Negotiating with Iran: Meeting the Necessary Requirements
October 1, 2013
Those who oppose U.S. and Iranian negotiations need to realize that this is almost certainly the last chance for a real solution before Iran moves to the point of no return both politically and in terms of nuclear capability. Iranian politics virtually ensure that if this President’s first attempt to negotiate fails, there will not be a second. They also virtually ensure Iran’s Supreme Leader will not show the same tentative flexibility.
It is the last chance before Israel must choose between preventive attacks and upgrading its nuclear strike capability to ensure it can achieve decisive nuclear superiority or at least mutually assured destruction. It is the last chance for the United States to choose between far larger preventive strikes and a far stronger form of containment, making good on Secretary Clinton’s offer of “extended deterrence.” It is the last chance between the Arab Gulf states not only to work with the United States to ensure containment but to consider their own nuclear options.
Anyone who opposes such talks or negotiations needs to consider both the timing and the consequences of not pursuing this last option. The alternatives are either a war of preventive strikes that may prove all too difficult to control, or a nuclear arms race in the Gulf that is almost certain to go far beyond a limited Iranian breakout capability. At the same time, there is no more room for good intentions, open-ended negotiations, and letting rhetoric take the place of reality.
The First Requirement: Dealing with Our Allies and the World
The first requirement has nothing to do with Iran. The initial U.S. steps in talking to Iran have fueled virtually every fear and conspiracy theory in the region at a time when U.S. credibility had been severely weakened by the way the United States has dealt with Egypt, Syria, and Bahrain.
It also has all too clearly reopened all of the Israeli concerns over U.S. actions, and potentially created a climate that could undermine European, Russian, Chinese, and UN support for a strong stand on sanctions and efforts to put pressure on Iran long before it takes real steps to limit its nuclear programs.
The United States needs to act immediately to restore trust in the region. It needs to make it clear to Israel, the Arab states, and Turkey that the United States is not letting hope triumph over experience, turning away from its security partnerships in the region, or making some kind of strange devil’s bargain to replace its current allies with Iran.
The United States needs to make it absolutely clear to everyone – including Iran – that it will only ease its own sanctions if progress is real and that it will work closely with the 5+1, EU, and regional states and demand that they be equally realistic.
The need to make it clear that its military options are still being kept active and the threat of preventive strikes continues. It must make it clear that it will continue to work with regional powers to improve their capability to contain every aspect of Iran’s military forces and that if Iran does not act it will faces both the silent threat of steadily improving Israeli nuclear strike capability and a United States willing to make good on guarantees of extended deterrence; actions that will confront Iran with the reality that any Iranian nuclear program will face far more severe retaliatory capability regardless of whether preventive strikes take place or are effective.
The Need for Carefully Phased Incentives Tied to Clearly Defined Iranian Actions
At the same time, the United States needs to make it clear to Iran that there will be major incentives as well. The United States should not seek to “win” the negotiations, but rather to create a structure of negotiations where Iran sees the United States and its allies give it a matching incentive for every action it takes, and that the nuclear negotiations can be the prelude to a much broader pattern of security.
The United States will have to make it clear that it will continue to seek Iranian reform, but not regime change. It must make it clear to Iran that its military presence in the region will guarantee the security of its allies, but not pose a threat to an Iran that seeks stable and friendly relations with its neighbors.
The United States will need to define what level of Iranian enrichment activity it can accept and set real world conditions that Iran can live with. At the same time, the United States is going to have to work with the 5+1 and UN to negotiate a verifiable schedule for Iranian actions that achieve real results. It is going to need to build EU, 5+1, and UN support for a program that is based on reality and not hope or good intentions.
Changes to Iran’s Nuclear Programs
Iran will have to give up the most provocative short-term aspects of its nuclear program, and make it clear it will not use nuclear technology to create a far more advance breakout capability in the future.
Short Term Goals
This does not have to mean a total end to Iran’s enrichment activities – or nuclear power programs regardless of their dubious safety and cost-effectiveness – but it does mean at least some mix of the following Iranian actions:
- Closing Fordow under international inspection so there is no active Iranian nuclear site whose sole purpose is to provide enrichment that can ride out any mix of preventive strikes.
- Either dismantling or making major changes in the 40 megawatt heavy water reactor Iran is building at Arak so it cannot be used to produce weapons grade Plutonium, demonstrating it is not creating any hot cell facilities for Plutonium production, and demonstrating there is no Plutonium production related technology at the heavy water production facility at Khondab.
- Full UN inspection of the reactor at Bushehr and arrangements for specially tailored inspection of the fuel cycle to ensure no material is used for weapons design.
- Similar International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspection of all activity at Natanz under an agreement to limit its output and level of enrichment to a verified nuclear power plant demand cycle.
- Clearly verified storage and handling of all existing enriched material, limits to all production to match the demand of existing power reactors, and disposal of all stocks of 20% enriched material.
- Immediate IAEA access to challenge inspections of declared and suspect facilities and activities.
- Detailed quarterly UN/IAEA progress reports.
Longer Term Goals
Arms control experts rightly focus on Iran’s progress in creating its first nuclear device. This, however, is only the beginning. Iran must make it clear it will not continue to move forward in dual use technology and does not have covert programs that are far easier to conceal and can still advance its way towards nuclear weapons.
This will be far more difficult than it sounds. Iran can always find a reason to seek dual-use technology and imports that it can use for a weapons program. There are many areas of research that it can support as civil programs where being sure they have no impact on weapons design capability is difficult or nearly impossible. Missile and bomb programs can test non-fissile uranium weapons designs. Every advance in centrifuge design – in terms of efficiency, power requirements, or reducing the requirements for imports of material and technology –gives Iran the ability to produce new disperse nuclear production sites and another kind of break out capability.
There are no perfect ways to avoid these risks but some key steps are:
- Either halting centrifuge development or creating a mixture of declared Iranian plans and inspection efforts that clearly show centrifuge development and production is limited to activities where every aspect of Iranian activity is declared and subject to inspection.
- A broadly based Iranian declaration of nuclear research activity subject to IAEA review and challenge inspection.
- Full Iranian disclosure of the activity at the now destroyed facility at Parchin, and controls on any research and development that would carry explosive tests that could simulate a non-weapons grade test of a weapons design, including challenge inspection of weapons sites and reported explosions.
- Iranian willingness to provide enough telemetry and other data on missile warhead tests to show they were conventional and not simulated nuclear warhead tests.
These are areas where the U.S. nuclear labs need to be involved with the expertise of real weapons designers rather than relying on arms control experts and design data and concepts that were declassified for arms control planning in the past.
Incentives to Iran
Iran should get compensation. This could include a return to the cheap fuel, processing, and Russian offers of the past. It could also include collative nuclear research and development in areas clearly unrelated to nuclear weapons that would give Iran a serious role in nuclear research and the access to technology and prestige that a truly peaceful program can offer.
While any effort involving Israel would require years of effort to show Iran had ceased to be a potential threat, creating a broad Middle East inspection and control effort where other regional Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) states made it clear that they would accept many of the same constraints and IAEA inspection efforts as Iran would give Iran guarantees against any local power acquiring nuclear weapons.
In the real world, Iran could benefit further in two ways. First, this would remove any Israeli incentive to increase its nuclear strike capabilities against Iran, plans for preventive strikes or launch on warning, and efforts to single out Iran as a threat.
Second, it would allow Iran to quietly move away from the problem it created by singling out Israel as a threat or target of Iranian action – activities which stemmed at least as much from Iranian efforts to cover up its real intentions in acquiring leverage over its Arab neighbors and the ability to deter the United States from any military action against Iran – as any real concern with Israel.
The United States could also make it clear that it would not offer its regional allies any form of extended deterrence if Iran put an end to its weapons –related activities.
Moving Towards Regional Security
Finally, if progress can be made on the nuclear issue, the United States and Iran should expand their dialogue to determine the steps to that would allow them to create a climate of mutual trust that would ease the other divisions between them – and between Iran and most of the other states in the region. These issues include the build up of Iran’s asymmetric forces in the Gulf; Iran’s role in Iraq’ Syria, and Lebanon; and the role Iran’s Al Quds Force and other elements of Iran’s security forces play in threatening or destabilizing other regional states.
The United States – and especially Israel – needs to remember that any U.S. negotiations and rapprochement with Iran involves far more than any future nuclear threat to Israel. It must tie the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programs to easing the overall tensions and risks that exist because of the confrontation between Iran and the United States and its Arab allies. These efforts also require transparency.
A negotiation that the Arab states, Turkey, or Afghanistan see as a threat is not going to bring stability and security to the other countries in the region, will further undercut eroding confidence in the United States as a security partner, and do nothing to ease the confrontations in the region that threaten the flow of world oil exports and the growing confrontation between Sunni and Shi’ite.
In contrast, any negotiations that ease tensions in the Gulf and the region reduce the tensions between Iran and moderate Sunni regimes, that allow all states to cooperate in reducing the threat of religious hatred and extremism, and free resources to aid civil development serve the common interest.
Any such efforts must probably follow successful nuclear negotiations and require a far more open and realistic dialogue between Iran and its neighbors – as well as with the United States over its presence in the region. They also may well take at least half a decade of cautious effort before major progress can occur. The fact remains, however, that the threat of extremism, tensions between states and problems in development are ultimately at least as threatening to both Iran and its neighbors as the present confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programs.
Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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