Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Solution for the US–Iran Nuclear Standoff?

(Pictured here: the Natanz nuclear facility and surrounding air defense. The facility is actually nowhere near the village of Natanz, but closer to Kashan.)

Just before leaving for Iran, I noted that the New York Review of Books would be publishing a new article entitled "A Solution for the US–Iran Nuclear Standoff" by William Leurs, Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Jim Walsh (a member of the Center's board of directors). The authors propose "that Iran's efforts to produce enriched uranium and other related nuclear activities be conducted on a multilateral basis, that is to say jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and other governments. This proposal provides a realistic, workable solution to the US–Iranian nuclear standoff. Turning Iran's sensitive nuclear activities into a multinational program will reduce the risk of proliferation and create the basis for a broader discussion not only of our disagreements but of our common interests as well."

Indeed it is a proposal that has been in the works for quite some time. The authors have spent a considerable amount of time working on such a workable proposal with Iranian counterparts.

During the conference on "Iran's Peaceful Nuclear Program and Activities: Modality of Cooperation with the IAEA" sponsored by the Institute for Political and International Studies on March 9 in Tehran, Jonathan Granoff, the only American on the general plenary panel, presented the Leurs/Pickering/Walsh multilateral enrichment consortium idea. However, the official response to Jonathan's mention of the proposal was:
1. "There was a number of sections where Iran's rights were not taken into account." 2. "We see a consortium as a precondition and it is not acceptable."3. "We already suspended for two years and there was no forward progress."4. "This is asking Iran to do more and it is not fair. This proposal is completely unacceptable to us."

In his speech to the conference, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that the recent report from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohammed ElBaradei shows that all of the ambiguities about Iran's nuclear program no longer exist. He said is Iran is not asking for more than its rights entitled to it under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and they will not back down from military threats or threats of regime change. According to Mottaki, “Iran's nuclear program has everything to do with fair play and double standards are a serious blow and threat to the NPT.” He also said Iran made a goodwill gesture in cooperating with the IAEA on the August 2007 Modality and in answering all the questions agreed to in it.

Mottaki concluded that Iran will not stop its nuclear program, nor does it have any reason to because their activities are legal under the NPT. He said although the Modality Agreement has come to an end, Iran will continue cooperation with the IAEA under the confines of the NPT. However, he and others at the conference seemed to suggest that Iran's negotiations on the nuclear program would be limited to the IAEA alone, at least for the time being. Furthermore, he said, “Iran has always welcomed targeted negotiations that follow a plan. The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to talk on all issues, but from now on, all proposals must be targeted, including ongoing issues around the world.”

Deputy Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Mr. Vaeedi took an even harsher stance at the conference. In his opinion, “the story is not a nuclear story to begin with.” He said “Iran is no longer willing to engage in an illogical process that ignores the experience of the past.” While he noted that Iran will continue to cooperate with the IAEA, he reaffirmed that Iran will continue its nuclear activities.

The speeches and the response to the Leurs/Pickering/Walsh proposal at the conference reflect a hardening of Iran's official public position on the nuclear issue, particularly following the new round recently passed Security Council sanctions on Iran. It further demonstrates that we really have come to a political standoff on the nuclear issue and threats of sanctions and military action will only make it even more difficult to resolve.

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