Washington DC – With a new round of nuclear negotiations scheduled for June 18 in Moscow, top former and current U.S., Iranian, and European officials convened at an Arms Control Association panel to discuss the diplomatic process to resolve the Iranian nuclear standoff.
Ambassador Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear envoy now sitting at Princeton University, explained, “the Iranians want to see the endgame and that’s why a broad package to be implemented by a step by step plan is extremely important.” He added, “for Moscow, a zero 20 percent stockpile initiative would be the best achievement for both parties.” He warned that a Permanent Five UN Security Council Members plus Germany (P5+1) effort to seek permanent suspension of Iran’s 20 percent enrichment is “not a sustainable solution — maybe for a short time – because Iran would never accept to be discriminated as a member of the NPT [Non Proliferation Treaty].”
Mousavian advocated that a joint committee be established between Iran and the P5+1 “to determine the percentage of uranium Iran needs domestically to convert into fuel rods [and that] the rest could be either exported or converted to 3.5 percent”. A zero 20 percent stockpile initiative, he said, would allow Iran to enrich at 20 percent for civilian needs, but require additional stockpiles beyond what is immediately converted into fuel to be shipped out. “Iran would accept zero [20 percent] stockpile; forever,” he said, and this represents “the best objective guarantee for non-diversion”.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering, commended the “stage by stage” diplomatic process that he said the parties had agreed to and which are aimed at “resolution of the problem based on the notion that there would be balance and reciprocity in each stage.”
“My sense is that the next stage ought to be within the P5+1, an effort to get an agreement around the TRR in some cessation of 20 percent,” Pickering said. Such a deal could be “slightly enhanced by some willingness not to institute some of the sanctions that have been approved, some of which may be small but not insignificant,” such as sanctions on insuring petroleum cargos from Iran.
Tara Cronberg, the Chair of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Iran, assessed the difficulty in leveraging sanctions, explaining “since, in the US, it the Congress that is legislating on the sanctions, it will require more time and it will be more difficult to relax any sanctions.” However, she said that “in the European Union, it is the European Council and the different foreign ministers that can decide on this issue,” which provides greater flexibility.
The panel agreed that the long-term goal to resolve the nuclear issue must focus on achieving transparency and verification of Iran’s nuclear program instead of a total cessation of Iranian enrichment. “The essential trade off would be some permitted enrichment in return for much better transparency about the Iranian program,” said Pickering. Mousavian indicated Iran was willing to accept such a deal, stating “if Iran accepts to address the PMD (possible military dimension), it means that Iran would have to accept the Additional Protocol and would have to give access to the IAEA beyond the Additional Protocol.” But, he cautioned, if Iran were ready to sign such an agreement “then the P5+1 should be ready to do something for at least the upcoming sanctions [due on] July 1 on Iran’s Central Bank and the EU oil embargo”.
Indeed, the panel agreed there needs to be more robust engagmeent and bilateral talks between the United States and Iran need in order to overcome the mistrust caused by 32 years of lack of communication. Cronberg advocated that “the EU should design a long term strategy which implies cautious engagement rather than containment of Iran”. She added “as a first step in this long term engagement, there is this proposal by the European Parliament to establish a presence in Iran in the form of a permanent delegation.”
Pickering argued that a direct channel needed to be established between the U.S. and Iran, which he said Iran had been obstructing. Such a channel would enable the parties to “talk about an endgame in which weapons were prohibited in accordance with the fatwa in a binding international relationship with no uncertainty about the NPT.”
A final deal would include greater transparency for nuclear inspectors and a “set of relationships in which we accepted Iranian right to enrich for civil purposes and perhaps sequestration of excess material that the Iranians have produced until they’re ready to use it.” It would also involve “a gradual but significant removal of the nuclear sanctions as this process proceeds and some serious effort to deal with the problem that has now arisen that there are sanctions on things other than nuclear, which very much also impact Iran.” Pickering explained, those sanctions are “there for purposes that people consider legitimate and right, including human rights issues, but somehow need to be factored into the discussion in a painful, but I think useful way.”