Opinion

The Great Debate

Getting to ‘yes’ on the Iran nuclear deal

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif addresses the media during a news conference in Vienna

Iran’s past nuclear efforts are among the many thorny issues in the continuing Iran nuclear talks. But focusing on the past is a mistake. Instead of insisting on knowing all about what Iran’s nuclear program looked like 10 years ago, the United States and its allies should focus on preventing Tehran from building a nuclear weapon in the future.

Though discussions between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are proceeding in parallel to the six-power nuclear negotiations with Iran, some argue that Tehran must “come clean” on past military experiments before it can be trusted to make new commitments. But reaching and implementing a nuclear agreement should not be held hostage to resolving all the complicated questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear programs.

We have good reason to believe Iran has been engaged in prohibited activities. In 2007, the U.S. intelligence community issued an assessment that, for a number of years, “Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons.” But intelligence indicated that these activities had ended in the fall of 2003.

Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif holds a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Kerry in ViennaThe International Atomic Energy Agency has been investigating these allegations, which are based on information from the United States and other sources. The agency reported in detail about the specific activities of concern in November 2011.

Until this year, Tehran had denied the truth of any accusations suggesting it had engaged in nuclear weapons activities. It would not cooperate fully with the agency’s efforts to investigate, which only added to suspicions. For its part, Iran (joined by some in the West) argued that the atomic agency has not provided enough information about the basis for its allegations and is, in any event, far from being a neutral arbiter.

Nuclear terrorism prevention at a crossroads

The crisis in Ukraine underscores the prescience of the international efforts to eliminate all nuclear weapons and weapon-grade material there after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their success lowered the danger of deadly nuclear assets falling into the wrong hands.

President Barack Obama and the more than 50 world leaders meeting at the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on Monday need to show the same vision. They must seek to eliminate the persistent weak links in the global nuclear security system that can make dangerous materials vulnerable to nuclear terrorists.

There has been progress in securing nuclear materials because of the two previous nuclear summits. Removal of weapons-grade material, for example, has accelerated in 12 countries.  But, unfortunately, the earlier summits focused on what is acceptable by consensus rather than on what is needed to prevent nuclear terrorism.

IAEA conduct complicates Iran nuclear deal

The world powers in November reached an interim deal with Iran to freeze and even roll back a portion of its nuclear program in exchange for some sanctions relief. The arrangement went into effect on Jan. 20 and is set to expire in six months. Another interim deal may be signed then, according to the agreement’s “Joint Plan of Action,” but the proposal calls for a comprehensive long-term solution by late January, 2015.

Though Iran is often painted as the only party at fault here, the situation is far more complicated. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and even some of the “P5+1” powers — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany — that are now negotiating with Iran, are also guilty of misconduct and unprofessionalism.

As the agency in charge of monitoring the Iranian nuclear program, the IAEA’s conduct should be beyond reproach. Unfortunately, it is not. As former IAEA inspector and 30-plus year veteran of the U.S. weapons complex, Robert Kelley has stated, “[t]he IAEA work to date, including the mischaracterization of satellite images of Parchin, is more consistent with an IAEA agenda to target Iran than of technical analysis.”

Turkey cashes in on the Iran talks

You may have thought the Geneva deal struck last month between Iran and the P5+1 nations (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) was a sweet one for Tehran — getting billions in sanctions relief in exchange for mere promises to halt its nuclear program.

But Turkey may be an even bigger winner. It just needs to open its doors and wait for Iranian funds to pour in.

Iran was Turkey’s third largest export market in 2012. In fact, Turkey is reportedly exporting more than 20,000 products to Iran right now; among them gold and silver. It turns out that the Geneva deal also loosened sanctions on precious metals.

Broaden the peace process with Iran

 

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.

An Iran nuclear deal is a win for U.S.

For the first time in decades, there is momentum in the nuclear talks with Iran. A deal looks within reach.

In the recent round of negotiations in Geneva, six world powers and Iran made significant progress on an agreement that will verifiably limit Tehran’s nuclear program. But maintaining this progress and reaching an agreement is by no means a sure thing. In Washington, hawkish members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, could sabotage a deal by demanding Iran make concessions that are unrealistic.

The deal discussed in Geneva is a good first step toward addressing the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities. This agreement between Iran and the P5+1 — the five permanent United Nations Security Council members (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany — would limit Iran’s most dangerous nuclear activities and lead to a transparent, verifiable compact that would guard against a nuclear Iran. It would also be a good deal for U.S. national security interests, solving the Iran nuclear standoff without resorting to military action that would likely provoke another costly conflict in the Middle East.

Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen

Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany — finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.

All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment — denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”

France’s torpedoing of the agreement appears less related to genuine nuclear proliferation concerns than with trying to curry favor with anti-Iranian countries — like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – who commission and buy expensive French military, satellite and nuclear hardware.  The lesson in this latest failure is there ought to be a single point of contact with Iran endowed with executive authority over resolving the nuclear issue.

Looking to diplomacy with Iran

President Barack Obama has decided to test whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive” is a legitimate effort to reach an agreement on a more constricted and transparent Iranian nuclear program. With this decision, he embarks on the most transformative and important diplomatic initiative of his presidency.

The closest historical analogy is President Richard M. Nixon’s opening to China in 1971. Nixon had recognized a major adversary’s new willingness to change course and he seized the opportunity to further vital U.S. national security interests.

This China analogy, however, has some flaws. Most important, Nixon and his national security adviser Henry A. Kissinger began their quest in secrecy to avoid a divisive public debate that could have scuttled the initiative. Obama’s public commitment to test an opening to Iran, though, will be subjected to fierce scrutiny by domestic and foreign opponents.

from David Rohde:

The key stumbling blocks U.S. and Iran face

A historic phone call Friday between the presidents of the United States and Iran could mark the end of 34 years of enmity.

Or it could be another missed opportunity.

In the weeks ahead, clear signs will emerge whether a diplomatic breakthrough is possible. Here are several key areas that could determine success or failure:

Enrichment in Iran?

Throughout his New York “charm offensive,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made one demand clear: Tehran will rebuff any agreement that does not allow it to enrich some uranium.

IAEA and Iran: Resolving the nuclear impasse

President Hassan Rouhani generated a positive buzz yesterday with his United Nations General Assembly statements about Iran’s determination to resolve the nuclear impasse with the international community. Though he argued Tehran was not prepared to give up its enrichment program, the new president declared “nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction have no place in Iran’s security,” adding that his government was now committed to “time-bound and result-oriented talks to build mutual confidence and removal of mutual uncertainties with full transparency” to resolve any doubts.

While this lays the basis for the resumption of negotiations with the United States and its allies, we need not await the results to test Rouhani’s sincerity. That can begin Friday, September 27, when Iranian and International Atomic Energy Agency officials sit down in Vienna in a long-scheduled meeting to break the protracted deadlock over unanswered questions about the breadth of Tehran’s nuclear enterprise.

Director General Yukiya Amano summed up the stakes in his September 9 statement to the IAEA’s board of governors: “The agency has not been able to begin substantive work with Iran on resolving outstanding issues, including those related to possible military dimensions on Iran’s nuclear programme.” The Vienna talks now provide the best opportunity to make progress.

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