May 25, 2012
Number 05/12 #06
As readers may be aware, the long-anticipated P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran in Baghdad ended overnight without a breakthrough. Indeed, little seems to have been achieved except for an agreement to meet again in Moscow on June 17.
As discussed in this Update’s first piece, from the New York Times, an offer was apparently made to the Iranians by the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and rejected. The P5+1 offers seems to have focussed mainly on getting Iran to, at a minimum, stop uranium enrichment to 20% (which is, technically, only a short distance from bomb grade) and agree to remove its stock of 20% enriched uranium from the country to be processed into reactor fuel, in exchange for a limited lifting of some sanctions and other cooperation. The Iranians, for their part, demanded sanctions be substiantally lifted and Iran’s “right to enrich” be recognised. The report also makes it clear that even the agreement to meet again was touch and go – for all the details, CLICK HERE.
Next up is some critical comment on what is known about the talks from Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. Rubin cites criticism for where things are headed from both sides of the political aisle in Washington, and discusses whether the additional sanctions being considered by the US Congress will now move forward, and whether they have time to have any effect. She also notes that the “the Israelis have every reason to consider the ‘just one more meeting’ outcome a failure and proceed with necessary unilateral action.” For all her comments, CLICK HERE. Speaking of Israeli views of the negotiations, journalist Genovieve Abdo, just back from Israel, reviews in CNN her meetings with Israeli officials and experts and agrees that they appear to have lost faith that the negotiating process is leading anywhere. Plus an important piece on the role and views of the military in the debate regarding what to do about Iran in Israel.
Finally, this Update features a piece, written before the talks by three major US Congressional leaders, offering a warning about precisely the sort of outcome which has seemed to occur – one where “success is defined less by the outcome of negotiations than by their mere perpetuation.” Senators McCain, Graham and Lieberman set out what an agreement with Iran should achieve – including IAEA cooperation, signing of the optional inspection protocol and above all, verifiable suspension of all uranium enrichment as demanded by UN Security Resolutions. In the absence of this, they warn against being drawn into extended negotiations with the Iranians demanding confidence-building measures without offering any concrete, as opposed to verbal, concessions, in return. For their complete argument, CLICK HERE. Some more critical comments on where the negotiating process appears to be heading from Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz; Jamie Fly and Matthew Kroenig ; and noted academic Amitai Etzioni.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Reports that, in the lead up to the Baghdad talks, Iran apparently attempted to pre-empt efforts to remove from the country their 20% enriched uranium by loading some of it into a research reactor. And new reports Iran is now preparing to boost further its centrifuge numbers.
- A detailed report from the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs on the extensive history of calls by Iranian leaders for Israel’s destruction. More on what Iran’s leader says they want from leading American commentator Clifford May.
- Veteran Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler and noted historian Prof. Benny Morris both comment on the problems with the “Naqba” narrative Palestinians frequently put forward. A review of the relevant history from 1948 comes from American commentator Robert Werdine, writing in the Times of Israel.
- Some examples from the many stories and comments now appearing at AIJAC’s daily “Fresh AIR” blog:
- A post on Israel’s response to the ugly riots over unauthorised African immigrants in south Tel Aviv yesterday.
- New, concerning details about the controversial “Naqba day” rally in Sydney last week.
- A post on worrying, conspiratorial and anti-democratic trends in Turkey.
- A post on why the latest claim of a Fatah-Hamas unity deal suggests a broken record.
- Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz on misconceptions in the debate about Palestinian prisoners.
By STEVEN ERLANGER and RICK GLADSTONE
New York Times, May 24, 2012
The six wanted a freeze on Iranian production of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, which is considered a short step from bomb grade. The Iranians wanted an easing of the onerous economic sanctions imposed by the West and recognition of what they call their right to enrich.
But the sides sought to frame the two days of difficult negotiations in a positive way, asserting that they had greater understanding of each other’s positions and agreeing to reconvene in Moscow on June 18 and 19. That will be the third such meeting since the talks resumed in Istanbul in April after a 15-month lapse, and could be the last before July 1, when tougher American and European penalties take effect on Iran’s banking system and its oil industry, the country’s economic lifeline.
The agreement on both a site and a date for the next meeting came only at the end of the two days of talks, after a final news conference had been postponed twice for more negotiations.
“What we have now is some common ground, and a meeting in place where we can take that further forward,” said Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator for the six powers: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Still, she told reporters at the news conference in Baghdad, “significant differences remain” after what she called two days of “very intense and detailed discussions,” and she emphasized that time was short.
The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran’s National Security Council and the personal representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, described the talks as positive. But he suggested in his remarks to reporters that the main obstacle was the other side’s refusal to accept Iran’s claimed right to enrich its own nuclear fuel, which it has continued to do despite four Security Council resolutions demanding a suspension.
“This is our right, and it is clearly irrefutable,” Mr. Jalili said. If the six powers accept such a right, he said, “we will, of course, welcome some offer to cooperate on.”
The six counter that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty has no explicit “right to enrich,” only the right to a civilian nuclear program under strict supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that Iran has been out of compliance.
Part of Iran’s proposal, never put into writing, centered on the demand that the global powers recognize its right to enrich, “something we are obviously not willing to do,” a senior American official said after the talks.
The proposal of the six centered on getting Iran to suspend enrichment to 20 percent, to export its current and continuing stock of 20 percent enriched uranium and to open up its once-secret Fordo enrichment plant to international inspection. But Iran did not consider the benefits offered for doing so to be sufficient.
There had been hopes in Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia that these talks would produce at least a suspension of that enrichment, but the American official and European negotiators said that they did not expect to get a suspension at the Baghdad talks. Still, the failure to do much more than agree to another set of talks is likely to be criticized by Republicans and by pro-Israeli lobbying groups and legislators in the United States.
The goal of the six powers — that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment as the Security Council has demanded — remained the same at the Baghdad talks. Five of the six are the permanent members of the Security Council.
A senior American official said the six had never expected to reach an agreement with Iran at this stage and that the measures coming into force on July 1, notably a European embargo on Iranian oil, would “increase the leverage on this negotiation as we move forward. Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran.”
During the Baghdad talks, the six powers exchanged detailed proposals with the Iranian side, which presented what Iranian news reports described as a five-point plan containing both nuclear and nonnuclear elements, including nuclear safety and cooperation, regional issues, and the “right to enrich.” Mr. Jalili said the proposal included cooperation battling drug traffickers and Somali piracy off the Horn of Africa.
But much of the conversation dealt with the issue of highly enriched uranium, considered the most important issue, because it brings Iran closer to being able to construct a nuclear weapon if it wishes. This Iran denies intending to do, citing Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement that nuclear weapons are “haram,” or forbidden by Islam. Iran says it is stockpiling 20 percent enriched uranium for use in medical reactors and has disputed Western assertions that the supply far exceeds what the Iranians need.
Several accounts in Iran’s state-controlled media compared the positions taken by Tehran’s interlocutors in Baghdad to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which considers Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat.
In return for early Iranian steps to freeze 20 percent, the six offered benefits like spare parts for civilian aircraft, help with nuclear safety at civilian installations, and perhaps a pledge that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program so long as it resolves doubts about its intentions through serious, detailed, technical negotiations with the six and through openness with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The six also offered a new version of a fuel-exchange program, to take Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium and return it as processed fuel for medical reactors.
Iran experts said it was premature to judge the outcome of the Baghdad round.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council in Washington, a strong proponent of negotiations, said it was not surprising that both sides went into the talks with hard bargaining positions. But, he said, “I think the Iranians are going to have to accept that the full scope of sanctions they want lifted are not going to be done. At the same time, I have a hard time believing this will be kept alive, with significant steps by Iran and no reciprocal concessions by the six powers.”
Aaron Miller, a former senior State Department official, called the talks “a management exercise driven by Iran’s vulnerability and need for sanctions relief and the West’s fear of war.” He said that it would be hard nonetheless to find a sustainable deal. “The West can’t give enough on sanctions and Iran won’t concede enough on the nuclear side,” he said.
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By Jennifer Rubin
Washington Post Online “Right Turn”, Posted at 04:30 PM ET, 05/24/2012
The Post reports: “Two days of talks between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program concluded late Thursday with an agreement to meet again in Moscow next month. There was no sign that any of the many differences over how to address world concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions had been bridged. But, according to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, it was a sign of progress that Iran had agreed to attend further talks.”
This is an utter farce. Iran is simply getting cover month by month to proceed with its weapons program. It is long past the point at which we should have declared both sanctions and the current round of negotiations a failure.
Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams tells me: “From press reports, it seems the Iranians are playing a game of chicken in the hope and expectation that the P5+1 will not allow the talks to collapse and will make concessions to avoid that happening. I hope that’s wrong, for we are playing from a position of strength. They have to know we will walk away from the table if need be. We should make demands and stick to them or this will degenerate into an endless ‘Iran process’ that drags on while their nuclear program progresses.”
Clear-headed Democrats are also fed up. Long-time pro-Israel Democrat and former AIPAC spokesman Josh Block e-mails me: “For over 10 years now Iran has been blatantly lying and covering up their pursuit of nuclear weapons capability. Five UNSC resolutions demand full suspension of enrichment activity and complete transparency, and Iran’s response has been to thumb their nose and flip the world the bird. Judging by the reports coming from Baghdad, Iran has no interest in ending their illicit nuclear activity, much of which is on military bases and in secret undeclared facilities.”
Block contends that all peaceful means of stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program are virtually exhausted. “As the Obama Administration has said there is a very narrow window for Iran to come clean, relinquish its enriched stockpiles, and comply with the demands of the international community. If they continue to stonewall and delay and blame the west, they can expect more crippling sanctions, and an increased likelihood of non-diplomatic means to retard their ability to achieve their nuclear ambitions.”
Even those who usually support keeping negotiations alive see what is happening, according to The Post article:
“The West can’t give enough on sanctions, and Iran won’t concede enough on the nuclear side — at least not yet,” said Aaron David Miller, a former senior adviser to the State Department on Middle East issues. In the meantime, he said, the talks are being kept alive as a “management exercise driven by Iran’s vulnerability and need for sanctions relief and the West’s fear of war.”
Precisely. President Obama has no stomach for a military option, and the Iranians know it. So why give any ground?
What comes next? Certainly, the Israelis have every reason to consider the “just one more meeting” outcome a failure and proceed with necessary unilateral action.
Meanwhile, Obama is likely to receive pushback on Capitol Hill. A senior aide involved in sanctions issues says lawmakers concerned about Iran’s uninterrupted progress toward nuclear weaponization are “dumbfounded” by the idea that the only outcome is another meeting to discuss further “progress,” which in all likelihood will require another meeting. Obama, the aide says, has presented his congressional allies with “nothing deliverable” with which to defend the administration’s approach.
Presumably, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will be under pressure to move ahead promptly with the conference committee on the Iran sanctions bill that has passed the House and Senate. But will that be sufficient?
Frankly, the time it will take to pass the new oil sanctions, implement them, evaluate their impact and see if that changes the Iranian regime’s calculus may very well take us into the “zone of immunity,” the point at which Israel’s military can no longer successfully disable Iran’s far-flung nuclear weapons sites.
Isn’t it time to stop the charade, call the administration’s approach what it is — a failure — and put the question squarely to the administration: Is it prepared now to use all options to stop Iran’s nuclear program or are we imply slow-walking toward acceptance and “containment” of a nuclear-armed Iran?
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Beware ‘confidence-building’ measures that never force Tehran to verifiably abandon its pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability.
By LINDSEY GRAHAM, JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN AND JOHN MCCAIN
May 22, 2012
As negotiations resume Wednesday in Baghdad between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (the “P5+1”), there are growing hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. This sense of optimism has been buoyed by the hopeful statements of the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) after his visit to Tehran this week.
We want to be hopeful, too. A negotiated settlement that verifiably ends Iran’s illicit nuclear activities and prevents Iran from possessing the capability to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly is desirable and possible. But we must not allow these talks to become a movie we’ve seen before, in which success is defined less by the outcome of negotiations than by their mere perpetuation.
The Iranian regime’s long record of deceit and defiance should make us extremely cautious about its willingness to engage in good-faith diplomacy. And its nuclear pursuit cannot be divorced from its other destabilizing actions—support for violent extremist groups such as Hezbollah and the Taliban, threats against Arab governments and Israel, attempts to assassinate foreign diplomats, and lethal assistance to the Assad regime in Syria.
In fact, Iran’s new-found interest in negotiating is almost certainly a result of the strong pressure that the regime now faces from economic sanctions. Most important of all have been U.S. and European Union efforts to obstruct Iran’s ability to derive revenue from international oil sales—a campaign whose full brunt won’t be felt until later this summer.
Based on its past behavior, we should expect Iran’s government to use the talks to buy time, undermine international unity, and relieve the mounting economic pressure it faces. The U.S., in turn, must work with our partners to make clear that there will be no diminution of pressure until the totality of Iran’s illicit nuclear activities has been addressed.
That will require much more than shuttering the underground enrichment facility at Fordow, removing from Iranian territory all uranium enriched to 20%, and suspending further enrichment at that level—the three steps that reports suggest the P5+1 negotiators will emphasize in Baghdad.
Remember that Iran had no uranium enriched to 20% until two years ago, nor was the Fordow site operational before then. Focusing only on these recent manifestations of Iran’s nuclear program, without also addressing older and broader enrichment and proliferation-sensitive activities, would effectively reward the Iranians for their escalation and allow them to move back the goal posts.
Rather, the U.S. must make clear that international pressure will continue to build on Iran until it takes the concrete steps that will address the entirety of the threat, with a swift timetable for implementation. These must include:
• Full Iranian cooperation with the IAEA—not just promises to cooperate, but tangible action to resolve all outstanding questions about Iran’s illicit nuclear activities.
• A new agreement to intrusive inspections based on the Additional Protocol under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ensure the Iranians aren’t lying or cheating about the full scope of their program, as they have in the past.
• Full Iranian compliance with all resolutions of the U.N. Security Council, including its repeated demand for full, verifiable and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related, reprocessing and heavy-water activities.
Given the Iranian regime’s long-standing pattern of deceptive and illicit conduct, we believe it cannot be trusted to maintain enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future—at least until the international community has been fully convinced that Iran has decided to abandon any nuclear-weapons ambitions. We are very far from that point.
Similarly, and just as importantly, Iran must not be permitted to possess sufficient fissile material for a nuclear weapon, or centrifuges in sufficient quantity or sophistication that would allow it to “break out” and build a nuclear weapon swiftly and covertly.
A diplomatic solution with Iran is possible if the Iranian regime genuinely wants one. But to achieve this outcome, we must not allow the Iranians to draw us into an extended negotiation with a continuing series of confidence-building measures that never ultimately force Tehran to verifiably abandon its pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability. We’ve been sold that horse many times before, most notably in the failed efforts over two decades to end the North Korean nuclear program.
Our best hope for avoiding conflict is to leave no doubt that the window for diplomacy is closing. In the absence of a negotiated solution that addresses the totality of Iran’s nuclear program, and soon, we must take the steps that President Obama laid out in February, when he said: “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.” The U.S. must be prepared, if necessary, to use military force to stop Iran from getting a nuclear-weapons capability.
The meetings in Baghdad could be one of our best and last chances to peacefully resolve the Iranian regime’s pursuit of a nuclear-weapons capability. But this opportunity will be lost if we allow Iran’s negotiators to fool us into easing the pressure before the Tehran regime has truly abandoned its military nuclear ambitions.
Messrs. Graham and McCain are Republican senators from South Carolina and Arizona, respectively. Mr. Lieberman is an Independent Democratic senator from Connecticut.