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                                        Volume. 12119

Obama should revise approach toward Iran nuclear issue: ex-U.S. negotiator
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TEHRAN – As Iran seems to be reviewing its approach toward the dispute over its nuclear program, the United States needs to do the same, Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. negotiator, wrote in an article published on a Foreign Policy blog on Wednesday.   
 
We don’t yet know whether Hassan Rohani’s election as president of Iran will improve the prospects for a nuclear deal -- prospects that had dimmed significantly as a result of continued stalemate in the negotiations in the first half of 2013. But if the United States and its partners are to take advantage of whatever opportunity may exist post-election, they need to move quickly to review and adjust their own approach. 
 
There are reasons for thinking the situation may have changed for the better. The election’s most encouraging development -- aside from Rohani’s win itself, which was surprisingly decisive -- was that it revealed a deep discontent about the country’s hard-line diplomatic strategy. Although several candidates criticized the “no compromises” approach to talks, which was defended by candidate and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the sharpest rebuke came from Ali Akbar Velayati, former foreign minister and the Supreme Leader’s foreign policy adviser. In the June 7 debate, he said, “When you take three steps and want the other to take one hundred steps, it’s clear that you don’t want to advance matters.” And he concluded that “our current nuclear negotiations definitely have problems; otherwise we would not be in our current situation.”
 
As Iran reviews its approach, the Obama administration needs to do the same, especially in light of the Iranian election and advances in the Iranian nuclear program.
 
There will be a natural tendency within the administration to stand pat for now and wait to see whether the new Iranian government will alter its approach when talks resume. Some officials will argue internally that “we should not negotiate with ourselves” by adjusting our position even before we learn whether Iran has decided to adopt a more serious approach. Such caution is understandable… But the “other side must go first” approach doesn’t take into account the domestic difficulties Rohani will encounter in formulating a new posture, the likelihood that it will be easier for the new Iranian negotiating team to react to ideas put forward by the United States and its partners than to initiate ideas of its own, or the fact that time and Iran’s nuclear program are not standing still.
 
But whatever tactical approach the United States and its partners pursue -- to table new proposals, to sit back and wait for Iranian proposals, or to explore new ideas in a non-committal way -- they should at a minimum consider among themselves what changes may be necessary to increase prospects of getting the negotiations finally on track. 
 
For several years, the P5+1 prioritized agreement on a relatively modest package of confidence-building measures, or CBMs. These measures have been designed to address… (Iran’s) production and accumulation of near-20 percent enriched uranium and its construction of the underground Fordo enrichment facility -- and therefore to buy time to work out a comprehensive solution. But the Iranians have balked at this approach, arguing that the sanctions relief offered in return was far too modest and that the proposal required them to accept immediate limits without any assurance that sanctions would ultimately be lifted or that Iran would be allowed to keep an enrichment program.
 
Some knowledgeable observers in the United States and elsewhere have concluded that it is time to move on from CBMs and propose a comprehensive deal, one that outlines what kind of civil nuclear program we are prepared to accept in Iran. An argument in favor of this shift is that Iran cannot be expected to accept a meaningful initial package without knowing what the negotiations’ end-state will be. Another argument is that the focus on near-20 percent production and Fordo has become a less meaningful constraint in light of Iran’s installation of more efficient centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment facility, the continued accumulation of enriched uranium at the 3.5 percent level, and progress in the construction of a heavy-water reactor at Arak…
 
An argument against moving to a comprehensive proposal is that it would tip the P5+1’s hand on the end-state, including the treatment of enrichment in Iran, in the absence of tangible indications that the Iranians were finally prepared to accept meaningful limits. The Iranians could insist on proceeding directly to the end-state and bypassing the earlier confidence-building steps, which would forgo opportunities to test Iran’s sincerity and risk lifting hard-to-restore sanctions before a track record of compliance had been established.
 
It may be possible to combine the CBM and comprehensive approaches. The two sides could try to work out a road map containing the general elements or principles of a phased, comprehensive deal, including an outline of the key elements of an Iranian civil nuclear program that would be permitted in an end-state. The road map would begin with one or more confidence-building phases and would include a phase in which all parties would abide by UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions. Once agreement had been reached on the broad outlines of the road map, the parties would proceed to agree on and implement a detailed CBM package, which could be an updated and perhaps more ambitious version of the one proposed by the P5+1 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, in February 2013. With a limited-duration CBM in place, the parties would proceed to negotiate the remaining detailed provisions of the road map, including the end-state. Such an approach would build mutual confidence and test compliance incrementally while committing the parties in general terms to an end-state, thereby addressing concerns about accepting initial limits without knowing where the process is headed.
 
The toughest issue is, of course, enrichment. Iran has wanted the P5+1 states to publicly accept its “right to enrich” uranium -- and to do so right away. Presumably, the Iranians hope that, by gaining early acceptance of what they term an “inalienable” right, they would later be in a strong position to fend off proposals to restrict the scope of their enrichment program and subject it to special monitoring.
 
The United States has been justified in rejecting an unfettered “right to enrich.” 
 
In their negotiations, Iran and the P5+1 should not get hung up on the abstract matter of “rights.” Instead, the parties should consider whether there are practical ways to reassure the international community that an Iranian enrichment program would be devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes. 
 
The question of whether the negotiations’ end-state should include a domestic enrichment program cannot be answered until we have explored such practical arrangements with the Iranians. Such engagement will not be easy for either side. It will require the United States and its partners to do what they have so far avoided: talk about what would make an Iranian enrichment program acceptable. And it will require the Iranians to recognize that the United States and the international community will not accept an unrestricted enrichment program, but only a regulated capability…
 
In preparation for re-engaging Iran, the Obama administration will also need to work closely with Congress. The president’s team should seek an understanding with Capitol Hill on what new sanctions are needed, what measures should be held back for now, and what can be done to signal to the Iranians that sanctions are reversible if concrete progress is made. It is critical that both the executive and legislative branches send a coherent, unified message to the new Iranian government.
 
As part of that messaging, the administration should state publicly that it is prepared to lift all nuclear-related unilateral and UN Security Council sanctions. But at the same time, it should stress that the removal of sanctions cannot come at the outset of the process, as Iran has often demanded. Instead, sanctions will be eased and eliminated in a step-by-step manner and in proportion to the actions Iran takes…  
 
The Obama administration should also address publicly an apparently genuine Iranian concern that, for the United States, the nuclear issue is only a pretext for pursuing (a) change (of government) in Iran. 
 
… the P5+1 should explain why the confidence-building measures they proposed in Almaty are an equitable, although modest, way of getting traction in the talks. 
 
Much needs to be done to prepare for resumed negotiations with Iran, likely in the fall. We don’t know if the recent Iranian election will finally provide an opening to move toward an agreement. But even if prospects for reaching an acceptable deal are limited, the United States needs to do everything it can in the weeks and months ahead to prepare itself for any promising opportunity that presents itself when the talks resume. There may not be many more chances.
 
EP/PA 
 
 

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