Why Iran will push back on the West’s nuclear offer

Why Iran will push back on the West’s nuclear offer

As the world has waited for Iran’s response to the latest nuclear deal offered by the West, conventional wisdom has held that Tehran has been playing for time, testing the limits of international political resolve, and hamstrung by internal political divisions. There’s a measure of truth to all three claims, as official sources in Tehran have begun to indicate that Iran will accept the framework of the deal, but demand important changes. But the root of the problem may be that while the agreement is envisaged as a first step, the two sides don’t share a common destination.

The draft agreement discussed at talks in Vienna last week would have Iran ship 2,645 pounds of its low-enriched uranium (some three quarters of the stockpile enriched at its Natanz facility) to Russia by the end of this year. There it would be enriched to a higher grade and converted into fuel plates in France, after which it would be shipped back to Iran to power the Tehran medical research reactor. Western governments, which fear that Iran has already stockpiled enough enriched uranium to be reprocessed it into a single bomb, like that the deal would remove most of Tehran’s stockpile, and return it in a state difficult for Iran to weaponize. Though there are no signs that Iran is currently working on a turning its uranium into an actual bomb, the West wants the material moved out of Iran in a single shipment, and by the end of this year. That way, they say, it will take Tehran another year to replenish its stockpile to current levels, setting back the supposed “ticking clock” of a potential Iranian bomb, and allowing more time to negotiate an end to Iran’s enrichment program.

Iran, needless to say, sees things very differently. It has no intention of relinquishing its uranium-enrichment program, which it insists is for the peaceful purposes of a civilian energy program and is its right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). And what it likes most about the Vienna deal is that it can be read as tacit acceptance of Iranian enrichment; the stockpile at the heart of the deal, after all, was enriched in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But Iran doesn’t trust the intentions of some of its interlocutors, particularly France, which has adopted the most hawkish position among the Western powers against any Iranian enrichment. In other words, the very thing that Western powers like about the proposal — that it separates Iran from its uranium stockpile — is precisely what the Iranians fear as a prelude to moves to end all of its enrichment. [continued…]

Iran hints at uranium plan changes

A high-ranking Iranian official said Tuesday that even if the country agreed to a United Nations-sponsored plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad for further processing, it would not ship it all at once, Iranian news media reported.

That position, if maintained, could undermine the entire plan. The French government, a party to the deal, has made it clear that the uranium must be shipped all at once before the end of the year.

Iran has said it will formally respond on Friday to the proposal, which is intended to delay the country’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon for about a year and buy time for a broader diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. [continued…]

Weapons of mass distraction

If Iranian negotiators haven’t read Avner Cohen’s book Israel and the Bomb, they should. They’d find out that Oct. 30 is the 41st anniversary of the beginning of the series of negotiations that culminated in American recognition of Israel’s “nuclear ambiguity.” They might learn some useful lessons.

As the worldwide media weighs and critiques Iran’s dilatory response (or lack of satisfactory response) to western pressures over its nuclear program, Israeli diplomats and pundits are reiterating that, no matter what Iran says, it is nonetheless trying to exploit the pretext of a peaceful nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapons program.

After all, Israelis know how the game is played. They wrote the rules.

On Oct. 30, 1968, US Assistant Defense Secretary Paul Warnke began a series of negotiations with then-Israeli Ambassador Yitzchak Rabin, who would become Israel’s fifth Prime Minister in 1974. [Awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for shaking hands with Yassir Arafat, Rabin was assassinated by a right wing Jewish fanatic at a Jerusalem peace rally a year later.] Although Warnke had not been provided with the CIA’s assessment of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, he nevertheless suspected that Israel had the capability of producing a nuclear bomb and quite possibly had already done so. He proposed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that linked Israel’s signature on the NPT not only to the sale of the Phantom jets Israel wanted from the U.S. but to the transformation of the U.S. into Israel’s main arms supplier, a role that had, until the 1967 “Six Day” war, been filled by France.

As reconstructed and recounted by Avner Cohen in his 1998 book (pp. 307-318), based on once-classified documents, Warnke met with Rabin on Nov. 12, and attempted to clarify the assertion, “Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area.” Rabin replied that it meant, “We would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons.” [continued…]

Iranian-American dual loyalty?

The campaign against J Street has contained a fairly amount of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry, epitomized by former AIPAC staffer Lenny Ben-David’s attack on any J Street donors unfortunate enough to have Arab names. Now comes a new and equally unseemly line of attack, centering on an Iran panel at the recent J Street conference that featured National Iranian American Council (NIAC) president Trita Parsi. Parsi, Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard claims, is “the Iranian regime’s man in Washington.” Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic similarly accuses Parsi of “doing a lot of leg-work for the Iranian regime.”

To begin with, it’s worth noting the inaccuracy of the charge. NIAC was harshly critical of the Iranian government’s crackdown on protesters following the disputed elections in June, issuing a June 20 statement “strongly condemn[ing] the government of Iran’s escalating violence against demonstrators” and calling for new elections. A later statement urged the Obama administration not to neglect human rights issues in the course of its diplomacy with Iran. Anyone who followed the post-election crisis closely — no matter where they came from on the ideological spectrum — soon came to rely on NIAC’s blog as an indispensabe source of news and analysis about the protests. And Parsi (who has in the past written for IPS) became the most prominent proponent of engagement to change his stance in the wake of the elections, calling for a “tactical pause” in U.S. diplomacy while the political situation within Iran developed. [continued…]

Pragmatists in Tehran

Direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations in Geneva and Vienna this month over Iran’s nuclear program demonstrate something very positive about the prospects for U.S. diplomacy with Iran: When given the chance to engage directly with the United States, Iran will take that chance and pursue negotiations in an active and constructive way.

This does not mean that Iran will automatically give the United States what it wants. But it does mean that Iran will approach negotiations with the United States in a rational manner grounded in Iranian national security interests. This should not come as a surprise: It is how Iran has approached previous episodes of engagement with the United States — including two years of extremely constructive official talks between the U.S. and Iran over Afghanistan and al Qaeda, following the 9/11 attacks (talks in which I directly participated).

Now that Tehran has asked for an extension of the deadline for its response to a proposal to ship most of Iran’s low enriched uranium out of the country for fabrication into fuel rods, it is important to remember Tehran’s history of pragmatic cooperation and avoid distorting events or overreacting. [continued…]

House panel approves bill to punish Iran

A House committee, seeking to pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, approved a bill Wednesday aimed at punishing Tehran by cutting off its access to gasoline and other refined petroleum products.

The measure, which would give the president powers to take action against foreign companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran, is popular on Capitol Hill, and three-quarters of House members have cosponsored the legislation.

But the measure could undermine Obama administration efforts to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear development program. If talks fail and further sanctions become necessary, administration officials prefer to enact measures supported by many countries, rather than just one. [continued…]

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