Iran mulls SA idea to save atom treaty talks

South Africa proposed a compromise on Friday to prevent a global meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from collapsing over Iranian objections to the agenda, and Tehran said it would consider the idea.

The proposal resembled a gesture by meeting chairperson Japan made earlier in the day but dismissed by Iran as not good enough, heightening fears the 130-nation gathering would be dissolved before it drafts goals to shore up the NPT.

But the fact that South Africa, a pillar of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing states to which Iran belongs, refloated the proposal for approval by all delegations lent it broader authority and heaped pressure on Iran to relent.

Iran has been blocking the required consensus for the agenda, drafted by Japan after months of consultations with NPT members, because it feels the programme would disproportionately target Tehran as the main threat to the treaty’s integrity.

The NPT binds members without nuclear bombs not to acquire them, guarantees the right of all members to nuclear energy for peaceful ends, and obligates the original five nuclear powers from the post-World War II era to phase out their arsenals.

North Korea left the NPT in 2003 and detonated a nuclear device last year, while Iran is in a stand-off with Western powers over suspicions it has a covert atomic bomb project.

Tehran denies this, saying it is enriching uranium only for electricity generation. United Nations sanctions have been imposed on Iran for refusing to suspend the programme, hiding research in the past and impeding UN nuclear watchdog investigations now.

South Africa leaps into the breach

Iran rejected wording inserted into the talks agenda at the behest of Western powers, with an eye to the North Korean and Iranian crises, stipulating the meeting focus on “re-affirming the need for full compliance” with the NPT.

To defuse the dispute, Yukiya Amano, Japanese chairperson of the meeting, offered an attachment to the agenda saying compliance denotes “compliance with all provisions” of the NPT.

This was meant to reassure Iran that debate would also tackle the slowness of nuclear weapons powers to do away with their arsenals—an issue the NAM aimed to highlight in debate on how to patch up the treaty.

Iranian envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh again demanded that the agenda text itself be reworked, saying Tehran had not been consulted about it before the meeting. Amano again refused.

In a surprise intervention later in the day, South Africa called for the phrase “with all provisions” to be added as a declaration based on a democratic approval of the gathering.

“This would be a decision of the meeting interpreting and amplifying the agenda in front of us,” Pretoria’s envoy Abdul Minty said.

This time Iran, which Germany had accused shortly before of “playing tactical games” to pre-empt critical debate that could touch on its nuclear activity, raised no objections.

Soltanieh told reporters: “We will reflect on this proposal with our capital and we will [give our answer] on Monday.”

Minty’s proposal was to be put in writing and sent to delegation capitals over the weekend for guidance on positions to be taken before Amano reconvenes the meeting on Monday.

“A major NAM country making this proposal endows it with more authority and will put direct pressure on Iran to agree and let the meeting move on to substantive discussions,” said Rebecca Johnson, head of a London think tank on NPT affairs.

“If Iran does not, it will look very isolated and be unable to paint this dispute as a Western conspiracy against them.” - Reuters

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