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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Iran's no-show at the nuclear conference in the UAE reveals away its intentions

Iran’s decision to forgo the chance to amplify its narrative at an international meeting of nuclear experts may seem puzzling, but there is method to what seems an irrational move on the face of it

Iran was conspicuous by its absence at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. AP / Jon Gambrell
Iran was conspicuous by its absence at the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century. AP / Jon Gambrell

More than 700 participants from over 67 IAEA member states have gathered in Abu Dhabi to “engage in dialogue at a high ministerial and international experts’ level on the role of nuclear power in meeting future energy demand, contributing to sustainable development and mitigating climate change”. One party, however, is conspicuous by its absence: Iran. Tehran, which earlier indicated that it would attend the International Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Power in the 21st Century, was a no-show as discussions began. Why would a country that never tires of proclaiming that its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes fail to appear at an IAEA conference whose primary objective is to find ways to put nuclear power to peaceful uses?

The UAE is among the countries directly affected by Tehran’s actions in the region. Yet the Ministry of Energy and Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation went out of its way to accommodate Tehran and to enable it to air its views. Iran’s decision to forgo the chance to amplify its narrative at an international meeting of nuclear experts may seem puzzling, but there is method to what seems an irrational move on the face of it. Consider the context. The UAE is developing its own civil nuclear programme, with the first reactor at the Bakarah Power Station scheduled to start generating electricity in early 2018. But unlike Iran’s, the UAE’s civil nuclear programme has been hailed as a model for the rest of the world for its transparency and adherence safety and regulatory standards. By appearing at the IAEA conference, Iran would immediately have drawn attention to the contrast between its own supposedly peaceful programme and the UAE’s. Why, observers might have asked, does the former radiate danger and invite suspicion while the latter draws plaudits?

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Before arriving in Abu Dhabi, IAEA chief Yukia Amano visited Tehran. Speaking on the sidelines of the nuclear conference, he disclosed that he had “requested that Iran … fully implement the nuclear-related commitments” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Iran has violated this agreement in both letter and spirit. It has on at least two occasions exceeded the limit of 130 metric tons of heavy water. And as the UAE’s Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, told the UN earlier this year, Tehran’s development of ballistic missiles is a “violation of the spirit of the nuclear agreement”.

These flagrant violations are what prompted the US President Donald Trump’s refusal to re-certify the deal that is increasingly not worth the paper on which it is written. Tehran has hastily announced that it will limit the range of its ballistic missiles to 2,000 kilometres. Iran expects the world to treat this as a sign of responsible behaviour. It is nothing of the kind: a range of 2,000 kilometres still exposes much of the Middle East to Iran’s missiles. Iran chose not to attend a conference on the peaceful uses of nuclear power because, as its actions have repeatedly made clear, its nuclear programme is antithetical to a peaceful world.

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