Work through the NPT to Address Concerns about Iranian Nukes ; the Treaty Provides a Framework for Global Cooperation in Dealing with Iran

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The confrontation between Washington and Tehran over Iran's nuclear program remains very menacing. President George W. Bush has dismissed as "wild speculation" reports that US officials were planning military attacks against suspect sites in Iran. And he has reaffirmed his commitment - for now - to using diplomatic means to address concerns about Iran. But his military doctrine of active "prevention" of developments like Iran's acquisition of nuclear- weapons technology remains in place, and he and his officials pointedly note that no US options have yet been taken off the table regarding Iran.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush is urging Congress to take actions that directly contravene the global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). He is asking for legislative changes that would allow the export of US nuclear technology to India, a country that - unlike Iran - remains outside the NPT and has openly tested a number of nuclear weapons.

Is the administration schizophrenic about the NPT? On the one hand, it criticizes Iran for not adhering to an optional, superstrict addendum to the NPT called the Additional Protocol, and on the other, it is openly undermining the NPT through its own legislative initiative.

I do not think the administration is schizophrenic. Bush and his key advisers probably dislike the NPT just as much as they dislike other international treaties which could constrain US actions, such as the Kyoto Treaty on carbon emissions or the Rome Treaty on the international war-crimes court. But whereas the United States has never ratified those other treaties, it has always - until now - been a stalwart member of the NPT.

Bush and his officials are not at this point arguing that the US should withdraw from the NPT. But the legislative changes he is urging regarding exports of US nuclear technology and materials to India would, if they are passed, certainly cause a crisis in Washington's relations with the NPT's other signatories. These include all the world's other nations except India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea (all of which have nuclear arsenals that remain outside any international regulation).

As our legislators and the American people consider the changes Bush is urging in our nation's 50-year-old antiproliferation laws, we need to understand and carefully reassess the value of the NPT. Has this global set of rules really, as many in the Bush administration have suggested, started to outlive its usefulness? Or does it still provide a useful first approach to dealing with problems such as that being caused by Iran?

I believe the NPT still has considerable value. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is able to conduct on-the-spot inspections and other verification measures in suspect nations only because the NPT authorizes it to do so. Are these verification measures foolproof? …