Toward A Final Deal or Interim II?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

As the final-status negotiation on Iran's nuclear standoff gets under way in Vienna, speculations abound as to what the net outcome will be and whether not the interim agreement signed in Geneva last November can act as springboard for the resolution of this vexing issue?

The stakes are obviously high and the fate of nuclear-related sanctions rests on the outcome, as stipulated in the final paragraph of the Geneva agreement, which also calls for tackling the UN Security Council sanctions resolutions on Iran, as well as enhanced cooperation between Iran and the UN's atomic agency. 

Given the six months timeline for negotiation, which can be extended another six months by the consent of all parties, some observers have voiced skepticism that a final deal can be reached whereby the multiple contested issues can be resolved, chief among them the future of uranium enrichment in Iran, the fate of the heavy water reactor in Arak, and further cooperation between Iran and the IAEA. Even President Obama has gone on record stating that he is only half-optimistic that a final deal can be reached.

In contrast, Iran's chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Zarif, has expressed optimism that this is achievable within the six month window, citing Iran's faithful implementation of the Geneva "Joint Plan of Action," which went into effect in late January. Behind Zarif's optimism is the firm conviction that Iran 'has nothing to hide" with respect to its peaceful nuclear program and that with sufficient will power the talks can succeed as long as both sides negotiate in good faith and avoid making arbitrary demands, such as "dismantling" aspect of the Iranian nuclear program, deemed excessive and beyond the terms of the Geneva agreement.

Still, irrespective of Iran's objections, the Western negotiators led by the US continue their rhetoric of "dismantling" which is interpreted as primarily geared for "public consumption" and, yet, is bound to have policy ramifications, particularly when sounded by the likes of Wendy Sherman, the chief US negotiator, or US Secretary of State, John Kerry.  In other words, we should not expect too much of a chasm between the public and diplomatic stances of the Western governments, much as some gaps is expected.

Looking ahead, then, there are three distinct scenarios, a successful one, a failed one, and an intermediate one that builds on the interim agreement yet falls short of a final deal, which we may call, for purely heuristic reasons, Interim II.

One reason why an 'interim II" may be called for is that the expectation of a comprehensive resolution of all the outstanding issues within a relatively short period of time is perhaps to some extent unrealistic. The advantage of the Geneva agreement was, indeed, its incremental progress, which can be set back by superimposing an artificial deadline ill-suited for the complexity of issues at hand, e.g., resolving the disagreement over Arak may hinge on a novel technical initiative requiring considerable time and energy.

Concerning the latter, in addition to Iran's offer of "re-designing" Arak so that a lesser amount of Plutonium can be produced, a number of other related proposals have begun to emerge recently, including ones that target Arak for transformation into a light water reactor, etc.  But, since Arak is a purely indigenous creation, with the full design information yet to be released to the other side, the current proposals are untested, sailing in uncharted waters. A special technical committee would be necessary, poring over a great deal of technical material in an unhurried fashion, before a consensus can emerge as to the feasibility of the emerging "re-design" Arak proposals.  It is in a word highly doubtful that this matter can be resolved in a matter of precious few months.

Of course, there is an easy and rather straightforward answer to the Arak 'riddle,' which is an agreement on its operationalization as is, under strict safeguards, and objective guarantees by Iran that it will not pursue a Plutonium separation plant (which is technologically difficult to set up).  Ordinarily, this would suffice to put the outside anxieties to rest, yet because of the special nature of the Iran nuclear crisis that seems unlikely. A related Western thinking is that Iran should be persuaded to shut down Arak, be compensated for it, and in exchange the Tehran medical reactor would be expanded and outside guarantees of radio-isotopes would be forthcoming.

Certainly, there is no dearth of suggestions, including by many non-experts extending themselves beyond the purview of their professional background and issuing opinion on matters that require a great deal of specialization. What is beyond doubt, however, is that the complex issues such as how to "re-design" Arak cannot be rushed on the basis of diplomatic timelines, which is why a second interim agreement, that shows incremental progress on select issues, suspending judgment on some issues pending the report of a high technical committee for instance, entwined with further relaxation of sanctions, may be necessary.

*Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) .  Afrasiabi is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction (2007), Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

Key Words: Final Deal,Interim II, Iran's Nuclear Standoff , UN Security Council, Sanctions Resolutions, IAEA, President Obama, Joint Plan of Action, John Kerry, Vienna, Arak Riddle, Afrasiabi

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

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*Congress New Sanctions Bill Scuttles the Geneva Deal:

*The Nuclear Deal and Iran's New Strategic Position:

*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency

*Link For Further Reading: Final Phase P5+1/Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Key Issues and Challenges

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