Will Einhorn’s Proposals Help Iran's Nuclear Talks?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Mohammad Hassan Daryaei
Senior Researcher and University Professor

In a scholarly article, Dr. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei, senior researcher and university professor, has offered in-depth critique of a recent article written by the US State Department's Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Mr. Robert Einhorn on “Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran” What follows is a summarized version of his article.

1. Basic and structural flaws of Einhorn’s article

It seems that conditions governing the domestic environment in the United States, including lobbying activities by various pressure groups at rightist think tanks, where Einhorn has written this article, have profoundly affected his Article. It also seems that the main goal of Einhorn’s article is to cater to the demands of the most radical part of the US Congress, instead of offering pragmatic, legal and practical proposals. Einhorn believes and hopes that his article may provide answers to this part of the Congress. This is not an accurate understanding of the situation, since the rightist members of the Congress are unlikely to be convinced on this issue, no matter how radical and tough Einhorn proposal would be on Iran. The hardliner in the Senate are basically against nuclear talks with Iran. Therefore, it is not clear what could be the benefit of these proposals which transcend the boundaries of some of the existing and recognized international and legal frameworks with a perceived imaginary, unattainable goal.

2. Wrong assumptions about past nuclear activities of Iran

From the very beginning of his article, Einhorn has based his arguments on erroneous assumptions which cannot be proven; assumptions which have caused the conclusion of his report to err on the side of accuracy. The first wrong assumption, which has been actually mentioned in the opening part of the article, is that Iran has been seeking to build nuclear weapons in the past. The existing documents and evidence prove that this basic hypothesis of Einhorn’s report is not true and is just an allegation offered without any positive evidence to support it. After more than 30 years of uninterrupted inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and following about 7,000 person-days of inspections since 2003, which has no precedent or parallel anywhere else in the world, the IAEA has been never able to offer a report or a single shred of proof to prove that Iran's nuclear energy program has been diverted toward military purposes.

Perhaps, he has taken the failures mentioned in a report by then Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei in 2003, as sign of a possible military nuclear program in Iran. However, even in this case he is still mistaken because in its 2003 report to Board of Governors of the IAEA, the Director General had only pointed to Iran's failures in complying with the Safeguards Agreement which were, in fact, the result of different interpretations of the Safeguards Agreement by Iran and the IAEA. The issue of failure is not in any way equal to the diversion. In 2003 Safeguard Implementation Report of the IAEA, 18 countries had some failures.

3. Miscalculation about Iran's future programs

Another wrong assumption in Einhorn’s article is that he says Iran will finally choose to build nuclear weapons. Therefore, his solutions are also based on this erroneous assumption that Iran's decision to build nuclear weapons should be both time-intensive and cost-intensive in order to give the international community enough time to give a proper response to Iran’s program.

It should be noted that firstly, this way of thinking, which is based on guessing the intention of the opposite party and meting out punishments on the basis of unproven assumptions or prejudgment, is an unacceptable innovation. Secondly, the main assumption of this approach is founded on a mistaken calculation and assessment, which in turn, are based on wrong information because Iran has announced time and again that it has no plan to build nuclear weapons. There are three major obstacles which prevent Iran from moving in the direction of acquiring such weapons. Firstly, Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and in line with the obligations arising from its membership and the rules of the NPT, has been committed to avoid any effort aimed at building nuclear weapons. Secondly, strategic  calculation on security of  Iran is an important factor at present, Iran is the most powerful country in the region in terms of conventional weapons and also in view of other social and economic indices. There is no reason for Iran to lose this regional superiority by entering the enigmatic puzzle of nuclear weapons, which can also trigger a nuclear race in the region and make economic rivalries more complicated. Therefore, Iran is mature enough not to provide grounds for possible damage to its military and economic security by moving toward acquiring of nuclear weapons. Thirdly, moral and religious obligations, which especially arise from the fatwa (religious decree) issued by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, block the way to any effort or even idea that would end in the proliferation of nuclear weapons because from this angle, production of nuclear weapons is a grave sin. This fatwa has drawn attention from leaders of other religious faiths as well as certain political figures in the United States.

I wish Mr. Einhorn would have noticed that these three obstacles have led to conditions, which differentiate Iran's behavior from other countries. They have also affected political, economic and military equations in Iran as they make the move toward nuclear weapons almost impossible. If Einhorn had paid attention to this fact he would not have to offer imaginary solutions for impossible conditions.

4. Innovation in argument and disregard for legal basics of the existing nonproliferation regime

A major mistake in Einhorn’s article is disregard for the legal basics which have been instrumental during past decades in regulating nonproliferation of nuclear weapons because his arguments transcend the limits of these regulations. The proposal put forth in Einhorn’s article for preventing  Iran  from its internationally authorized nuclear capabilities and severely limit the peaceful activities of Iran  by not allowing the country to obtain what he calls “rapid breakout capability,” is only an innovation in the legal system of nonproliferation regime, which has its roots in extreme pessimism. In addition to being at odds with the letter and spirit of the NPT, his proposal is practically impossible to implement and has no basis in nonproliferation regime. This innovation may erode seriously the foundation of the NPT structure.

5. Undermining and discrediting nonproliferation regime

The pessimism resulting from the ideas rife among pressure groups in the United States and Israel has made Einhorn take a politicized approach to the issue as a result of which he has based his arguments on wrong calculations. Also, due to inattention to realities and behavior of Iran, Einhorn has offered imaginary proposals ignoring the fact that such innovations as well as illegal and impractical proposals will, in the first place, undermine the existing nonproliferation regime and cast doubts on credibility of the NPT. Under present circumstances, the NPT will not be able to withstand another double discriminatory approach like what Robert Einhorn has proposed because it would pose serious threat to credibility and power of the nonproliferation regime as per the NPT. There is no doubt that Einhorn and other US officials are certainly not willing to put the NPT in such dire conditions and undermine it. On the other hand, the member states of the NPT will also reject such innovations in the treaty.

6. Offering unrealistic and impractical proposals

Robert Einhorn has ignored all the realities about Iran's nuclear energy program and has merely expressed the aspirations and wishes of the most radical of the US and Israeli lobbies. It is a reality that Iran has so far installed about 20,000 centrifuges. There is also more than 8,000 kg of 5-percent enriched uranium in the country, Fordow facility and its cascade of centrifuges are active, and Arak heavy water reactor is being completed. Offering any solution which would not comply with the realities on the ground will amount to proposing something unrealistic and impractical. Perhaps, this is why Peter Jenkins has asked Einhorn to avoid putting extreme demands in front of Iran because offering similar proposals caused nuclear negotiations to fail in 2004 and 2005.

7. Offering contradictory and ineffective proposals which are not even compatible with Einhorn’s main goal

Proposals offered by Einhorn are by no means compatible with the goals of the NPT; neither form an organizational angle, nor from thematic and methodological standpoints. They even fall short of meeting his own imaginary goal because if a country is bent on following the policy of producing nuclear weapons, the number of centrifuges, the amount of nuclear materials, and even foreign restrictions will not be able to stop it. As put by John Sawers, the former head of the British secret service, MI6, the British government built all its nuclear weapons using only 16 centrifuges. (1)

On the other hand, the concept of buying necessary time to be able to react properly to Iran's decision should the country choose to build nuclear weapons is an imaginary concept which can only come true through the decision of the UN Security Council. Even in that case, it would not go beyond imposing certain sanctions against the country. Experience gained in the past years has already shown that Iran will not abandon its nuclear energy program under foreign pressures and sanctions and restrictive measures will have no effect in this regard. Also, the threat to use military force against Iran will be illogical and useless in view of various factors that may affect such an action. Understanding this issue, Einhorn has offered a totally impractical proposal according to which two bills should be passed by the US Senate and the UN Security Council, which would then hover over Iran's head like the Damocles’ sword. This proposal is not only impractical, but will also make further negotiations over Iran's nuclear energy program very difficult and even impossible. In that case, conditions will change in favor of a lose-lose game as a result of lack of correct understanding of Iran's culture of resistance to foreign force.


It is quite unlikely that Mr. Einhorn is actually trying to torpedo the ongoing nuclear negotiations between Iran and the world powers. However, such proposals as have been offered by him in his article are possible to serve as a coup de grâce to all the efforts made by top diplomats from the six world powers, who have spent their time during the past six months to come up with a practical solution for Iran's nuclear energy program through a win-win strategy. In addition, it will pose serious challenges to the NPT and, as a result, change the existing conditions into a full-blown lose-lose game. Einhorn’s report only reflects the needs and viewpoints of radical American figures and is devoid of strategic approach to this issue as well as adequate understanding of Iran's positions and statements. It is also inattentive to the fundaments of international treaties that have given birth to nonproliferation regime and Iran's nuclear realities. Such impractical, contradictory and unrealistic proposals and ideas embedded in them will only lead to distortion of the nonproliferation regime, which will only make nuclear talks more complicated. The positive points about his article are recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium on its soil, though on a limited scale, and offering an apparently constructive approach to maintaining the nuclear facility in Iran's central city of Arak.

I wish instead of offering such innovations as well as impractical and unrealistic proposals, whose ineffectiveness has been already proven, Einhorn would accept the existing nuclear realities of Iran. This would have enabled him to come up with a practical solution in the light of strategic viewpoints and the three main obstacles that have barred Iran from moving toward production of nuclear weapons. Such a solution would respect Iran's right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, encourage nondiscriminatory enforcement of the regulations of the nonproliferation regime, and foster more respect for international treaties which recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium in view of objective realities.

Considering the political will and the powerful momentum that has been created in negotiating countries, achieving such a solution is not out of reach. It would suffice to take the best advantage of the existing window of opportunity as long as it remains open. There is no doubt that this window of opportunity will remain open only for a short time. Therefore, time to be squandered over impractical proposals which are not legally sound and based on wrong assumptions is really rare. 

I highly respect the level of expertise devoted to the drafting of his article and hope that Robert Einhorn would build up on the positive parts of the coin, putting aside some of his excessive pessimistic presumptions, so that we could take advantage of more balanced, practical and legally sound proposals from him on this issue, taking into account his vast knowledge on the negotiations.  


(1) See John Sawers’ remarks in a BBC documentary on Iran's nuclear energy program, which has been frequently aired on this channel.

*Dr. Mohammad Hassan Daryaei is one of the prominent Iranian experts and researchers in the field of disarmament  and International security. He has worked on these issues for 20 years and has written numerous books and articles about them.

Key Words: Iran's Nuclear Talks, Robert Einhorn, Structural Flaws, Wrong Assumptions, NPT, IAEA, Nonproliferation Regime, Fatwa, US Congress, Daryaei

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