Mobile  |  About us  |  Photos  |  Videos  |  Subscriptions  |  RSS Feeds  |  Today's Paper  |  Classifieds  |  Contact Us
The Daily Star
MONDAY, 21 APR 2014
10:09 AM Beirut time
Weather    
Beirut
20 °C
Blom Index
BLOM
1,214.01down
Commentary
Follow this story Print RSS Feed ePaper share this
Defuse the nuclear time bomb in the hope that Iran will change
A+ A-

On Feb. 18, crucial negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program began in Vienna between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1). The alternative to the talks is a further nuclear buildup by Tehran, followed by additional international sanctions and, eventually, another war in the Middle East, which no one believes can resolve the problem.

So, can a comprehensive agreement that respects Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy, while allaying the international community’s fears of weaponization, be achieved?

The interim agreement reached last November in Geneva reflected the West’s de facto acceptance that Iran is entitled to carry out limited low-grade uranium enrichment within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The West released about $7 billion of frozen Iranian funds and relaxed some sanctions (in particular, on crude oil and auto parts), while Iran agreed to a quasi-freeze of its nuclear program. That created the basis for a lasting agreement. But realizing that potential will be difficult.

First and foremost, a mountain of mutual distrust will need to be overcome. The West and Israel do not believe that Iran’s nuclear program is meant to serve merely civilian aims. Otherwise, why would Iran invest billions of dollars in a program that is almost tailor-made for military purposes, including long-distance delivery systems?

The Iranian leadership, for its part, remains convinced that the United States still seeks to bring about regime change. From Iran’s perspective, accepting an American hand extended in a spirit of conciliation could turn it into a fist.

Moreover, any compromise would be fiercely contested within both camps, possibly leading to serious domestic political conflict. And even if both sides’ current leaderships are sincere, will this hold true for their successors?

The absence of trust between Iran and the West leads directly to the second obstacle to a comprehensive agreement: verification and monitoring. The central issue in these negotiations, around which everything else revolves, concerns Iran’s “breakout capability” – the time it would need, within the framework of any agreement with the West, to renege and build a nuclear weapon. How much supervision will be required not just to verify compliance but also to detect any possible attempt at a breakout?

The technical questions are complex, and the proverbial devil really is in the countless details. But prospects for a deal will hinge on resolving three broad issues.

The first two issues reflect the two paths toward the bomb: uranium enrichment and plutonium production. Any workable agreement will require Iran to renounce uranium enrichment above the 5 percent level needed for a civilian nuclear-power program; accept limits on enrichment volumes, the number of centrifuges and technology; agree to forgo reprocessing; and address operations at the heavy-water reactor in Arak. The third issue concerns supervision and monitoring, which for quite some time would probably have to go beyond that agreed in the Additional Protocol to the NPT and include certain military installations.

Indeed, the duration of the agreement will be of vital importance. The West wants it to be implemented for as long as possible, while Iran would prefer a very short timeframe within which to achieve its central objectives: a comprehensive and lasting repeal of international sanctions and recognition as an NPT nonmilitary nuclear power.

That raises another important question: Does U.S. President Barack Obama really have a domestic mandate for negotiating a comprehensive repeal of the sanctions?

Here, we are brought back to the central issue in this process: technical questions, though important, are still only an expression of the underlying political conflicts and animosities. These are the real factors driving the confrontation that the Vienna negotiations are meant to defuse over the next six months. And the current regional and sectarian confrontation in the Middle East affects the nuclear negotiations directly.

All of the relevant players – including those, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, that are not sitting at the table but whose presence is very much felt – are clinging to their initial positions. The U.S. does not want Iran to become a military nuclear power or gain regional predominance; above all, the Americans do not want another Middle East war. Iran, however, wants to become a (nonmilitary?) nuclear power and shape a region in which it is heavily involved militarily (in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq).

Europe shares the U.S. position, but is more flexible. Saudi Arabia wants to stop Iran from becoming an emerging or, worse still, a military nuclear power in the Gulf, and has taken the opposite side in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. Israel opposes Iran’s becoming a military nuclear power – or even a nuclear-threshold state – and is willing to try to prevent this by military means.

To achieve a sustainable compromise that all sides accept (even if with gritted teeth), the negotiations must be accompanied by diplomatic steps aimed at building trust both in the region and beyond. Europe is very well versed in such processes and should put its experience to good use.

Iran must decide whether it wants to follow the North Korean route to international isolation or some variation on the Chinese route to integration into the global economy. It must also understand that its relationship with both Israel and Saudi Arabia will affect the negotiations, either positive or negatively.

And the West – the U.S., Europe, and, more than any other country, Israel – will have to get used to the idea of living with an Iranian civilian nuclear-power program, while limiting Iran’s capacity to become an emerging military nuclear power. As the very different examples of the Soviet Union and China show, the Iranian regime might someday collapse or change fundamentally – probably when hardly anyone expects it. Until then, we must do our best to defuse the nuclear time bomb together.

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005, was a leader of the German Green Party for almost 20 years. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate-Institute for Human Sciences © (www.project-syndicate.org).

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2014, on page 7.
Home Commentary
 
     
 
Iran nuclear program / P5+1 / Negotiations / Iran nuclear talks negotiations program / Iran
Advertisement
Comments  

Your feedback is important to us!

We invite all our readers to share with us their views and comments about this article.

Disclaimer: Comments submitted by third parties on this site are the sole responsibility of the individual(s) whose content is submitted. The Daily Star accepts no responsibility for the content of comment(s), including, without limitation, any error, omission or inaccuracy therein. Please note that your email address will NOT appear on the site.

comments powered by Disqus
Story Summary
On Feb. 18, crucial negotiations over Iran's nuclear program began in Vienna between the Islamic Republic and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1).

The West and Israel do not believe that Iran's nuclear program is meant to serve merely civilian aims.

The central issue in these negotiations, around which everything else revolves, concerns Iran's "breakout capability" – the time it would need, within the framework of any agreement with the West, to renege and build a nuclear weapon.

Israel opposes Iran's becoming a military nuclear power – or even a nuclear-threshold state – and is willing to try to prevent this by military means.

The West – the U.S., Europe, and, more than any other country, Israel – will have to get used to the idea of living with an Iranian civilian nuclear-power program, while limiting Iran's capacity to become an emerging military nuclear power.
Related Articles
Europe will be critical in driving negotiations with Iran
 
 
US warns on Iran "breakout" capability as nuclear talks start
 
 
Rouhani says Iran sanctions will unravel in months
 
 
Iran expects next payment under nuclear agreement
 
 
Official: Iran will not discuss missile program
Show More
More from
Joschka Fischer
Europe must accept that it is now in direct conflict with Moscow
A century later, we still face the consequences of World War I
Obama’s Mideast plans may be historic or catastrophic
In Syria, we may be seeing a repetition of the Balkan tragedy
Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow will have much broader repercussions
Entities
Advertisement


Baabda 2014
Advertisement
Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Follow us on Linked In Follow us on Google+ Subscribe to our Live Feed
Multimedia
Images  
Pictures of the day
A selection of images from around the world- Saturday April 19, 2014
View all view all
Advertisement
Rami G. Khouri
Rami G. Khouri
Why Israeli-Palestinian talks fail
Michael Young
Michael Young
Why confuse gibberish with knowledge?
David Ignatius
David Ignatius
Echoes of 1914 characterize the Ukraine crisis
View all view all
Advertisement
cartoon
 
Click to View Articles
 
 
News
Business
Opinion
Sports
Culture
Technology
Entertainment
Privacy Policy | Anti-Spamming Policy | Disclaimer | Copyright Notice
© 2014 The Daily Star - All Rights Reserved - Designed and Developed By IDS