Closing the deal with Iran

Saeed Jalili, of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and P5+1 chief nuclear negotiator Catherine Ashton at talks in Moscow in June

Saeed Jalili, of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and the West’s chief nuclear negotiator Catherine Ashton at talks in Moscow in June

By Andrew Parasiliti, Executive Director, IISS-US; Corresponding Director IISS-Middle East

There could yet be a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany; led in talks by the EU). The endgame, however, needs to be transparent: a comprehensive package that includes sanctions relief in return for Iran’s closing the nuclear file. Diplomacy with Iran should be seen as a process, with benchmarks and objectives, like any other high-stakes negotiation. These benchmarks would include a compromise on Iran’s right to enrichment; agreement on the latest fuel-swap proposal; a strategic pause in both Iranian enrichment and further sanctions; Iran’s involvement in regional security dialogue, including on Syria; and sanctions relief as a clear outcome for Iranian cooperation.

Iran’s right to enrich uranium should not be a deal breaker for the nuclear negotiations. It has been blown out of proportion by both sides. The P5+1 should acknowledge Iran’s right to enrichment in the context of its right to peaceful nuclear energy as a signatory to the NPT  Non-prolifearation Treaty) and also recognise Ayatollah Khamenei’s fatwa against the development or use of nuclear weapons as a positive statement of policy. A compromise on enrichment should be conditioned by Iran’s acceptance of the Baghdad proposal as the first confidence-building benchmark for negotiations. Iran’s enrichment programme is an ace in the hole for either sanctions relief or a nuclear-weapon option.

As a next step, the P5+1 should request a voluntary pause in Iran’s enrichment activities. During this pause Iran would clarify unresolved issues with the IAEA and implement the Additional Protocol. As a reciprocal sign of goodwill, the EU and the United States would freeze pending sanctions or temporarily waive others, including perhaps loosening the US ban on some selected exports, such as in the fields of nuclear and environmental safety, human trafficking and counternarcotics, where Washington and Tehran might have shared interests.

The requirements for lifting most congressionally mandated sanctions would require a fundamental reassessment of Iran’s role in the region and could only take place after a more expansive bilateral dialogue with Iran on regional security, terrorism and Iran’s non-conventional weapons programmes.  For Iran to be removed from penalties under the Iran Sanctions Act, the president would first have to certify to Congress that Iran is no longer a state sponsor of terrorism; has ceased its efforts to acquire nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and related missile delivery systems; and no longer poses a ‘significant threat’ to the United States and its allies.

Without diplomacy, there will be no deal with Iran, no matter how crippling the sanctions or credible the threat of force. The US and its partners need to be nimble and adjust their tactics to get the desired compromises and concessions. This is a style of statecraft historically associated with high-stakes diplomacy, as with the Soviet Union and in Bosnia, for example. Iran should not be an exception.

Iran should know that the window for diplomacy is closing fast, and that there will be no reprieve from sanctions or the threat of force without coming clean regarding its nuclear capabilities and intentions.

A longer version of this article appears in the new issue of Survival.


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