On July 3rd, the Iranian mission to the UN released to US-based nuclear experts a 10-page document detailing Tehran’s position in nuclear talks with the international community.
Iran, not surprisingly, wants the lifting of all sanctions and the recognition of its right to conduct a peaceful nuclear program. Tehran demands technical assistance from other nations for such program.
Iran’s document also rejects calls from the P5+1—the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany—that Iran shut down its Fordow facility and transfer out of the country its 100-kilogram stock of uranium that has been enriched to 20 percent purity.
The Iranians are willing to keep their nuclear program open to international inspections, but that’s a preexisting obligation.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the document is Iran’s call for meetings once every three months. These sessions would be preceded by expert-level sessions. A technical session was held on July 3rd in Istanbul. The 15-hour meeting, like the higher-level talks before it, produced little in the way of progress. Both sides agreed to meet again but did not set a date for the talks.
Jim Walsh, who heard Iran’s presentation last week in New York, suggests there is room for a deal. “The oral presentation was much softer,” the MIT expert notes. For instance, he believes the Iranians are willing to stop building their heavy-water reactor at Arak and replace it with a proliferation-resistant light-water one instead. Moreover, they would be willing to accept restriction on their 20-percent enrichment activities.
So, should we talk to Iran? “So far, we have not seen a willingness by the Iranians to do anything else than talk, write letters, and gesture,” said one diplomat from a Western nation.
Walsh disagrees. “In terms of a traditional negotiation,” he tells us, “we’re really only at the beginning of this process.”
We have been talking to Iran for about a decade, but even if Walsh is correct, Iran is close—about a year away—to weaponizing the atom. This alone suggests the Iranians will be even less amenable to reaching an agreement. We saw the same intransigent behavior from the North Koreans when they were on the verge of detonating their first nuclear device, which they did in October 2006.
There is nothing wrong with talking with the “atomic ayatollahs,” even at this late stage, but we have to recognize that every day we talk is a day they are closer to possessing a nuclear arsenal. So as we negotiate we should be increasing pressure on the regime, which will give up its nuclear weapons program only when the clerics are convinced they will lose power if they continue their surreptitious efforts.
How do we pressure them? There are four things to do. First, we should retract the waiver granted to China last month from American financial sanctions because that country has been receiving surreptitious oil shipments from Iran. Second, we should announce that we will not renew any of the 19 other country waivers when they expire in December. Third, we must begin thinking about how to implement a total embargo on trade, other than imports of necessary medical supplies, with Iran. Fourth, we should supply Israel with all the military equipment and stores it needs.
These actions may sound drastic in the context of today, but they have a far better chance of working than Washington’s present course of action, which is composed of half measures that are failing to stop the Iranian weapons program. We tried the halfway approach with North Korea, and now Pyongyang has the bomb.