Decoding IAEA silence over clear violation of NPT in AUKUS pact

September 27, 2021 - 20:38

TEHRAN — The AUKUS pact, with all its controversies, has turned all eyes on three world powers and an international body: The United States, United Kingdom, France, and United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Referred to as “Cold War 2.0” by some political analysts, the AUKUS pact (Australia, UK, U.S.) is a trilateral partnership, which is aimed to provide Canberra with nuclear-powered submarines.

“This decision is contrary to the letter and spirit of the co-operation that prevailed between France and Australia,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in a joint statement.

The switch “marks an absence of coherence that France can only observe and regret”, the pair added.

Paris has gone from viewing Australia and the United States as a friend and ally to nations which can’t be trusted.

Macron had invested serious political capital in turning the submarine contract into something more enduring. In 2018 he stood on a warship at Garden Island military base in Sydney and pledged a new era of French involvement in the Indo-Pacific — something the coalition had wanted for years and welcomed with open arms.

Standing next to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the Elysee Palace courtyard, Macron said France was committed to “defending the balance in the Indo-Pacific region” and stressed “how much we consider the partnership we have with Australia to be at the heart of this Indo-Pacific strategy.”

What Macron didn’t know was that four days earlier, Morrison had used a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, to discuss a secret plan to ditch the French submarines and replace them with a nuclear-powered fleet using U.S. and UK technology.

The Australian prime minister told Macron at that Elysee Palace meeting, and in the days after, that Australia was considering its options. But he did not tell Macron about the plan being developed in secret with the U.S. and UK, according to Brisbane Times.
For unknown reasons, Morrison and Macron did not speak over the phone despite the momentous news. In a joint televised address with Biden and Johnson, Morrison did not once mention France. It fell to Biden to insist France was still a key ally in the region.

Australia hasn’t just picked a fight with France but also the European Union. The relationship was already rocky after the EU blocked the shipment of millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Australia earlier this year.

The AUKUS pact came as a blow to France’s economy. They lost a major economic deal. Some say they lost over $56 billion, some say $66 billion, and the Guardian even went on to say that France lost a $90 billion deal. 

France has taken diplomatic measures. It started to recall ambassadors from the United States and Australia for “further consultations.” 

The move prompted Australia to try to mend broken ties with France. A spokesperson for Australia’s foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said, “Australia understands France’s deep disappointment with our decision, which was taken in accordance with our clear and communicated national security interests.”

She also said that Australia values its relationship with France, “which is an important partner and a vital contributor to stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific. This will not change.”

The spokesperson said Australia and France share many issues of interest and “we look forward to engaging with France again.”

In his interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, Philippe Etienne, the French ambassador to Washington who is now in Paris, said that he will be back in Washington next week.

“…I have a couple of consultations to complete but then I will be back in Washington where I will have a lot of work to do with our American intelligence.”

This raises eyebrows over the role of the intelligence services in the AUKUS pact. 

Has France been ditched by the AUKUS intelligence services? Do CIA, MI6, and ASIS played a role in the shaping of the pact?

He also noted that France has lost trust in Washington.

“We lost trust. And now the way ahead is to really -- to find again the trust and to find again the trust, and it will be my work and the work of the two governments. We have to work together on very important issues, which have been discussed by the two presidents, which are in the joint statement and we have to decide on common actions,” Etienne said, according to the transcript released by CNN. 

Another issue that must seriously be taken into account is that the pact is in clear violation with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Article 3, Section 1 of the NPT says: 

“Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agency’s safeguards system, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfilment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Procedures for the safeguards required by this Article shall be followed with respect to source or special fissionable material whether it is being produced, processed or used in any principal nuclear facility or is outside any such facility. The safeguards required by this Article shall be applied on all source or special fissionable material in all peaceful nuclear activities within the territory of such State, under its jurisdiction, or carried out under its control anywhere.”

Therefore, all three parties to the AUKUS pact have violated this article. They have shared nuclear knowledge, without letting IAEA in the know. Ironically, the IAEA is quite silent over the matter, and has taken the high road. It seems that the countries who own nuclear bombs, are using the IAEA to reach their petty goals. 

While Iran has ferociously protested over IAEA’s double standards over NPT violations, the UN nuclear watchdog has not responded to Iran yet. 

In his remarks on September 22, Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA Kazem Gharibabadi pointed to Tehran’s conviction that every NPT signatory has the right to pursue its peaceful nuclear program, regardless of the level of enrichment, solely on the basis of its own needs and in accordance with the IAEA safeguards, but underlined the need for necessary safeguards arrangements in place to ensure civilian nature of their nuclear programs.

It is essential that Australia reach an agreement with the IAEA on necessary safeguards arrangements, he said, adding that the IAEA must have access to high-enriched nuclear material in Australia at any agreed and reasonable time, and no excuse is acceptable in this regard.

While stressing that the IAEA needs to regularly inform the Board of Governors of the developments surrounding the new partnership, the Iranian diplomat raised the alarm about putting the issue of non-proliferation and disarmament at risk.

“The U.S. and the UK have put the issues of non-proliferation and disarmament at risk. The U.S. and the UK must abandon double standards and hypocrisy, and refrain from jeopardizing their obligations under the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), in particular Article 3, under the pretext of fabricated ‘strategic concerns’,” Gharibabadi stressed.

The submarines used by the U.S. Navy and also the British use highly enriched uranium, or HEU, enriched to a level of 93 percent -- the same level of uranium concentration necessary for a powerful nuclear weapon.

Only six countries -- the U.S., Britain, France, China, India and Russia -- have nuclear-powered submarines.

The AUKUS deal will make Australia the seventh nation to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

It is high time for the IAEA to stop being a U.S. tool, and act independently.