from Iran, the People Mujahideen are not exactly considered a friendly organisation and certainly not supported by European and American governments, and the European position on this has been clarified through written statements during the negotiation process.

Have the red lines shifted? The positions have become cleaerr on both sides - the EU and Iran - I am not sure the red lines have shifted. I think the position has become clearer on both sides, but fairly early on both sides knew what the other side wanted. It is precisely because of the behaviour of some countries like Iran that we need the Additional Protocol. The safeguard regime is not enough when one country wants to hide things. We discovered it in Iraq in the early 90’s. The Iranian record of the 80’s and 90’s show that the safeguard regime is not enough. To say that we will still have the safeguard agreement frankly does not take into account the fact that, in case of Iran, no mechanism of the IAEA inspection and safeguard agreement is enough.

C: This is Muslim/non-Muslim state issue. Perceptions and tactics are different and even India voted against Iran. Europeans are involved in solving problems. There are many obstacles on Iranian as well as American side. Pakistan is also against nuclear proliferation, but holds the right of Iran to develop peaceful nuclear energy. Pakistan does not perceive any threat from Iran. If Pakistan wants to become a facilitator it can play a positive role.

C: It is not a question of Iran it is a question of Islam. NPT is a big bargain. What about other powers and their obligations. What about the US, it applied different standards for different countries? Why Indo-US nuclear cooperation deal was not criticised? Why UK is following a discriminatory approach? Such question needs an answer. Pakistan never suspected Iranian nuclear programme. Pakistan and EU do not share same strategic interests.

C: On the comment regarding the Government of Pakistan not trusting the Iranian intent. My view is that while I do have this opinion that Iranian nuclearisation, should that happen, would be problematic for Pakistan, and Iran does have the NPT obligations that it need to meet, but I do not see that Pakistan and Iran are in any kind of conflict. So, should Iran go nuclear at any stage, I don’t see these weapons as any threat to Pakistan.

Concluding Remarks by the Chairman

Concluding the meeting, the Chairman ISSI, Mr. Inam-ul-Haque, thanked Dr. Tertarias for an enlightening opening statement and a very lively question and answer session. He said that his only disappointment was that his younger colleagues do not ask questions. Although having learned a lot, he was of the opinion that this problem is not going to go away in the short term. Negotiations will go on “one step forward, one step back, two steps sideways”, but he hoped that a solution will be arrived at which protects Iranian national interests and also remove the apprehensions of the Europeans and the Americans that Iran is embarked on the path of acquiring nuclear weapons.

The Chairman said that he did not think that we can arrive at any conclusions today, but we have to keep abreast of the developing situation. He pointed out that there have been reports that the Iranians have agreed to inspections by the IAEA; secondly, that they are considering allowing some interviews of some scientists involved in their nuclear programme which they had not done previously; and thirdly that there are some discussions regarding the Additional Protocol being ratified quickly. He was of the opinion that maybe this is the way to move forward. He said that the impression that comes across is that the US and Europeans are working in tandem, a la the “good cop, bad cop” routine. Here, he raised a couple of questions:

• Regarding sanctions, he wondered whether they will be “busted”, and “who will bust those sanctions”?
• What will be the situation of the availability of oil or energy?
• How far can the Europeans press this and what will be the consequences for the international community if any military action is contemplated against Iran?

On the last question, the Chairman said that the consequences (of a military action) will be extremely grave. The Iranians also know that they have a very good negotiating position because the world cannot afford to take military action against Iran and that is why they will continue to play hardball with the EU.

Dernière modification : 05/11/2008

top of the page