Much has been said about the differing views between the U.S. and Iran on the issue of the right to enrich. The Iranians see it as an inalienable sovereign right that precedes the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. doesn’t recognize such a right and believes states only can engage in enrichment if they are in compliance with all articles of the NPT. Accepting such a right for the U.S. is a non-starter.
On the surface, their differences appear irreconcilable.
But they are not.
Reality is that at the last round of talks in Geneva, the U.S. and Iran did find a formulation that both were content with.
Then the French changed it.
Iranian sources here in Geneva tell me only two words were separating the two sides. So why is this issue so important to Iran and what changes did the French make to the original deal?
The Iranians have already benefited from a major shift in the Western position: The West has accepted that at the end of the negotiations, Tehran will have enrichment on its own soil, but with limitations. U.S. officials make this very clear privately.
But the Iranians insist on language that will make sure that once Iran has restored the confidence of the international community, it will not permanently be treated differently from other NPT states.
Just as Iran must accept certain limitations for a period time as a result of their past violations and the breach in trust, the West must accept that once Iran has restored trust, it must enjoy the same benefits that all other NPT states enjoy. Otherwise, Iran will be a party to the NPT in good standing that has less rights than all other NPT as well as all non-NPT states. Such a scenario will strengthen the voices in Iran who prefer leaving the NPT altogether.
The original draft included the term NPT and gave Tehran confidence that there would be a benefit for them to restore the international community’s confidence. The intervention from France eliminated that language, which caused the Iranians to balk. Tehran was not going to sign an agreement that permanently put Iran in an outcast category — even after they had restored confidence and were in complete compliance with the NPT.
Today, this issue was resolved. Both sides won and the French intervention from the last round will become less than a footnote in history.
The two sides are now one step closer to a deal.
(This article originally appeared in Eurasia Review)