By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
He is a mad mullah after all – mad meaning angry, that is. Following the positive notes sounded by US Vice President Joe Biden and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in Munich last week, it did not take long for Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to quash any optimism over the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the international community. These are scheduled to take place in Almaty on 26 February.
In a speech on 7 February, Khamenei ruled out holding bilateral talks with America on his country’s controversial nuclear programme so long as Washington continued pressure tactics. He claimed the US was proposing talks while ‘pointing a gun at Iran’, adding that: ‘Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America [but] negotiations will not solve the problems.’
As predicted, the latest report on Iran’s nuclear programme by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contributed to a push in Israel and parts of the US for preventive military action. Since May, Iran has installed more than a thousand new centrifuges in the underground facility at Fordow, doubling the number there since the last IAEA report in May.
In a pre-emptive move of their own, White House officials gave their own spin to the latest developments several days before the IAEA released the report. While not underplaying their concern over Iran’s continued defiance, the Obama team noted that the new numbers are not a ‘game changer’. The new centrifuges are not (yet) being used for enrichment and the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has not grown since May because half of it has been converted to an oxide form for use in fuel plates.
The danger posed by Iran’s nuclear programme is heightening incrementally: the numbers grow arithmetically, not by orders of magnitude. Mark Fitzpatrick, in a new article for Al-Monitor questions the wisdom of a war over a 10% increase in centrifuges. A proportionate response would be to increase the sanctions pressure on Iran, which has so far not made good use of diplomacy.
Read the full article at Al-Monitor
As talks in Baghdad over Iran’s nuclear programme extend into a second, unscheduled day, IISS Director of Non-proliferation Mark Fitzpatrick has an opinion piece in the National in which he argues that Iran has exaggerated expectations of the negotiations, and that further meetings will probably be needed before any concrete results can be produced.
The six major powers involved in the talks (France, Germany, the UK, China, Russia and the US, known as the E3+3 or P5+1) are asking Iran to stop the 20% uranium enrichment under way mostly at its underground facility at Fordow, and not to commence any other enrichment operations there. In addition, its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium must be made unavailable for weapons use, ideally by exporting it to Turkey or elsewhere, or by chemical conversion to a form unusable for weapons.
In exchange, Iran would hope for some form of sanctions relief, as well as the provision of nuclear fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Its interlocutors have already made concessions over matters of process, by agreeing to talks in Baghdad conducted within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which does not prohibit uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. But, says Fitzpatrick: ‘The West can forego further sanctions only if Iran foregoes progress towards a nuclear weapon capability.’ Removal of sanctions ‘would be an impossible sell in Washington during an election year’.
Read the full article: Tehran’s expectations exceed the possible in Baghdad talks
Our prolific director of non-proliferation – or ‘the Great Fitzpatrick‘ as some others call him – has the cover story in the latest issue of the British current affairs magazine, Prospect. In the article, which draws on and updates both the strategic dossier on Iran’s nuclear capabilities that he edited last year, and 2010’s Iran missile dossier, he argues that sanctions and the threat of military action may dissuade Tehran from building a bomb.
‘It is not inevitable’, he writes, ‘that Iran will arm itself with nuclear weapons. Nor is a military strike by Israel or the United States the only alternative. Such worst-case assumptions could could lead to another unnecessary war in the Middle East, this time possibly lasting a decade or more.’ See the article at Prospect.