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Whither Nuclear Talks with Iran?

The necessary elements of a nuclear deal between the West and Iran have long been clear: submission to inspections by Iran, and an easing of sanctions and recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium by the West.

Inter Press Service

On a purely rational view, it is hard not to be optimistic about the upcoming talks with Iran in Geneva (Nov. 7-8), and about what might follow.

On the Iranian side, the negotiations are now under the direction of a very accomplished diplomat who reports to a President who wants to resolve the nuclear dispute once and for all — and the President reports to a Supreme Leader who has authorised a degree of flexibility to secure an agreement. Both President and Leader recognise that Iran has much more to gain by respecting its nuclear non-proliferation obligations than by violating them.

On the Western side, there is a feeling that Iran’s new President has done such a good job of helping Western voters think that he is a decent, moderate and reasonable man, that Western leaders can afford, politically, to be seen to be doing business with him.

The main components of a deal have long been so obvious that negotiators can get down to brass tacks, as people say in the North of England, without much ado.

Iran must allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to locations, documents and individual scientists and technicians that goes beyond what is required according to conventional interpretations of Iran’s NPT safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

Iran must volunteer limitations on its stocks of low enriched uranium and its enrichment capacity to signal that it has no interest in producing, undetected or uninterrupted, enough highly enriched uranium for at least one nuclear weapon.

And Iran must propose ways of reducing, if not eliminating, the theoretical risk that a new reactor under construction at Arak could be used to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons.

In return the West must reassure Iran that, in wanting the IAEA to shine a light on nuclear weapons research done during the years when Iran had reason to fear Saddam Hussein’s nuclear ambitions, the West is not looking for grounds to impose still more hardship on the Iranian people.

The West must also find a way of protecting from assassination any Iranian researchers whom Iran allows the IAEA to interview. The sad fact is that the IAEA secretariat is so penetrated by certain intelligence services that the risk of at least one unscrupulous state using IAEA data to commission the murder of Iranian researchers cannot be dismissed as fanciful.

The West must also come off the fence and leave Iran in no doubt that at the end of an agreed process it will lift all objection to Iran enjoying the same NPT rights as other NPT parties.

Finally, the West must abandon its reluctance to ease sanctions in reciprocation for the steps wanted of Iran by the West.

For too long Western thinking on sanctions has been flawed by the fallacy that without the pressure of sanctions, Iran will fail to implement whatever voluntary commitments it may offer and will not comply with its non-proliferation obligations. This fallacy stems from an assumption that Iran has no interest in demonstrating that its nuclear intentions are peaceful and in complying with its treaty obligations. In reality, the opposite is true: Iran has a strong interest in signalling that its nuclear program is not a threat to other states, in allaying proliferation concerns expressed by the UN Security Council and in being NPT-compliant. So, Iran does not need to be pressured into honouring its commitments.

The West should also recall that it justified the imposition of the unilateral EU sanctions that have done the greatest damage to the Iranian economy by claiming that these were needed to pressure Iran into engaging, and into doing what the Security Council had demanded. Iran is now engaging; if Iran also offers the desired confidence-building, then logically a commensurate suspension of EU sanctions should follow.

A failure to recognise these two points, and an avaricious hoarding of oil and banking-related sanctions to some undefined point in a distant future, will lead inexorably to the collapse of the talks and to the loss of the best opportunity to end this dispute in a long time.

That is not in the West’s strategic, economic, commercial or humanitarian interests.

So there is much at stake as in Western capitals, in the coming weeks, the battle between reason and politics intensifies. Reason must triumph!

Inter Press Service contributor Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years.

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