Breaking the Deadlock over Iran’s Nuclear Talks: A Practical Model

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hassan Beheshtipour
Expert on International Affairs

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has proposed that a new round of negotiations should be held with Iran for the resolution of outstanding issues next month (in October). The question here is why the IAEA is not ready to reach a final agreement with Iran via the clear agenda which has been already accepted by both sides and is widely known as the ‘modality’?

The answer is that the IAEA expects Iran to allow its inspectors to visit an Iranian military site at Parchin, which is outside the limits of the Safeguards Agreement agreed upon by both sides. The agency’s request is simply based on reports given to the IAEA by so far obscure sources. Iran’s answer, on the other hand, has been totally unequivocal.

1. No country will ever allow the IAEA to inspect its military sites because the agency is missioned to merely visit nuclear sites and non-nuclear military bases cannot be covered by its inspections.

2. In order to prove its goodwill and reveal falsehood of the Western media propaganda, Iran has already allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the site twice in 2005, and after each visit, the inspectors said nothing illegal had been found there. Olli Heinonen, the deputy to the then director general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, had orally promised that if Iran allowed inspection of the military site in Parchin, they would announce once and for all that Parchin is a non-nuclear site and would need no further inspection. However, as the agency’s deputy director general for safeguards changed, the new deputy, Herman Nackaerts, announced in 2011 that Parchin site needs to be inspected again in the light of alleged studies whose information had been provided by some member states of the agency. This issue has caused Iran not to trust the promises given by the IAEA officials anymore.

3. Following three rounds of negotiations with delegates of the IAEA, Iran announced that the agency would be able to revisit Parchin site if two conditions are met. Firstly, they should promise that following the visit, there would be no further request to inspect Parchin again. Secondly, documents related to the agency’s alleged studies should be made available to Iran in order to make it possible for Tehran to evaluate that information and give an appropriate answer. The IAEA, in return, responded to Iran’s logical request by claiming that countries providing information about the alleged studies would not allow copies of those studies to be provided to Iran. As a result, the agency rejected Iran’s request and denied the Islamic Republic of an opportunity to defend itself by alleging that the IAEA, an impartial international organization, is competent enough to verify the studies.

4. The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the IAEA to guarantee that after its inspectors visit the military site at Parchin, there would be no leak of confidential information related to this non-nuclear military site and such information remain secret. This is a result of the background of the IAEA's performance in similar cases. For example, during the agency’s work in Iraq, information related to non-nuclear military sites of that country were made available to other states a few years before military invasion of Iraq by the United States. Of course, the United States announced that it had not gained that information through the IAEA inspectors, but at any rate, the leak of confidential information about Iraq’s military sites dealt a drastic blow to credit of the agency regardless of the source of the leaked information.

Considering the above facts, one may claim that as long as the obligations of the two sides have not been explained clearly, nobody can expect a significant agreement to be reached through negotiations between Iran and the agency in October. Meanwhile, allegations about Iran’s nuclear tests are not limited to Parchin military site, but also include other areas of Iran’s nuclear work. Mutual cooperation, like what the two sides did in 2007, can be an effective formula for the final resolution of these problems. At that time, Iran and IAEA resolved six outstanding issues about peaceful nuclear activities of Iran through step by step cooperation. At present, Iran is also ready to cooperate with the agency on all issues provided that the cooperation is mutual and based on a correct understanding of Iran’s security considerations.

Therefore, if for any reason, the agency is not ready to recognize its obligations for cooperation with Iran in return for the cooperation that Iran has offered in the past 10 years, Tehran may naturally decide to cut its cooperation with IAEA altogether.

Another important issue which has caused differences between Iran and the IAEA is the implementation of six resolutions adopted by the United Nations Security Council and 12 resolutions adopted by the Board of Governors of International Atomic Energy Agency over Iran’s nuclear program. To have a realistic understanding of the agency’s request from Iran to comply with those resolutions, the following points should be taken into consideration.

1. In the first place, Iran’s nuclear case was referred to the Security Council without going through necessary formalities as specified by the Safeguards Agreement and the Statute of the agency.

2. All nuclear sites of Iran are under full supervision of the agency and legal inspections of those sites and centers are carried out on a regular basis.

3. Without recognizing the right of Iran and all other member states to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, the IAEA's Board of Governors has asked Iran in its resolutions to suspend uranium enrichment. It goes without saying that if the IAEA or the UN Security Council decided to recognize in their resolutions the right of Iran and all other member states of the IAEA – which have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and have taken steps to implement its associated Safeguards Agreement – then they could expect Iran and those countries to take steps for mutual cooperation with the IAEA. That cooperation could include, inter alia, suspending part of the country’s uranium enrichment activities, for example, suspending enrichment of uranium to 20 percent. This would be a useful formula which could help to break the existing deadlock in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear energy program.

4. If the right of Iran and all other member states of the IAEA to enrich uranium under supervision of the agency is recognized by resolutions which are adopted by the Board of Governors and the Security Council, the way would be paved for increasing the agency’s legal supervisions within framework of the NPT. This will also make it possible for the agency to verify that there is no diversion in the nuclear programs of countries, which are interested in producing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, toward military activities.

5. In addition, the agency can take more decisive action in line with Article 4 of the NPT to pave the way for disarmament of nuclear-weapon states which possess nuclear warheads and as such pose a major threat to international peace and security. In this way, the agency will be able to mend its credit in the eyes of such countries as Iran, which are seriously critical of the agency’s double standards toward Israel and other nuclear-weapon states. Also, by doing so, the agency will bolster the existing grounds for supervising nuclear activities of all countries.

6. Negotiations between Iran and the agency are mostly of a legal and technical nature. However, in practice, political pressures exerted by the United States have politicized Iran’s nuclear case. Every country is entitled to resist all forms of pressure and bullying in order to realize its legitimate rights. Avoiding implementation of unfair resolutions should not be taken to mean that a country is not complying with international bodies. On the opposite, such resistance aims to make those organizations correct wrong policies which have been adopted by them in recent years due to powerful pressures from hegemonic states.

7. If the IAEA and the United Nations Security Council are not ready to give an appropriate answer to Iran’s proposal of recognizing Tehran’s right to enrich uranium, how the West can possibly expect Iran to totally suspend its enrichment activities? It should be noted that suspending uranium enrichment is one issue, and recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium is a totally different issue. Therefore, they can recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium and then ask Iran to suspend enriching uranium to 20-percent level as a first step toward confidence building.

8. Iran has announced that its right to enrich uranium is a red line and it will under no circumstances give up that right. Therefore, the West can first recognize that right before asking for the implementation of the Board of Governors and the Security Council resolution by Iran. This model may help to end the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Key Words: Iran’s Nuclear Talks, Deadlock, IAEA, Modality, Parchin, UNSC, NPT, Uranium Enrichment, Beheshtipour

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