Strategic Notes On the Eve of Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Final Agreement Should Recognize Iran's Enrichment Right, Remove Sanctions

Mahdi Mohammadi
Chief Editor of IranNuc.IR and Expert on Strategic Issues

The sixth round of Iran's negotiations with the P5+1 group in the Austrian capital city of Vienna (Vienna 6) is going to begin at a time that the American side has not been ready to take any difficult decisions during Vienna 5 talks. As July 21 deadline (for the expiry of the interim Geneva agreement over Iran's nuclear energy program) draws near, it would be understandable to assume that negotiations are becoming tenser. Also, the more the negotiations progress, consultations become more serious and stress on both sides increases. However, a clear outlook for a final agreement is not visible on the horizon yet, mostly because the Americans insist that Iran should take such difficult decisions during negotiations as giving up a major part of its uranium enrichment capacity, but they are themselves not ready to make any difficult decision.

The following points can shed more light on the current situation of negotiations between the two sides.

1. The first point to be taken into account is that the United States has been so far successful in keeping the member states of the P5+1 group in line with its policies. This situation, however, will not last forever. The current situation is mostly the result of two reasons. Firstly, the United States has taken the toughest stance on Iran as a result of which it is not possible for a radical government like that of France to take an ever stricter position. Secondly, the outlook of a possible failure in negotiations is still not evident to trigger real bargaining. If negotiations process in the current manner, that is, if the two sides fail to reach a conclusion on two major issues of Iran's right to enrichment and removal of sanctions against Tehran, there would be no doubt that the negotiations would fail on July 21. In that case, it would be logical to expect the internal cohesion of the P5+1 group to be lost. Under those circumstances, acute and serious differences will break out between Russia, China, and possibly Germany, on the one hand, and other members of the P5+1 group, on the other hand, over a number of basic issues. The first issue is that these countries, unlike the United States, would argue that it is Iran's right to ask for rapid removal of sanctions in return for the concessions that it gives to the opposite side. The second issue is that when it comes to choosing between two options of accepting more enrichment in Iran and the failure of the negotiations, these countries will be ready to choose the first option. Therefore, it seems that Iran can reckon on the emergence of a more moderate faction within the P5+1 group, especially if the United States refuses to modify its stance and causes the negotiations to face a possible failure.

2. One of the most drastic mistakes to be made by the Iranian negotiating team is for its members to rapidly change their position during bargaining over difficult issues. Unfortunately, one of the most disconcerting examples of such a change in position was seen during the Vienna 5 negotiations. While before those negotiations, the Iranian team had asked for complete and total removal of all sanctions against Tehran, following Vienna 5 negotiations, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told reporters that Iran had accepted that sanctions should be removed according to a timetable. This means that the Iranian team has rapidly changed its position on this issue. The administration of [the Iranian President] Mr. [Hassan] Rouhani has done a great amount of publicity on its effort to have anti-Iran sanctions removed. It has justified all the concessions that have been given to the other side by emphasizing that the main goal of the nuclear talks is the removal of sanctions. This issue will make it clear how important was the concession that the Iranian team has already given the P5+1 group with regard to sanctions. The gradual removal of sanctions according to a timetable would mean that while Iran has accepted all the nuclear requests of the P5+1 and, in doing this, has actually lost all its bargaining chips, the opposite side can still maintain a large part of the sanctions as a leverage to be used in further bickering during future negotiations. This would potentially enable them to extend the nuclear negotiations to other areas that are not related to Iran's nuclear energy program. To show haste in modifying one’s red lines would entail the strategic risk that it may make the Americans believe that all the issues that Iranians call their red lines are, in fact, bargaining chips. As a result, they will reach the conclusion that Iran is actually considering no red line in the negotiations. When that conclusion is reached, the negotiations will become devoid of true meaning because the Americans will try to obtain maximum possible concession by giving the least possible amount of points to Iran.

3. There was another important point to which the Americans pointed during the last week as an intelligence estimate. They said they were interested to know when Iran would be ready to give up its current position on the key issue of its enrichment capacity. This means that either the manner in which the Iranian negotiators have appeared in the talks, or secret information that Americans have obtained has made them believe that Iran will finally give up its current position on maintaining all its enrichment capacity and its gradual development in the future. It is currently not clear how this possibility has occurred to the Western sides, but there is no doubt that the Iranian negotiating team should take rapid steps to do away with this misperception. The Iranian president has already announced that the only thing that Iran has to put on the negotiating table is transparency and nothing more. The Iranian negotiating team, on the other hand, has already announced that the only factor that would determine Iran's uranium enrichment capacity is the country’s own needs. The Iranian negotiators have also marked enrichment as Iran's most important red line during the talks. As a result, through their daily contacts with the American side, [Iranian Foreign Minister] Mr. [Mohammad Javad] Zarif and his colleagues should relay this message to the American negotiators without any ambiguity that if they are waiting for the time to come when Iran will pass over its enrichment right, that time will never come. Iran's strategic considerations basically do not allow the country to back down on this key issue because in that case the way would be paved for the United States to put even heavier pressure on the Islamic Republic over issues that are directly related to the country’s national security. Iran does not want, and cannot, allow the nuclear issue to be introduced as a successful model for the efficacy of sanctions in changing its national security decisions because by doing so, Tehran would have actually confirmed the efficacy of the United States’ pressure project against Iran. Therefore, the Americans should understand that the most that Iran can do in this area is to take measures to “save their face” and nothing more than that.

4. The next point is that a close scrutiny of statements made by the Americans following Vienna 5 talks will reveal one of the most important keywords on which they have put repeated emphasize. They have frequently noted that Iran should prove that it is ready to provide all necessary guarantees to show that its nuclear energy program is, and will remain, peaceful. When this demand is considered along with the strong request that the Americans have been putting forth about the necessity for Iran to reduce the level of its enrichment, the final conclusion would be that the United States is still considering “dismantling” as the most important and the most trustworthy guarantee for the Iranian nuclear energy program to remain peaceful. This is while we know that Iran has offered the Western sides with much more generous proposals about transparency of its nuclear energy program. In reality, the two concepts of transparency and limitation are parallel concepts because when the intensity of one of them increases, the other one loses intensity at the same time. Otherwise, if Iran accepted to put further limits on its enrichment program while showing the highest degree of transparency over that limited program, the country would be at loss in both fronts. Iran has so far refused to accept further limitation of its existing uranium enrichment program. Under these circumstances it would be logical to increase the transparency of Iran's nuclear energy program in order to pave the way for a final agreement. However, as long as the Americans consider “dismantling” as a guarantee for peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear energy program, the Islamic Republic should be quite strict about its transparency and should provide them with minimum assurances.

5. The next issue with regard to the comprehensive agreement is reversibility or irreversibility of the two sides’ obligations. The Americans claim that every obligation that Iran accepts, whether with regard to enrichment or redesigning the nuclear reactor in Arak should be irreversible. This term is apparently taken to mean that at no specific time in the future Iran should be able to resume its nuclear activities at short notice. For example, as put by the Western experts, the main reason why the United States insists so strongly that a large number of Iran's centrifuges should be dismantled is exactly to ensure that Iran's enrichment activities would not be possible to revert to the situation they had before the agreement in a short period of time. As for the Arak facility, there is one main consideration that has barred Iran and the United States from reaching an agreement on redesigning the core reactor of that facility. Americans insist that any change in that reactor should be irreversible. There are a few important notes here. Firstly, if Iran's obligations are to be irreversible, the obligations of the other parties should be exactly the same. However, we know that this is not the case in reality. The Americans have clearly noted that they will not remove anti-Iran sanctions at once, but sanctions will be gradually removed according to a timetable. Therefore, sanctions that have nothing to do with the nuclear energy program will not be lifted and may be even intensified (see remarks by the US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman in an interview following the Vienna 5 talks). To put it in more simple terms, the Americans can impose the existing sanctions and even much tougher and unjust sanctions against Iran whenever they feel right to do so using non-nuclear issues as a pretext. However, Iran will have no leverage to give a proper response to those sanctions. I believe that the main factor that has relatively slowed down the pace of anti-Iran sanctions by this time is the possibility for Iran to retaliate those sanctions in technical and legal terms because American officials have proved that they are not interested, nor they attach any importance to diplomatic smiles. The second issue is somehow more disconcerting from a strategic viewpoint. The reversible nature of the two sides’ obligations is good as it creates a kind of mutual guarantee and makes both sides remain committed to their obligations. In fact, if one side knew that in case of violating its obligations, it would be possible for the opposite side to take rapid mutual steps, it would become more cautious about non-compliance with its obligations. However, when the obligations of one side are considered as irreversible, what happens in practice is that the opposite side loses its motivation to remain committed to its obligations because it knows that the other side is practically unable to show any reaction. As long as there is extensive distrust between Iran and the United States, it would not be advisable to give in to irreversible obligations and accept technical manipulation of the country’s nuclear energy program, which are more similar to acts of sabotage. Iran should take it for granted that the United States will not be able to fulfill all its obligations – as has been already proven following the conclusion of the interim Geneva deal – and, therefore, the Islamic Republic should seriously maintain all inhibitory means at its disposal.

6. The next issue is the focus of the negotiations on increasing Iran's breakout time. When the American side solely focuses on the breakout time instead of the possibility of Iran building nuclear weapons, from a strategic viewpoint it means that the Americans are more concerned about the “path” that is taken for production of nuclear weapons, not the production itself. The main problem here is that the path taken to build the nuclear bomb overlaps with the path taken to produce fuel for nuclear reactors in up to 90 percent of stages, including provision of fissile material. Therefore, when Iran has accepted to engage in negotiations on this basis, it has, in fact, accepted to limit its capacity for the production of nuclear fuel as well. Now, the Iranian side is saying that it is bent on maintaining the enrichment capacity at the current level and even gradually increasing it with the final goal of producing enough nuclear fuel for Bushehr nuclear power plant. This would mean that Iran's practical needs should be taken as the main basis of the negotiations. As a result of the above facts, there is a paradox in these negotiations because the result of talks on the basis of the breakout logic would be different from the result of the same talks on the basis of Iran's practical need. This is a fundamental difference because one approach would lead to total dismantling of Iran's uranium enrichment program while the other one will lead to development of that program. Therefore, one of the most important responsibilities shouldered by the Iranian nuclear negotiators is to do away with this paradox during Vienna 6 talks. Otherwise, expecting a balanced output from the nuclear negotiations would be almost impossible. Another point, which should be mentioned here, is that the concept of breakout aims to prevent Iran from producing enough nuclear material to build a bomb, but is not meant to prevent production of a detonator device as well. We know that even if Iran had produced 25 kg of 5-percent enriched uranium or 8 kg of Plutonium-238, it would be still the first step toward production of a real nuclear explosive device. After this stage, extensive amount of activity related to the nuclear physics and other related fields is needed to turn highly enriched material into a warhead. Even when this stage is completed, it would be turn to reduce the size of the warhead down to a level that could be delivered by a missile. The Americans are well aware, and Iran's extensive explanation about exploding-bridgewire (EBW) detonators has also made it quite clear, that the Islamic Republic has carried out no studies in the field of nuclear physics which would be related to conversion of nuclear material into weapons. It has been also proved that Iran lacks enough experience and know-how in this regard. Therefore, calculating the breakout time with no regard for the fact that allegations about a possible military dimension (PMD) to Iran's nuclear energy program are just baseless claims by Israelis and Americans against Iran's nuclear activities would clearly mean that the negotiating parties are ignoring the time that is needed to convert nuclear materials into weapons. The American officials talks in such a way that as if there is only a short way from production of sufficient amounts of nuclear material to production of a nuclear warhead. However, the entire story about the PMD, which requires Iran to go through a bumpy road to produce nuclear weapons, has been proven to be nothing but a bunch of lies. As a result, even if the breakout time is considered as a criterion, that time for Iran would be more than several years and maybe even a decade. This is in stark contrast to the claim made by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) which serves as an advisor to the American nuclear negotiating team and which has claimed that Iran's breakout time is no more than one and a half months away!

7. The last point which should be mentioned here is that the core of any comprehensive nuclear agreement should be, firstly, complete dismantling of sanctions against Iran, and secondly, recognition of Iran's right to conduct industrial-scale enrichment of uranium on its soil. Some information so far released shows that the Americans have not accepted to remove all sanctions against Iran, on the one hand. On the other hand, they are not ready to admit that after the last step is taken toward a comprehensive nuclear deal, the restrictions imposed against Iran's nuclear energy program should be removed in order to enable the Islamic Republic to embark on industrial-scale enrichment. Any final deal which lacks these two essential elements would be an effort to play with the national security and rights of Iran. Any kind of comprehensive agreement would be only worthy of discussion if it leads to recognition of Iran's right to industrial-scale enrichment as the final outcome of the country’s confidence-building measures. So far, no sign has been viewed to confirm such an outlook for the negotiations. Therefore, in the absence of such signs, it should be noted that not reaching an agreement would be certainly much better than achieving an agreement that would neither remove anti-Iran sanctions, nor allow Iran to continue uranium enrichment on its soil.

Key Words: Strategic Notes, Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement, Iran's Enrichment Right, Sanctions, P5+1, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Hassan Rouhani, Vienna 6 Talks, Mohammadi

Source: Vatanemrooz Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency

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