TEHRAN – A former advisor in the White House science office says Iran and the 5+1 countries need to make “painful compromises” if they want to strike a final nuclear deal.
Matthew Bunn says a final nuclear deal will serve the “national interests” of both Iran and the 5+1 group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany).
“It would serve both sides’ interests to do so, but it will require painful compromises on each side that will face domestic opposition in both Tehran and Washington,” Bunn, who is a professor of practice at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, tells the Tehran Times.
Following is the text of the interview:
Q: Do you think that the recent negotiations between Iran and 5+1 group and the decision to extend the talks for another 4 months was a success for the two sides?
A: Yes. I think both sides’ national interests would benefit from achieving a comprehensive agreement, and it is worth giving a bit more time to overcome the difficult obstacles still in the path. Iran received billions of dollars in additional sanctions relief, and the P5+1 got a pledge to fabricate fuel plates from the 20% enriched material, taking that material another step away from a form that could be further enriched for use in a nuclear weapon. I think also that a breakdown of the talks would have undermined both sides’ interests, as it would likely have meant an increase in sanctions against Iran and an Iranian decision to go back to expanding its centrifuge capacity and its stocks of enriched uranium.
Q: Western officials say some progress was achieved during the most recent round of negotiations with Iran - enough to justify continuing the high-stakes diplomacy, but why the 5+1 group does not want to finalize an agreement with Iran?
A: The P5+1 DO want to finalize an agreement with Iran but Iran and the P5+1 have not yet managed to reach a set of terms they are all willing to accept. As I understand it, the issue of the Arak reactor is largely resolved; there is some substantial progress on the issue of the Fordow facility; but there is still a wide gap on how many centrifuges of what capabilities Iran would continue to operate. The fundamental problem here is that the number of centrifuges Iran says it wants to operate to support its civilian program would be enough to make the material for a nuclear bomb very rapidly. (Surprisingly, making material for a bomb requires much LESS enrichment work than making material to fuel a power reactor, not more, because a bomb only needs 15-30 kilograms of material while a reactor needs something like 20 tons every year.) Iran will simply not be able to get an agreement that lifts the most important sanctions unless it is willing to compromise and accept going back to a few thousand installed centrifuges, which would be more than sufficient to provide fuel for the Arak reactor and the Tehran research reactor, and could also be used to enrich some back-up stocks for the Bushehr reactor in case there was ever an interruption of international fuel supply. Iranians should understand that Iran can operate a substantial civilian nuclear power program with high confidence of fuel supply without needing its own enrichment; that is what most countries that use nuclear power do. To address fuel security concerns, Iran could expand its Russian fuel supply contract from 10 years to 20 years; buy a backup supply of fuel to be stored at Bushehr and used if there was ever an interruption; and take part in the IAEA-controlled fuel bank being established in Kazakhstan. Operating a large enrichment plant would NOT provide fuel security for Iran, because Iran does not have a license for the technology to manufacture fuel from enriched uranium for the Bushehr reactor; Iran does not have enough domestic uranium supplies to fuel its planned nuclear program for very long; and enrichment plants sometimes break down, as Pakistan’s plant did after a major earthquake there. Moreover, as countries from Japan to Brazil to South Africa have found, it is much cheaper to buy enrichment services on the international market where suppliers such as the Russians and Europeans have had decades to make their processes more and more cost-effective than to make it yourself. Overall, given the opportunity to get out from under international sanctions, it would serve Iran’s national interests to agree to a limit of a few thousand centrifuges.
Q: Under the terms of the extension of the negotiations, U.S. officials said Iran by late November would turn more of its most sensitive stockpile - uranium enriched to a fissile purity of 20 percent - from oxide into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. However, we do not see any commitment by the 5+1 group in return for Iran’s undertakings. So in such a situation how is it possible to strike a final deal?
A: The P5+1 did make a commitment, to release several billion more of Iran’s sanctioned funds, so that they will be available to support Iran’s economic needs.
Q: What is your prediction for 4 month later? Will the two sides succeed to reach a comprehensive and final agreement?
A: It is still uncertain whether it will be possible to bridge the gaps and reach a comprehensive agreement. It would serve both sides’ interests to do so, but it will require painful compromises on each side that will face domestic opposition in both Tehran and Washington. Finding compromises that allow both sides to preserve their core interests is the key.