What to read on the Iran nuclear talks

Iran nuclear cartoon (The Economist)

A variety of perspectives on the Iranian nuclear talks from the past week:

Jeffrey Lewis (FP):

As best I can tell, under the original draft agreement, the Iranians committed not to bring the reactor online during the interim agreement. They could, however, continue to install equipment at Arak and manufacture fuel for the reactor, bringing it to the brink of operation during negotiations. The Iranians have now indicated that they are behind schedule, and will not have a load of fuel for the reactor before August 2014. In other words, the draft agreement would have allowed Iran to do everything it planned at Arak over the next six months, then start accumulating leverage in the form of plutonium if the terms of the deal were not acceptable …

The French have been here before — and with Hassan Rouhani. In 2004, Rouhani negotiated something called the “Paris Agreement” with the E3, under which the Iranians agreed to suspend their conversion and enrichment of uranium for a few months, while talks continued. The suspension was later extended. Although the suspension included “all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation,” Iran continued installing equipment at its Esfahan conversion facility. In fact, work never stopped. The commitment to refrain from tests or production was largely symbolic, since Iran was not yet ready to do either — it was still installing equipment. In 2005, when Iran was ready to start up the Uranium Conversion Facility at Esfahan, the talks stumbled. Iran indicated that it would continue to forego enrichment, but that it would begin the conversion process, producing uranium hexafluoride that could later be enriched. The Iranian talking point was that conversion was never really part of enrichment, anyway. The Europeans realized that the Iranians had gotten the better of them. Frustrated with Rouhani, the Europeans stalled to see whether the Iranian presidential election improved the negotiating environment. Surprise! The Iranians elected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Upon taking office, Ahmadinejad replaced Rouhani and moved quickly to restart the nuclear program. Of course, he was able to do this because Rouhani had arranged the suspension to inflict the minimum delay. The Europeans were not very happy.

Bruno Tetrais (WPR):

So what are the real reasons for France’s Iran policy? The obvious ones are also the most important. Paris believes that a nuclear Iran would be a threat to Europe as well as to the Middle East … There is also a sense of ownership of the Iranian nuclear issue, in which Paris has been invested since June 2003, when it initiated European diplomacy with Tehran. Since then, a tough stance on the Iranian nuclear issue has been shared by all French negotiators and many experts; some of them have been dealing with Iran for a decade and hold important advisory positions today.

Also, compared to the United Kingdom and Germany, its European partners also involved in the talks, France has historically had a more cautious approach to the Iranian regime. This is informed by the brutal shadow war that opposed the two countries in the 1980s: The settlement of Shah-era financial disputes, French support for Baghdad during the Iran-Iraq War and Paris’ preoccupation with the stability of Lebanon were all key reasons behind Iranian attacks against French interests at the time. Paris also vividly remembers the ill-fated deals struck with Tehran in 2003 and 2004, which failed to solve the nuclear crisis and are taken as evidence that Iran should not be trusted a priori.

Mark Fitzpatrick (IISS)

The debate in the nuclear areas is the most pronounced. The ‘inalienable right’ stated in Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop and use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes clashes with the controls applied by the Nuclear Suppliers Group and by UN Security Council resolutions directed against countries such as Iran. Article IV does not refer to uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing. The negotiating history shows that this omission was purposeful; several efforts to introduce explicit language were rejected …  Note that NPT Article III says safeguards should not hamper the international exchange of ‘equipment for the processing, use, or production of nuclear material’, which would mean enrichment and reprocessing. The passage would seem to rest on the premise that there is a right to such technologies. It is sometimes overlooked, however, that the rights in Article IV are conditional on conformity with the non-proliferation obligations of Articles I and II …

The proposal to Iran by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and the EU of 14 June 2008, which remains on the table, stated their readiness ‘to treat Iran’s nuclear programme in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear Weapon State Party to the NPT once international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is restored’. Since no other party to the NPT (save for North Korea, whose NPT withdrawal is not universally accepted) is prohibited from developing enrichment and reprocessing, the conditional right to these technologies is implicit in the proposal. At some point in the negotiations, the six powers may wish to make this recognition explicit, and to specify what is required to restore international confidence … The most objective criteria would be faithful implementation of the safeguards Additional Protocol …

New York Times:

“I think there is a way to navigate it,” the senior administration official said when asked if a compromise might be found on Iran’s claim of a right to enrich uranium. The official did not detail the potential compromise. But one solution, Western diplomats say, would be for an interim accord to affirm that Iran would be entitled to all of the rights of signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran and world powers would then agree to disagree on how to interpret that treaty. “I am sure that whatever gets agreed to in this document, Iran will argue that they have the right to enrichment,” the senior administration official said, referring to the interim accord now under negotiation. “And we will argue, as I am sure the document will make clear, that nothing has been agreed as to the final dimensions of Iran’s peaceful nuclear program once it can assure the international community that it is peaceful.”

Arash Karami (Iran Pulse):

Zarif said: “Iran’s right to enrichment does not need to be officially recognized because it is a right that according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty is an inseparable right. What we expect is respect for components of these rights. In the previous years, Iran has applied this right, but unfortunately it was not respected.” Rather, he added, it led to sanctions. “We have reached an extremely sensitive point of the negotiations and I don’t want to discuss the specifics,” Zarif said. “We have officially stated that enrichment certainly has to exist in any framework of an agreement; but how, what methods and where is an issue we are currently negotiating.” Zarif continued: “Not only do we see the right to enrichment as nonnegotiable, we do not see any necessity for it to be identified as a right, because this right is inseparable, and all of the countries should respect this.”

Sam Cutler (The National Interest):

Appearing on CNN’sState of the Union, Netanyahu warned that “if all of a sudden you take off the pressure, everybody will understand that you are heading south. You’re really going to be in danger of crumbling the sanctions regime.” However, the idea that firms would deliberately violate existing U.S. and EU sanctions, under the assumption that enforcement actions would not be forthcoming, stretches the bounds of credulity. Companies would need to unlearn the recent and painful lessons taught to them by the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and state regulators such as the New York Department of Financial Services.

Under the terms of the purported interim deal, the U.S. would offer Iran under $10 billion in sanctions relief, including approximately $3 billion in Iranian oil proceeds held in escrow accounts as mandated by the 2012 Iran Freedom and Counter-Proliferation Act (IFCA). Sanctions on auto sales, petrochemicals, aircraft parts, and precious metals like gold would also be relaxed. The most devastating banking and oil sanctions, which have effectively cut Iran off from the global financial system, would remain in place pending a final deal … Any firm that rushed back into the Iranian market beyond the scope of existing sanctions would then be left with significant regulatory exposure, having to explain itself in a political atmosphere poisoned by the failure of the P5+1 talks. Newer, tougher sanctions would surely follow, along with calls to redouble efforts to identify and punish violators. Even if punishment would not be immediate in every case, the international business community knows that OFAC has a long memory. The massive penalties levied in recent years were not usually the result of recent actions; for the most part, these fines were in response to offenses that occurred years earlier.

Robert Einhorn (Brookings):

Some members, wanting to be constructive, suggest that, instead of imposing new sanctions immediately, Congress should enact a law that provides for tough new sanctions but delays their imposition for several months to see if diplomacy succeeds. According to supporters, this approach would provide the necessary leverage without lowering the boom unless it becomes necessary. While this approach is neat in theory, Tehran is unlikely to grasp the nuance. Iranian opponents of a deal, and there are many, will argue that this would amount to negotiating with a gun to their heads, and they could succeed in reining in Iran’s negotiators and sabotaging any likelihood of a deal. Members of Congress should keep in mind that existing sanctions are having a devastating impact on Iran’s economy and providing plenty of incentives for Iran to reach agreement on terms acceptable to us. Still harsher sanctions will not add decisively to that leverage, but they run the risk of undermining the talks and increasing the difficulty of sustaining broad international support for sanctions.

Daryl Kimball (Arms Control Today):

But in the absence of a meaningful, realistic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program, Iran will likely continue to increase its capacity to enrich uranium and expand its other sensitive nuclear fuel-cycle projects. That, in turn, will increase the risk of Israeli military strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites. Such an attack would only delay, not stop, Iran’s nuclear pursuits, would lead to a wider Middle East war, and likely push Iran’s leaders to openly seek the bomb. In the absence of a negotiated “first phase” agreement to pause Iran’s nuclear program, some U.S. legislators may seek further sanctions against Iran, but such sanctions would take many months to have an effect, they could strain international support for implementing the existing sanction regime, and such efforts would not halt or eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapons potential. Now is the time to finally secure a meaningful first phase agreement and quickly move to negotiate a longer-term final phase agreement on the basis of realistic and achievable goals.

Emily Landau and Michael Herzog (BICOM):

However, the interim six month deal is likely to create a platform for continued arguing with the Iranians over every article and clause within the interim agreement. There is a likely danger that as a result of arguing over clauses in the interim agreement, negotiators will be distracted from fixing the parameters for a permanent agreement …

Whilst it is clear the Iranians know what they want, the P5+1 powers have failed to agree among themselves on a clearly defined endgame to the talks. Certainly there is no agreement with regional actors such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and others. The P5+1 should have started with a defined end game and the interim deal should work towards it, but this has not happened. For instance, with regard to the Plutonium reactor at Arak, if the endgame is that Iran should have no Plutonium reactor, then why negotiate over its construction? …

If there is an interim six month deal, Israel can do very little about it for now. It will likely fix its sight on the end of the six month period. If there is an endgame deal after six months, Israel will evaluate it and make its decisions. If there is no deal after six months, Israel will be in a position to say it gave the process a chance but it failed, and that it can rely on diplomacy no longer.


[Outgoing NSA] Mr [Yaakov] Amidror, when asked whether Israel’s military capability included the ability to strike Iran’s underground nuclear installations, said: “including everything”, but declined to elaborate. “We are not bluffing,” Mr Amidror said. “We are very serious – preparing ourselves for the possibility that Israel will have to defend itself by itself.” He said Israel’s preparations for possible conflict included long-range flights to ready Israeli pilots for possible missions to Iran. “From here to Iran, it is 2,000km, and you have to be familiar with such destinations,” Mr Amidror said. He added: “All those who have radar cover of the Middle East know what we are doing.” He said that the flights had been taking place “for a few years”.

And, a crazy one to end on … Uzi Mahnaimi (Sunday Times):

As part of the growing co-operation, Riyadh is understood already to have given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack on Iran. Both sides are now prepared to go much further. The Sunni kingdom is as alarmed as Israel by the nuclear ambitions of the Shi’ite-dominated Iran. “Once the Geneva agreement is signed, the military option will be back on the table. The Saudis are furious and are willing to give Israel all the help it needs,” said a diplomatic source. The source added that Saudi co-operation over the use of rescue helicopters, tanker planes and drones would greatly assist an Israeli raid.


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