IAEA Set to Discuss Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

The International Atomic Energy Agency board meets Monday to discuss Iran's uranium-enrichment efforts. Reza Aslan of the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy discusses the debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg.

On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency's board will discuss Iran's nuclear ambition and that nation's efforts to enrich uranium. The meeting is an early step on a path that could lead the United Nations Security Council to issue sanctions against Iran.

So far Western powers including Russia have not been able to persuade Iran to reinstitute its moratorium on uranium enrichment. Iran says it's pursuing nuclear technology for energy purposes. But the U.S. and the European Union worry that Iran may try to develop an atomic bomb.

Reza Aslan is a research associate at the University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy. He joins us from studios of KQED in San Francisco. Thanks for talking to us Mr. Aslan.

Mr. REZA ASLAN (Research Associate, University of Southern California's Center on Public Diplomacy): Oh it's my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

STAMBERG: Do you think that the IAEA, that's a board that's made up of 35 nations, think they will have any real sway on Monday?

Mr. ASLAN: Well, I don't think so. The IAEA just recently released its final report on Iran's nuclear program and it did say that as far as it could see, it had yet to find any proof that there was a diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons. So unfortunately the report wasn't the smoking gun that I think the United States and Europe was hoping it would be.

STAMBERG: But how isolated is Iran on this issue? Is there support for them from any members of the UN Security Council?

Mr. ASLAN: Well, I mean they certainly have some nominal support from China and Russia. These are two countries that have very lucrative trade deals with Iran. But also because both China and Russia want to encourage countries like Iran, countries in the Middle East, to begin to start looking East for their economic trade deals rather than West.

STAMBERG: Has Iran actually violated, have they broken any international law here?

Mr. ASLAN: No, this is of course the awkward part of this whole thing, is that despite years of lying and cheating and hiding the scale and scope of their nuclear program, they have yet to technically violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Now, I think that is an indication that the treaty needs fixing. But nonetheless I think Iran believes that it has an inalienable right as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to continue to its enrichment for what it claims is peaceful purposes. It's hard to really figure out whether that's the case or not.

And in particular I think Iran over the last couple of months, particularly with this nuclear trade deal that he United States is signing with India, which of course is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and does have nuclear weapons in violation of international law, I think that just feeds the perception in Iran that there is a double standard being applied to their country. And I think it's just going to harden that sentiment in the Islamic republic.

STAMBERG: This week Iran and Russia seemed to be making maybe a last ditch effort trying to formulize some sort of deal that would have Russia enriching Iran's uranium. Is that proposal dead now?

Mr. ASLAN: It is dead. I think the proposal in which Iran would go ahead and enrich uranium on its own soil but that Russia would be in charge of the spent nuclear fuel, that deal I think has a better chance of being resurrected at this point. I think we have to recognize that there is nothing any country in the world could do to convince Iran to stop enriching uranium on its own soil.

STAMBERG: Reza Aslan is author of No God But God. Thank you, sir.

Mr. ASLAN: My pleasure.

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