A new negotiation platform for the Iranian nuclear programme

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With the right manoeuvres, the EU and the US could create a new base of negotiations with the Iranian government where the implementation of its nuclear programme would not be out of question but would create mutual benefits, argues Francisco Galamas and Jelena Petrovic.

Francisco Galamas is an expert in International Security currently conducting research on bio-risk at the Security Studies Institute (ISES). He has also worked on non-proliferation issues for the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of National Defence. Jelena Petrovic is a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department, King’s College London, specialising in conditionality policy and NATO enlargement. They are both members of the YA NATO Work Group.

"Whether a bluff or a serious offer deserving full consideration, Ahmadinejad’s several mentions of a 'new uranium deal' brought many nudges to the US President Barack Obama to take the man upon his word and pierce one of the global security deadlocks – Iran’s nuclear programme. With Israel jingling the weapons on the mere mention of its regional nemesis developing nuclear capabilities, the US and its campaigning President have found themselves in an unenviable situation of having to survive elections while avoiding another war, backing up Israel and appearing as a firm spine-owner before the electorate.

Mission impossible? Only if one adopts the premise that Iran having a nuclear programme is necessarily a bad thing. However, not all of the versions of the nuclear programme are as bad. Accepting this as a starting point may bring negotiations forward, not as the best, but certainly the least bad option on the table for all interested stakeholders.

Given the reflux of other credible alternatives, allowing Iran to preserve nuclear programme is definitely an option to consider. That said, when examining the Iranian nuclear programme, we need to differ between nuclear programme that represents an actual security threat and civilian nuclear programme that does not. By keeping its nuclear programme for civilian purposes, Iran would not be violating Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows states the “use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination and in conformity with Articles I and II of this Treaty”.

Therefore, the first thing to address when examining the possible threat from Iranian programme is the uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing without which the nuclear bomb would remain wishful thinking of Teheran’s mullahcracy. In order to bypass the threat in a mutually acceptable way, the international community should base its proposal to Iran’s leadership on:

  1. Allowing Iran to maintain certain enrichment capability, under strict supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A signed moratorium between the latter and Iran would be required in order to secure Teheran’s acceptance not to enrich uranium over 20%
  2. Requesting Iran to abandon enrichment by enabling agreement with the IAEA guaranteeing supply of low enriched uranium (LEU).

The proposed give and take would assume the nuclear spent fuel from any Iranian reactor is to be controlled by the IAEA or that, possibly, a proliferation resistant method of reprocessing, such as pyroprocessing, could in the future be implemented in Iran.

Besides the nuclear fuel, the Iranian missile programme being the other element of the perceived threat should be considered as well. In order to defuse regional fears behind the Iranian nuclear program, dismantlement of all but tactical range and payloads missiles would send a positive wave throughout the 'neighbourhood'. Such a move should be accompanied with the Teheran’s signature on the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCoC), a politically binding agreement that unites 134 countries concerned with the spread of these missiles.

The elaborate list of sanctions imposed by the UN, EU, US and various other states on a bilateral basis, should represent another carrot field for harvesting the negotiations. Disputably successful in cracking Iran’s plans, sanctions have introduced some difficulties to the countries enacting them as well – particularly those relying on the import of oil. With the economists warning that sanctions resulting high oil prices may slow down American economy thus creating more bumps on Obama’s road back home to the White House, it may as well be in his and US interest to seek the carrot for the Iran in the gradual ease up of the oil sanctions dependable on Iranian compliance.

Additionally, a good move would be to offer Iran support for chairmanship of the IAEA Board of Governors. Elected on an annual basis, Chairman leads Board meetings participating actively discussions and votes. This, of course, would require Iran to be designated to the Board of Governors again. Still, it would be a worthwhile step forward as it would represent a gesture of good will by the Western powers and an obstacle to any desire of Iranian leadership to renounce the authority of the organisation whose main policy body they chair at the same time. Other offers could include cooperation on a space programme between the European Space Agency and their Iranian counterpart.

Obviously, the idea of negotiated settlement needs to be sold to Israel as well. The US should reinforce the military assistance in order to decrease Tel Aviv’s fears pushing it forward from the current dangerous deadlock. The refusal to accept negotiations would inflict a serious political price for Israel to pay. Already surrounded with less then friendly regimes, Israel could find itself further isolated in a deeply troubled region risking the weakening of the US support. However, if accepted, and particularly if failed by Iran – negotiations could bring Israel necessary cover for any future unilateral military intervention aimed at feared nuclear capabilities of Tehran.

Thus far, the prevailing priority of handling Iran’s development was disabling the implementation of any nuclear programme. However, the perpetual failure to do so requires the shift towards, more precise, prevention of the military programme instead. By accepting the new approach, the US and the other Western stakeholders would not only avoid the military nuclear domino in the already unstable Middle East but could also bring back Iran into international community – a closure not to be easily dismissed."

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