The great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
— Sir Isaac Newton, 1642–1727
On the last day of July 2006, the United Nation Security Council took time out from its consideration of the collision between Israel and Hezbollah in south Lebanon to address an even greater potential threat to the balance of power in the Middle East—Iran’s reported reach for nuclear weapons.
The United States accused the Islamic regime of secretly building atomic bombs. The Iranians denied this, but indignantly asserted their right as a sovereign nation to build nuclear power stations and their ability and intention to do this in accordance with the Non Proliferation Treaty to which Iran and the U.S. have been parties since 1968.
The treaty operates through its inspection arm, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is charged with offering help for its member countries’ civil nuclear programs and checking their compliance with its ban on the construction or acquisition of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear weapons powers at the time of the treaty signing, the U.S., Britain, Russia, France and China were—and are—exempted from the NPT’s ban on atomic weapons. Israel subsequently built up a sizeable—but still unrevealed—arsenal of nuclear warheads with surreptitious help from the United States and France. India and Pakistan which did not sign the NPT have since acquired nuclear weapons, but are not subject to IAEA inspection. North Korea signed but withdrew and is now building its own atom bombs (See pages 220–222 for further details of the NPT).