High-level Geneva talks with Iran adjourned November 11 without reaching an agreement. Lower-level talks are to scheduled to reconvene Wednesday. The Western objective is a pause in Iran’s nuclear program — stopping the clock and allowing more time to reach a permanent agreement.
Is stopping the clock a good idea? It was done once before. In 2004-5, Iran stopped enrichment temporarily. President Hassan Rouhani was then secretary of the Iranian National Security Council and negotiated the pause. A permanent agreement proved impossible at that time. So Iran started enrichment again and has now expanded its capacity.
That could happen again. But a pause that provides time for negotiation of a more permanent agreement is necessary. If Tehran goes much farther in enlarging its enrichment capacity and beginning production of plutonium, it will be a very short step from obtaining all the material it needs for nuclear weapons.
Failing to stop the clock now would put us on the road to either war or containment. Neither option is preferable to a solid negotiated agreement that would prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons or getting everything it needs to “break out” quickly without detection.
A meaningful pause now would require that Iran cease production of 20 percent enriched uranium, make its existing enriched stockpile inaccessible, put its plutonium-producing reactor on hold and postpone installing additional centrifuges for enrichment. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would need to verify that Iran has met all the terms of the agreement.