Iran Belongs at the Nuclear Security Summit

Iran Belongs at the Nuclear Security Summit

Tehran's participation would have drawbacks, but it'd be a positive step on balance.


As fifty-three countries attend the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, a country that has developed a sophisticated nuclear complex and which has been in the news for more than a decade over its nuclear program is missing from the guest list, Iran, begging the question: Should it have been invited?

The Summit is the third of its kind; the United States hosted the inaugural 2010 Summit in Washington while a second Summit was held in Seoul in 2012. President Obama announced last spring his intention to host the 2016 Summit. While the purpose of the Summit is to prevent nuclear terrorism and to secure loose nuclear materials or stockpiles that could be used to develop nuclear weapons, its intentions and objectives are well within the spirit of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action (JPA) between Iran and the so-called P5+1 and the cooperation framework agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).


These momentous agreements are directly improving international nuclear security. As an example and among the commitments made, Iran has pledged to reduce its amount of dangerous nuclear materials by agreeing to convert half of its 20 percent medium-enriched uranium to fuel plates and to dilute the remaining half to below 5 percent low-enriched uranium. Further, Iran is working to secure all nuclear and radioactive sources by increasing transparency and enhancing monitoring of nuclear facilities, and allowing inspections of uranium mines, all the while doing so through international cooperation with the P5+1 and the IAEA. These examples directly touch on the themes for this year’s Summit, which are to reduce the amount of dangerous nuclear material in the world; improving the security of all nuclear material and radioactive sources, and improving international cooperation. Surely, the progress being made through the JPA and the cooperative framework enable Iran to be a potentially positive participant at the Summit.

Despite these recent breakthroughs in the longstanding debacle surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, Tehran is unsurprisingly not an invited guest at this year’s Summit. The United States is not likely keen to fully legitimize Iran’s nuclear program without a comprehensive and long-term negotiated settlement to the nuclear issue. Indeed, aside from being the topic of sideline discussions in previous Summits, along with North Korea, Iran has never been invited to participate, largely due to perceptions that it would disrupt and detract attention from the focus of the Summit and behave as a possible spoiler in international discussions to secure vulnerable nuclear materials. In response, Iran went so far as to denounce the inaugural summit and even held its own sixty-nation summit without inviting the United States. Since then, the election of President Hassan Rouhani has signaled a change in Iran’s international behaviour, particularly as it relates to its nuclear program, sparking hopes among many that Iran will become a positive and responsible nuclear actor.

Should a comprehensive resolution be negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 and if the seeming thaw between Washington and Tehran continues over the next two years, considerations should be made within the Obama administration to invite Iran to participate in the next iteration of the Summit in 2016 in Washington. As a signatory to the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), unlike India, Israel and Pakistan, which are attending this year’s Summit, there is potential for Iran’s participation in 2016 to enhance the image of the global nonproliferation movement led by the Obama administration, especially as it concerns improving nuclear transparency and preventing nuclear proliferation. Having Iran attend may for instance encourage North Korea to engage constructively through the Six Party talks as it watches Iran reintegrate internationally. It is also in Iran’s interest to strengthen the international nuclear-security architecture and to work cooperatively with others to combat any prospects for nuclear terrorism, particularly as the broader Middle East is experiencing an increase in extremism and sectarian strife which is increasingly being viewed in Tehran as a primary national-security concern.

While there may be vocal opposition to Iran attending the Summit due to its links to nonstate actors, and although Iran is officially labelled as a state sponsor of terror by the United States, it has been feeling increasingly targeted by what it perceives to be a Salafi circle, prompting strategic recalculations in Tehran. The mere fact that Iran has not shared chemical, biological or nuclear materials with non-state actors counters the notion that it would undermine nuclear-security efforts and enables it to be a prospective international partner in preventing nuclear terrorism. This can be done, for example, through collaboration on border and export controls and intelligence.

Although it is too late to invite Iran to the current Summit in The Hague, considerations should be given to inviting it in 2016, especially if a comprehensive agreement is reached between the P5+1 and Iran. This can only help reduce nuclear insecurity.

Navid Hassibi is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. He is also a doctoral candidate with the Research Group in International Politics at the University of Antwerp. The views expressed here represent the author’s own.