Iran and the Nuclear Trap
November 28, 2005 _________________________________________________________
The decision to defer a final decision on Iran’s nuclear case by the UN nuclear watchdog on November 24, 2005 has been received with joy and enthusiasm in Tehran. It was claimed that “wisdom and vision” prevailed and the IAEA board of governors preferred moderation and prudence by inviting the parties to move toward “the spirit of dialogue and cooperation”. The right wing media spoke of victory over the West as the outcome of Iran’s unyielding stance and dynamic diplomacy on the nuclear issue.
How far this optimism is justifiable? How much goodwill is there in this apparent concession to Iran? What are the plausible outcomes of this new development?
Despite optimism expressed with respect to the position of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in its November 24th meeting, by deciding to put off the referral of Iran’s nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council, the squall is not yet passed on. The report of the IAEA Director to the Board of Governors makes it clear that there are still a number of issues and some areas that need to be clarified. The report urges that Iran should “respond positively and without delay to the Agency’s remaining questions related to uranium enrichment, and to the additional transparency measures…” It further emphasizes that “these transparency measures are indispensable for the Agency to be able to clarify remaining outstanding issues - in particular, the scope and chronology of Iran’s centrifuge enrichment program.” The Agency expressed concern that “clarification of these issues is overdue, after three years of intensive verification efforts.”
In the Agency’s view, Iran shall resume dialogue with “all concerned parties” with a view to “achieving a comprehensive solution that addresses, inter alia, both Iran’s concerns about its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and the concerns of the international community about the peaceful nature of these activities.” With respect to the voluntary suspension of Iran’s enrichment activities, it has been said that the Agency is continuing to monitor the related installations, including the uranium conversion facilities (UCF) in Isfahan.
Efforts to reach Consensus
We well remember that in the previous session of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s governing board on September 24, 2005, a resolution was approved on Iran’s nuclear case. The resolution was drafted by Britain, France and Germany and backed by the United States, demanding Iran to be immediately referred to the Security Council, but it was watered down by other members of the board. With 22 votes for, one against and 12 abstentions, the outcome highlighted the split between Western nations and others such as Russia, China and South Africa, which disagreed with the EU3 and Washington on how to deal with Iran. However, the final resolution required that the case be reported to the Security Council at an unspecified date. This meant that the case would not be referred to the Security Council until the IAEA board session in November.
Meanwhile, the American Secretary of State engaged in a very intense diplomatic mission around the world in order to reach a consensus on the matter, especially with those who had some leverage on the decision, namely China and Russia. Upon the conclusion of the mission, apparently the outcome was unsatisfactory and the United States decided to slow down on the case. Russia, as the main partner of Iran in its nuclear energy project, has always expressed the view that the matter should be settled within the IAEA mandate and through continuation of dialogue with interested parties. In the view of those who object the referral of the case to the UN Security Council, thus far not all diplomatic remedies have been exhausted and therefore, they prefer that a last chance be given to the parties involved to resolve the problem once for all.
The EU3, which appeared to be somehow offended by Iran resuming some nuclear activities at Isfahan site, demanded that all such actions should be halted before any resumption of negotiations. Considering the fact that Iran has so far insisted on the continuation of nuclear enrichment and threatened to resume all related activities if the case was referred to the UN Security Council, an alternative solution was advanced for breaking the deadlock. The solution apparently consists of transferring a portion of the enrichment process to Russia to be performed outside Iran.
However, the solution seems to lay a tricky trap for Iran’s decision makers. On the one hand, if Iran concedes to it, this may achieve only a fraction of the objectives the West is pursuing with respect to Iran. Since, Iran’s nuclear case is only one main element of the prevailing squabble between Iran and the West. As we know, other thorny issues such as human rights, terrorism, Middle East peace process, Iraq security… are on the table as well. Thus, the prospective solution may satisfy only those who fear Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but would be a political setback susceptible to displease hardliners inside Iran.
In such circumstances Iran’s enormous investment for various enrichment plants will be futile and should remain idle, and the supreme goal of independent self-sufficient access to future nuclear fuel will be aborted. The political costs of such an eventual concession are indeed an important parameter that should be taken into account in any future negotiations. On the other hand, if Iran rejects the proposal, then Russia and other perplexing parties will not hesitate to join the consensus sought by the United States and this would probably pave the way for referral of the case to the UN Security Council.
Toward alternative Solutions
With the above difficulties in mind, in order to be workable, any prospective solution should satisfy a number of requisites:
- First of all and before anything, it should assure that the enrichment process, at least up to a certain level for peaceful purposes, will be continued in Iran. This is a sine-qua-non for any successful solution, considering domestic public opinion and national prestige;
- At least a portion of the problem of objective guarantees shall be resolved by bringing in new partners within the framework of Iran’s president proposition at the UN General Assembly and the related domestic legislation allowing the government to that effect. The actual modalities of this partnership should be studied by specialists;
- Russian or any other party’s involvement in the remaining enrichment process inside or outside Iran, with a view to provide the necessary fuel for use in the nuclear power plants, should be on a fair partnership. The exact detail of this agreement should be rigorously worked out by the parties ;
- The West and the IAEA ought to be convinced that in the final account the whole nuclear activities is directed toward peaceful use and prospective partners( Russia or others) will guarantee the matter by taking an important portion of the enrichment into their hands;
- The ultimate solution should take into account all other impending issues which are susceptible to overshadow the mutual confidence and credibility of the parties involved.
Indeed the situation is very critical now and Iran seems to be caught in a dilemma or between the devil and the deep sea. Iran should avoid any further action that could frustrate the new momentum created for negotiations. Given that United States is the main challenger of Iran in several areas, including the nuclear affaire, Iran would be better off in the upcoming negotiations if it crafts some incentives for the Americans trapped in Iraq to ease the situation. Especially now that the United States is leaning toward Iran for help in neighboring Iraq, this opportunity should be seized for the purpose of confidence building. In order to find a way out of the impending crisis, there should be a comprehensive solution with the West, without which the squabble will not terminate. Iran should not consume all its diplomatic vim and vigor merely on the nuclear issue and ought to mobilize its political capacity to remove all impediments in other areas that give pretexts to contending states to pressure on the overall Islamic regime. This indeed requires an arduous endeavor and strong political will to overcome all domestic and international obstacles.
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 See: Hashemi Rafsanjani, (Chairman of the State Expediency Council) statement during the Friday Sermon in Tehran on November 25, 2005. Iran Daily, Saturday November 26, 2005, p.1
 As the report makes clear, the Agency is continuing with its effort to clarify the nature and extent of Iran’s nuclear program. Iran has provided additional documentation, permitted interviews with relevant individuals, and allowed further access. See Statements of the Director General to the IAEA Board of Governors. 24 November 2005 - Vienna, Austria
 Director General expressed the opinion that he still believed that robust verification by the Agency, combined with active dialogue among all concerned parties, is the best way to move forward.
 Of course there seem to be other reasons behind the US decision. According to observers, with the heightening of terror and violence in Iraq and the increasing demand of Americans, including the democrats in US Congress for a quick withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, the US administration feels that Iran could help the Americans to achieve that objective.
 This requirement has been lifted later and EU3 agreed to resume talks with Iran without precondition on December 6, 2005.
 Just recently, United Kingdom, which assumed the rotating EU Chairmanship, singled out Iran for violating human rights and meddling in internal affaires of Iraq.
 Caught in a quagmire, the United States is not in a position to disregard Iran’s influence and impact upon the internal situation in Iraq. It was revealed that US president has given mandate to the US ambassador in Iraq ( Zalmay Khalilzad) to enter into dialogue with Tehran with a view to seeking help for stability and order in this country.