Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Timelines Dominate Iran Nuclear Talks

Establishing Iranian trust of U.S. motives will be key to negotiating timelines for sanctions relief and guidelines for future nuclear enrichment in the country.

Print Friendly

LobeLog

The three key timelines at the center of the negotiations between world powers and Iran over its nuclear program were the subject of a recent panel discussion at the Wilson Center. Jon Wolfsthal of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies spoke about the duration of a hypothetical comprehensive agreement, Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association (ACA) discussed Iran’s “breakout” period, and Robert Litwak of the Wilson Center talked about possible timeframes for sanctions relief.

While there may be flaws in the P5+1’s (US, UK, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) decision to make “breakout” their primary focus, it is that timeline, and specifically its uranium enrichment component, that dominates the negotiations and related policy debates. Uranium enrichment capacity is, according to Kimball, the “key problem” in terms of coming to a final agreement, given that more progress seems to have been made between the two parties on limiting the Arak heavy-water reactor’s plutonium production, and on more intensive inspection and monitoring mechanisms. He also discussed the contours of a deal that would allow Iran to begin operating “next generation” centrifuges, which enrich uranium far more efficiently than the older models currently being operated by the Iranians.

Kimball’s suggestion mirrored a new piece in the ACA’s journal by Princeton scholars Alexander Glaser, Zia Mian, Hossein Mousavian, and Frank von Hippel. They proposed a two-stage process for modernizing Iran’s enrichment technology and eventually finding a stable consensus on the enrichment issue. In the first stage, to last around five years, Iran could begin to replace its aging “first generation” centrifuges with more advanced “second generation” centrifuges so long as Iran’s overall enrichment capacity remains constant, and it would be able to continue research and development on more modern centrifuge designs so long as it permitted inspectors to verify that those more advanced centrifuges were not being installed. That five year period would also allow Iran and the international community time to work out a more permanent uranium enrichment arrangement, which could take the form of a regional, multi-national uranium enrichment consortium similar to Urenco, the European entity that handles enrichment for Britain and Germany.

As the authors note, Iran is one of only three non-nuclear weapon states (Brazil and Japan are the others) that operate their own enrichment programs, so the global trend seems to be moving in the direction of these multi-national enrichment consortiums. It is unclear if Iran would agree to this kind of framework, but this piece was co-authored by Mousavian, who has ties to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, suggesting that it could become acceptable to the Iranian government.

One major hurdle in the talks remains Iran’s desire, as noted by Kimball, to be able to fully fuel its Bushehr reactors with domestic enriched uranium by 2021, the year when its deal with Russia to supply fuel to Bushehr runs out. Fueling the Bushehr reactors alone would require vastly more enrichment capacity than the P5+1 would be able to accept, and Iran has plans for future reactors that it would presumably want to be able to fuel domestically as well. The P5+1 negotiators, and well-known non-proliferation organizations including ACA, argue that Iran can simply renew its fuel supply deal with Russia and thereby reduce its “need” for enriched uranium substantially. But from Iran’s perspective, domestic enrichment is its only completely reliable source of reactor fuel. Indeed, Russia has historically proven willing to renege on nuclear fuel agreements in the name of its own geopolitical prerogatives. Any final deal that relies on outside suppliers to reduce Iran’s enriched uranium requirements will have to account for Iranian concerns about whether or not those outside suppliers can be trusted. It’s possible that the kind of enrichment consortium described in the ACA piece will satisfy those concerns.

The other timelines in question, the overall duration of a deal and the phasing out of sanctions, spin off of the more fundamental debate over enrichment capacity, and both revolve around issues of trust. Wolfsthal argued that the P5+1 may require a deal that will last at least until Rouhani is out of office, in order to guard against any change in nuclear posture under the next presidential administration. In his discussion of sanctions relief, Litwak pointed to an even more fundamental question of trust: is Iran willing to believe (and, it should be added, can Iran believe) that the United States is prepared to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic and to stop making regime change the paramount goal of its Iran policy? If the answer is “yes,” then Iran may be willing to accept a more gradual, staged removal of sanctions in exchange for specific nuclear goals, which the P5+1 favors. If the answer is “no,” then Iran is likely to demand immediate sanctions relief at levels that may be too much, and too quick for the P5+1 to accept.

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. 

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share