Washington D.C. – According to arms control and Iran experts at a briefing at the Carnegie Center on Thursday, the US must exercise “patient persistence” and embolden its diplomatic engagement with Iran. “The time is right for talks,” said Greg Thielmann, a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association (ACA). Thielmann joined a panel of experts for “Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle: Pathways toward a Diplomatic Solution,” this past Thursday, on the eve the latest round of multilateral talks between Iran and the P5+1 states.
The other members of the panel included Barry Blechman, a co-founder of the Stimson center and an expert on nuclear disarmament, as well as Charles Ferguson, the president of the Federation of American Scientists. Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the ACA, moderated the discussion. Both the Arms Control Association and Blechman signed onto a recent statement calling for the Obama Administration to invest in “reinvigorated diplomacy” with Iran.
Blechman and Thielmann each warned that threats of military action only make a diplomatic solution more difficult and empower hardliners in Iran. But, Thielmann suggested, recent “reports of technical problems in Iran’s nuclear program and more realistic assessments of Iran’s missile capabilities have muffled the beating of the war drums in the US Congress and in Israel.”
Each participant stated that Iran’s nuclear program suffered significant setbacks due to sabotage efforts and sanctions against the program. But, they emphasized that sanctions were not a solution.
“Sanctions are a means, not an end,” said Blechman. He argued that, while the United States and its allies should ensure the costs of pursuing a nuclear weapon are prohibitively high, resolving the nuclear issue will require effective diplomacy that offers clearly articulated benefits to Iran. An agreement on a monitoring and inspections regime can ensure Iran’s program is only for peaceful purposes. Blechman also noted that the United States stands to benefit from mutual cooperation with Iran in their efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and fight the growing drug trade.
Nuclear nonproliferation expert Charles Ferguson outlined the types of safeguards that could be put in place to provide confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is for non-weapons purposes. The measures included safeguards included in the Additional Protocol, which Iran has not yet formally ratified, as well as safeguards beyond that protocol. He evaluated each step based on cost, the degree of confidence they would provide that Iran’s efforts were peaceful, and their precedent under the Nonproliferation Treaty regime.
This briefing comes just weeks after the former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, estimated that Iran would not be able to attain nuclear weapons before 2015. The pronouncement has reinforced the view that the Obama Administration has sufficient time to invest in a diplomatic resolution to the matter. However, Thielmann warned that relying solely on sabotage or other interim setback measures can only prolong, rather than resolve, the nuclear issue.