Sanctions and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Jul 13, 2012

Sanctions and Nuclear Negotiations with Iran

Update from AIJAC

July 13, 2012
Number 07/12 #03

Today’s Update features some new, valuable pieces on various aspects of the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

First up, Michael Makovsky and Blaise Misztal of the Bipartisan Policy Institute, a US thinktank, strongly argue against meeting Iran’s demand in the negotiations that its “right to enrich uranium” should be acknowledged. Looking at the text of the Nuclear Non-Proiliferation Treaty, they document that the treaty grants no such right, and moreover, Iran has violate  the conditions the treaty sets out in order to receive “the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy”. Makovksy and Misztal go on to argue that Iran is using the demand for acknowledgement of the supposed  “right to enrich uranium” because it places its P5+1 interlocutors in a lose-lose situation, and they should challenge this false claim more directly. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Times of Israel exposes alleged Iranian nuclear intentions based on what appear to be the Iranian position papers for its negotiators from the talks in Istanbul last week. The document -whose authenticity is not independently verified –  indicates that rather than being prepared to curtail it uranium enrichment activities, Iran is actually planning to expand them, calling for 4 additional research reactors and new program to sell nuclear fuel to other countries. The document also indicates that Iran is unwilling to consider closing the heavily fortified Fordow nuclear plant, as the international community has been demanding, and  insistent on an unlimited right to enrich uranium to 3.5% – though perhaps some room for flexibility on the 20% enrichment (technically very close level to weapons grade) taking place at Fordow. For this apparent look inside the Iranian negotiating strategy, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Michael Singh of the Washington Institute for Near East Policies argues that hoping that increasingly tight sanctions will soon bring greater Iranian flexibility at the negotiating table is probably a bad bet. He adduces current and historical evidence to suggest that while the sanctions are affecting Teheran’s oil exports and therefore very important regime revenue streams, this affect is more likely to decrease rather than increase over time. He suggests the way forward is to find other ways to target the regime’s vulnerabilities, including stepping up pressure on Teheran’s allies in Damascus, increasing the regime’s isolation and bolstering the credibility of military threats. For his full discussion, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:


Iran Has No ‘Right’ To Enrich Uranium

The U.S. and its allies should make clear what the Nonproliferation Treaty says.


Wall Street Journal
, July 8

As efforts continue to prevent Iran from making nuclear weapons, a central Iranian negotiating demand is acknowledgment of its “right” to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Although spurious, this assertion has gone without a forceful public challenge. By categorically refuting the claim, the United States and its international partners could fortify and clarify their stance against Iran’s nuclear program.

The crux of world concern is Iran’s uranium-enrichment program. Enrichment can produce fuel for electricity-generating nuclear reactors and fissile material for a nuclear weapon. Iran currently produces 3.5% and 20% enriched uranium, claiming that it requires the former for electricity generation and the latter for medical isotopes. While 20% is not yet weapons-grade (which is above 90%), the larger and more highly enriched Iran’s uranium stockpile grows, the faster it can be turned into a nuclear weapon. Each month Iran produces enough 20%-enriched uranium to meet its medical needs for a year (nearly 20 pounds), yet it continues to expand its infrastructure for enriching uranium to this level.

Iran says it is not breaking any rules and has a right to enrich uranium. Earlier this year, its chief negotiator demanded that “any right which is indicated in the Nonproliferation Treaty should be respected.” During the Moscow talks in June with representatives of six world powers, AP quoted an Iranian delegate as saying that, “Our minimum demand . . . is for them to recognize our right to uranium enrichment. If this is not accepted by the other side, then the talks will definitely collapse.”

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) grants no such right. Its Article IV merely states: “[N]othing in this Treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with articles I and II of this Treaty.”

This raises two problems for Iran’s assertion. First, enrichment isn’t specifically enumerated. As the late nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter warned, “the NPT is, after all, a treaty against proliferation, not for nuclear development.” Nothing in the NPT implies a right to possess all, especially potentially military, elements of nuclear technology.

Second, the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy is based on compliance with Article II of the treaty, which requires that any country without nuclear weapons “undertakes . . . not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons.” Further, the country must, under Article III, accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “verification of the fulfillment of its obligations.”

Iran has consistently violated these obligations. It has denied the IAEA unrestricted access to its nuclear facilities and failed to explain mounting evidence, such as suspected explosives testing, of a nuclear-weapons program. In 2005, the IAEA declared that “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement . . . constitute noncompliance,” and referred the matter to the United Nations Security Council. This and subsequent findings formed the legal basis for six Security Council resolutions calling on Iran to “suspend all enrichment-related” activities, and levying sanctions until it does.

Iran considers the Security Council’s actions illegitimate. If the NPT grants a right to enrich, Iran reasons, then “the reference of its nuclear dossier to the U.N. Security Council from the IAEA has been illegal,” according to one Iranian negotiator. And if U.N. attempts to impinge on Iran’s right to enrich are illegal, then so too must be the sanctions imposed for that purpose.

By making this argument, Iran seeks to maintain the rhetorical high ground no matter what happens. If the world accedes to Iran’s terms and allows continued enrichment—even as an interim “confidence-building measure” that some experts support—international powers would cede any legal basis for demanding further concessions or continuing to impose sanctions. Alternatively, if talks fail definitively, as appears likely, Iran can keep claiming to be the illegally and unjustifiably aggrieved party.

Iran’s legal transgressions may not be its gravest crimes against peace. But they should be exposed for what they are: further evidence of Tehran’s unwillingness to stop a nuclear program that violates international law. The Obama administration has rightfully sought to curtail Iran’s dangerous enrichment work. Now the administration should work with international partners to prevent Iranian grandstanding from weakening their stance or skewing public opinion. It’s time to unequivocally refute Iran’s fallacious claim of a right to enrich uranium.

Mr. Makovsky, a former Pentagon official, is director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Foreign Policy Project, of which Mr. Misztal is associate director.

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Iran plans to expand, not suspend, its nuclear program, position paper obtained by Times of Israel says

 By David Horovitz

Times of Israel, July 9, 2012, 3:32 pm 4

Iranian document, whose authenticity cannot be independently verified but accords with other recent reports, sets out Tehran’s ‘need’ for a ‘backup’ enrichment facility and 4 more research reactors

A position paper obtained by The Times of Israel, understood to have been used by Iran’s negotiators at last week’s technical-level talks with the P5+1 powers in Istanbul, makes plain the Tehran regime’s unyielding rejection of international efforts to negotiate safeguards and restrictions that would prevent Iran attaining a nuclear weapons capability.

Far from indicating Iranian readiness for a suspension or scaling back of its nuclear program, indeed, the document, made available by an informed source on condition of anonymity, includes references to Iran’s expansion plans. “Facing constant threats, we need a back up facility to safeguard our enrichment activities,” it states at one point, when discussing the Fordow enrichment facility, the underground complex built beneath a mountain near Qom where Iran carries out its 20% uranium enrichment.

A later point, related to the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), refers to the need “for at least 4 other research reactors because of the territorial extent of Iran and the short lifetime of medical isotopes.” The next clause in the document declares an Iranian ambition “to sell fuel complexes to other countries.”

The position paper, dated July 3, first sets out Iran’s objectives in the diplomatic process — which include obtaining international recognition of what it claims are its rights to enrichment activities, and securing “total termination” of all sanctions against it. It then details Iran’s bitter response to proposals from the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) for a negotiated agreement, notably including rejection of the international demand that it shut down its enrichment facility at Fordow.

The paper includes the statement that “the Islamic Republic of Iran emphasizes… its opposition to nuclear weapons based on the Supreme Leader’s Fatwa against such weapons.” And it features language that could be read as hinting at an Iranian readiness to suspend uranium enrichment to 20% if supplies are made available from abroad, in a clause that states “Iran will cooperate with 5+1 to provide enriched fuel needed for TRR.” But it also demands recognition of Iran’s ostensible right to enrich as much uranium to 3.5% as it wants — a “right” that is disputed by the West.

Written in imperfect English, in language that is clear in some sections and appears deliberately vague in others, the document’s authenticity could not be independently verified. But its content appears to accord with references made by some Western reporters who claim to have been shown certain texts by Iranian officials and by other anonymous sources in the past few days.

The text suggests that gaps between Iran and the P5+1 negotiating teams are extremely wide after three rounds of ministerial level negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, and provides little basis for optimism regarding future rounds of negotiation.

Some of the content is marked by a tone of grievance and outrage at the international community’s demands of Iran. In a section subheaded “Transparency Measures,” for instance, the document protests that “baseless accusations and ambiguities have been raised regarding Iran’s past nuclear activities” and asserts that “Iran is asked to answer such allegations beyond its legal obligations.”

Similarly, in the first paragraph of its response to P5+1 positions, it states: “Some of the propositions in the proposal of 5+1 are incorrect, some are ambiguous, some are in contradiction to international documents and some are not in conformity with the realities.”

Objecting to the P5+1 demand for stopping all activity at Fordow, the document acknowledges that the facility is “being used for 20% enrichment” and other activities, but asserts that “this facility is not a military base and there is no reason to consider it so.” Taking issue with the P5 description of Fordow as “heavily fortified,” it argues that “protection of nuclear facilities is not only permissible but necessary” and cites “the sustained threats against nuclear facilities and enrichment activities.” It also protests the “ongoing threats against nuclear scientists.” Because of those constant threats, it adds, “we need a back up facility to safeguard our enrichment activities.”

Responding to a long list of suggestions from the international negotiators for cooperation with Iran in the operation of the Tehran Research Reactor, in various technical projects and in other areas — presumed carrots from the West designed to encourage progress — the Iranian text is withering and gives a hint at the frustrations P5+1 negotiators may have felt in the negotiating rounds to date.

“First, using general terms such as ‘cooperation,’ ‘support,’ ‘adjustment,’ ‘review’ and ‘recommendation’ in these propositions are in contradiction with the basic goal of the very same proposal ‘which is creating confidence and trust in the first stage,’” the document states. “Second, the above-mentioned suggestions are not compatible with the requests such as “stopping enrichment,” “transferring of materials” and “shutting down the Fordo (sic).”

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By Michael Singh

Washington Post, July 8, 2012

Predictably, last week’s “expert level” talks between Iran and world powers were no more fruitful than previous rounds, leaving little optimism for a negotiated resolution to the nuclear crisis anytime soon. Western policymakers, buoyed by their success in reducing Iran’s oil exports, appear content to give sanctions more time to work, in the hope that once Tehran feels their full effect negotiators will return to the table, more ready to compromise.

The evidence, however, suggests that sanctions’ effect on oil exports will not increase over time.

First, Western policymakers tend to focus more on what Iran has lost than what it has retained or gained. That’s fine for a political debate but bad for making sensible policy. It is true that Iran’s oil exports have declined from 2.5 million barrels per day to 1.5 million. But that reduced level is hardly meager: Iran is still one of the world’s top oil exporters, from which it earns billions in hard currency. And nothing suggests that the drop in earnings has stunted Iran’s nuclear program, which is the target of Western ire. Iran is enriching uranium faster and to higher levels than ever before. If any party appears to feel a need to compromise, it is the “P5 + 1” (the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany). They have dropped demands that Iran fully halt enrichment in favor of requesting that it merely cap enrichment at a low level.

Furthermore, the historical evidence does not suggest that sanctions’ effect on regimes grows over time. Numerous examples — including Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and present-day North Korea — demonstrate that such regimes are resilient and can hold out for a long time in the face of sanctions — and can even adapt to or circumvent them. There is also good reason to believe that states that reluctantly complied with oil sanctions will not make further reductions and may even increase oil imports from Iran as economic activity — and thus oil demand — recovers. Recent data suggest that Chinese oil purchases from Iran have increased despite a dropoff in the first quarter of this year.

So while policymakers may hope that oil sanctions will continue to pay dividends, it is likely that the full effect has already taken hold. If the United States and its allies wait to see which is the case, the result could be a prolonged period of inaction similar to the one that followed the June 2010 passage of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1929 and lasted until Congress and the European Union passed oil sanctions in late 2011. Like any good pugilist, Washington should follow the heavy blow of oil sanctions with further unrelenting pressure.

The most recent sanctions have been so significant because they seized on Iranian dependence on oil-export revenue — one of the regime’s key vulnerabilities. To meaningfully increase the pressure, policymakers should identify and exploit the regime’s other vulnerabilities.

One is Iran’s limited international support. The regime has few true allies. The most important of them is Syria, and bolder international efforts to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad would considerably weaken Tehran’s position, as would greater emphasis on interdicting arms and funding flowing to and from Iran.

Another key Iranian vulnerability is the regime’s growing internal isolation. The West should not be shy about cultivating Iranians outside the narrow circle around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or providing support to dissidents in Iran.

Finally, Washington should bolster the credibility of its military threat. Recent steps to strengthen its force posture in the Persian Gulf are a good start. They should be accompanied by more serious statements about U.S. willingness to employ force and an end to statements exaggerating the downsides of military action. This is likely to garner attention in both Tehran and Beijing. If the alternative is military conflict in the Persian Gulf, China may see further reductions in its Iranian oil imports — which would be the most significant way to strengthen the current sanctions — as prudent.

Western policymakers’ assertions that there is time for sanctions to work are a bit like a marathon runner saying he has plenty of time to finish the race. There may be time, but the latest round of talks’ failure to make progress despite mounting pressure on Iran suggests we also have a long way to go.

Michael Singh is managing director of The Washington Institute.

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