(CNSNews.com) – Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said Sunday that the regime is considering withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as one possible response to the latest tightening of U.S. sanctions.
Following the Trump administration’s decision not to renew waivers allowing Iran’s remaining energy customers to continue buying crude oil, Zarif told the state broadcaster IRIB that pulling out of the NPT was among “numerous choices” regime officials were considering.
The NPT requires non-nuclear weapon states to disavow the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons. North Korea’s withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 paved the way for its first nuclear weapons test three-and-a-half years later.
Zarif did not expand on the implied threat, but he did announce plans to visit North Korea soon.
The Trump administration is leading efforts to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. Iran and North Korea are suspected to have collaborated on both nuclear and ballistic missile development for years.
Iran became a party to the NPT a decade before the 1979 Islamic revolution, but in 2002 the international community learned from opponents of the clerical regime that it had been operating a clandestine nuclear program for nearly two decades, under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy program.
Those revelations sparked an international crisis, leading in time to years of negotiations which eventually produced the nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. Under the deal, Iran received billions of dollars in sanctions relief in return for implementing steps designed to shut off Iran’s pathways to an atomic bomb.
Trump last year withdrew from the JCPOA, and restored U.S. sanctions that had been lifted as part of the agreement.
Zarif’s suggestion that exiting the NPT could be on the table comes amid regime frustration at the tightening noose of sanctions, despite efforts by the JCPOA’s European partners to keep the deal alive.
Zarif told IRIB that the European countries have had a year to make practical progress but have not done so.
The NPT allows the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France – the only five countries with nuclear weapons at the time the treaty opened for signature in 1968 – to possess them, but not to transfer nuclear materials to other states.
The five nuclear weapons states, and all other treaty parties, undertook to pursue negotiations on effective measures leading to eventual nuclear disarmament.
(All countries are party to the NPT except for India, Pakistan, Israel, South Sudan – and, since becoming the first country to withdraw, North Korea.)
The three “pillars” of the NPT are nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
The latter pillar enables all states to pursue peaceful nuclear energy programs, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision. They are required to conclude a comprehensive “safeguards” agreement with the IAEA, and to declare all nuclear material in peaceful nuclear activities.
The NPT gives a party to the treaty the “right” to withdraw if it “decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this treaty, have jeopardized its supreme national interests.”
The Iranian regime last year threatened to withdraw from the NPT, after Trump exited the JCPOA. It did not follow through, but proliferation experts fretted at the time that an Iranian withdrawal would prompt other countries in the region that feel threatened by Tehran, such as Saudi Arabia, to withdraw as well, putting the treaty and global nonproliferation efforts under severe strain.
Zarif’s latest NPT withdrawal remarks come just days before the expiry of U.S. waivers allowing a small handful of countries to continue buying Iranian oil without risking U.S. sanctions.
The administration says there will be no grace period beyond Thursday, when the six-month waivers run out. The aim is to reduce the flow of Iranian oil to customers abroad to zero.
The countries affected are China and India – the biggest importers of Iranian oil in recent years – plus Turkey, Japan and South Korea.
The U.S. this month also added to the pressure on Tehran by designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a foreign terrorist organization, the first time an arm of a foreign government has been listed as such.