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Iran Nuclear Agreement Hailed as Important Step in Non-Proliferation

Carlos Barria, Pool Photo via AP

John Burger - published on 07/15/15 - updated on 06/08/17

Notre Dame professor warns of work that remains to be done

The multilateral agreement hammered out with Iran over its nuclear program is in "the best interest of humanity" and an important next step in preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, says the vice president of the American Society of International Law.

Mary Ellen O’Connell, professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame and author of The Prohibition on the Use of Force for Arms Control: The Case of Iran’s Nuclear Program, said that the deal, announced Tuesday, is in the security interest of the United States. 

The Vatican also responded favorably to the news, with its spokesman issuing a statement saying the agreement is "viewed in a positive light by the Holy See."

"It constitutes an important outcome of the negotiations carried out so far, although continued efforts and commitment on the part of all involved will be necessary in order for it to bear fruit," said Father Federico Lombardi. "It is hoped that those fruits will not be limited to the field of nuclear programme, but may indeed extend further.”

O’Connell, who is also the author of Twenty-First Century Arms Control Challenges: Drones, Cyber Weapons, Killer Robots and WMDs, spoke with Aleteia about the agreement. 

What does the deal provide for, and why is it important for the US to have such an agreement?

The deal is a multilateral agreement. It’s not between just the United States and Iran but among the permanent members of the Security Council, Iran, and it’s also associated with the International Atomic Energy Agency. That agency oversees and implements the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran is a party to that treaty, as are all the permanent members of the Security Council. And the treaty permits the five permanent members to have nuclear weapons, but no other state may have nuclear weapons. They may, however, have peaceful uses of nuclear power for nuclear power generation.

So the very long-running issue between the International Atomic Energy Agency and the other parties to the NPT and the US and the other permanent members of the Security Council and Iran is the suspicion that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon and not just a nuclear power source. Iran has long contended—and we’re talking about 15 or 20 yearsthat it is only developing nuclear power. The reason why this has led to these long years of negotiations and then eventually sanctions against Iran by the Security Council and other states is because Iran has not always cooperated fully with the IAEA, has not allowed IAEA inspectors into Iran, to all sites that they wish to visit, and this has raised a suspicion that Iran is diverting some of its fuel and some of its capacity to make a nuclear weapons in addition to nuclear power.

That’s the heart of the issue, and there’s been very committed and serious negotiations for about 10 years now, since the Security Council passed sanctions to convince, to persuade Iran to open its nuclear sites to IAEA inspection. Those negotiations have not been successful until now, and in the last several years the United States has put its own unilateral sanctions on Iran basically forbidding Americans to do business with Iran, telling US banks or international banks with a US presence not to lend money, not to purchase Iran’s oil. So it’s been a very financially difficult time for Iran, and still it won’t open up its nuclear sites to these inspections.

It’s questionable that the US had the right to put those kinds of sanctions on Iran outside the Security Council process, but it did that, and the US also pressured, in the last couple of years, the European Union to put sanctions on Iran, which were also questionable.

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