Javid Husain During the past eight years since the disclosure of Irans uranium enrichment programme by the Iranian dissidents, the country has been subjected to intense international pressure and UN Security Council sanctions to persuade it to give up this programme. However, Iran has refused to buckle under this pressure and, barring a short period of suspension of this programme in the course of negotiations with the West, has steadfastly continued its uranium enrichment activities. By now Iran has been operating its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz consisting of several thousand centrifuges for a number of years and has successfully produced significant quantities of low-grade enriched uranium. It has also been working on establishing another underground uranium enrichment facility near Qom. More recently, it has announced plans to set up a third uranium enrichment facility based on centrifuges which are much more efficient than those employed at Natanz. In view of its long experience of manufacturing and operating centrifuges, Iran appears to have successfully mastered the uranium enrichment technology. Technology once learnt and acquired by a nation cannot be taken away from it. For all practical purposes Iran has crossed the Rubicon. It is true that the clandestine nature of Irans uranium enrichment programme till it was disclosed by the Iranian dissidents in 2002 gave rise to doubts and suspicions about its peaceful character. But since then Iran has opened its uranium enrichment facilities to IAEA inspections and although some questions still remain about its past nuclear activities, IAEA has found no evidence of the diversion of nuclear technology or materials by Iran to non-peaceful purposes. Logically, this should have enabled the US and other members of the P5+1 group (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) to reach a negotiated solution of this issue with Iran on the basis of mutual accommodation. Instead, the Western nations took the case to the UN Security Council to force Iran to give up its uranium enrichment programme. The Western nations clout enabled them to get three sets of financial and technical sanctions adopted by the UN Security Council against Iran. However, these sanctions, which were considerably diluted by Russia and China, have not succeeded in persuading Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme. Towards the end of the last year, the P5 plus 1 group made a proposal under which Iran would export its stock of low-grade enriched uranium to Russia and would get in return fuel rods for peaceful use in its research reactor at Tehran. Despite Irans acceptance of this proposal in principle, the proposed arrangement has not yet been implemented because of differences between the two sides on the venue and timing of the exchange of the nuclear materials. Iran insists that the exchanges should be simultaneous and on the territory of a friendly country. The two sides remain bogged down in the differences on the technical aspects of the proposal. Meanwhile, under the US pressure the P5 plus 1 group has again started negotiations on a new set of UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. While Russia appears to be receptive to the US demand for the new sanctions, China does not seem to be enthusiastic about them. It remains to be seen whether the ongoing negotiations will lead to an agreement within the P5 plus 1 and a new UNSC resolution imposing additional sanctions on Iran. A negotiated solution of the problem of Irans nuclear programme is both desirable and possible. It is desirable because resort to the military option by Washington would be politically untenable within the US, jeopardise its long-term interests in the region and in the Muslim world, cause strategic overstretch because of the existing US military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hurt it economically. As for the possibility of a negotiated solution, Iranian leaders have emphasised from time to time that their nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in character and that nuclear weapons do not have any role in their security doctrine. On the other hand, the Western countries main preoccupation is that Iran should be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. Since there is no difference of view between Iran and the Western countries on the non-acquisition of nuclear weapons by the former, it should be possible for them to work out arrangements which would ensure the continued peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear programme and allow the lifting of the UN Security Council sanctions against Iran. The answer to the problem posed by the Iranian nuclear programme does not lie in forcing Iran to give up its uranium enrichment technology as the Western countries have been doing in the past but in allowing Iran to carry on its nuclear programme including uranium enrichment under specially stringent IAEA safeguards so as to prevent any diversion of nuclear materials or technology to non-peaceful purposes. Admittedly, nuclear proliferation carries serious security risks for the international community. However, the goal of nuclear non-proliferation must be pursued in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner. The chances of success of the past misguided approach of the Western countries in dealing with Irans nuclear programme are minimal because of their lack of sincerity and double standards in dealing with the issue of nuclear non-proliferation. For example, it is well known that the same countries which are now crying hoarse over the proliferation risks of the Iranian nuclear programme either connived in or looked the other way when Israel was busy developing its nuclear weapon programme. Even now there are several non-nuclear-weapon states which possess uranium enrichment facilities while being signatories to NPT. One doesnt hear a squeak about them from the US or other bleeding heart proponents of nuclear non-proliferation since they happen to be friendly with Washington. The only logical conclusion one can draw is that it is all right for a country to acquire uranium enrichment technology if it is friendly with the US but a cardinal sin if it loses Washingtons favour. Even if one admits for the sake of argument that Irans uranium enrichment programme is driven by security considerations, it is illogical for the US to expect it to discontinue that programme while accentuating Tehrans feeling of insecurity by attempting to destabilise the Iranian government, keeping open the option of military strikes against it, and hinting in the latest US nuclear policy statement the possibility of the use of even nuclear weapons against Iran because of its alleged non-compliance with the NPT. A more sensible and productive approach would have been tried instead to overcome Irans security concerns so as to minimise the role of security considerations as the driving force behind Irans uranium enrichment programme. What is needed is a fundamental review of the US policy towards Iran with the main objective of engaging Iran in the quest for a new security architecture in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East instead of continuing the past failed policy of containing Iran and subjecting it to threats and sanctions. The writer is a retired ambassador. Email: javid.husain@gmail.com