After a year of fruitless negotiations that are expected to resume soon, Iranian and U.S. experts are urging both sides to show more flexibility and make more concessions on its nuclear programme.
A letter written this month by seven former Iranian parliamentarians now living in exile urges Iran and the P5+1 – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – to pursue a “win-win outcome” by incorporating four points into an agreement.
The letter states that Iran should be able to enrich uranium up to five percent for peaceful purposes; Iran should be given fuel for its medical and scientific research reactors if it halts its enrichment of 20 percent uranium and allows the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to control its existing stockpile; Iran should implement the Additional Protocol as a “confidence-building measure”; and Iran should be provided with a timetable for the lifting of sanctions if it halts its 20 percent uranium enrichment.
“The proposal reminds us that there is in fact a reasonable solution to this confrontation, one that satisfies each side’s core interests and removes any need for war,” Stephen Walt, a Harvard international relations professor, told IPS.
“The only question is whether leaders in Washington and Tehran will be smart and far-sighted enough to seize it.”
Speaking Thursday on behalf of all the letter’s cosigners at the Wilson Center, former Iranian parliamentarians and democracy activists Fatemeh Haghighatjoo and Seyed Aliakbar Mousavi advocated for direct talks between Iran and the U.S. while discussing their proposal.
They argued that a deal can be made this year because Iran’s Supreme Leader is desperate for a “small victory” to reestablish his declining authority and because President Barack Obama is no longer hindered by re-election considerations – as long as both sides act with the other’s predicaments in mind.
“Both sides should think that they will gain something out of a new round of negotiations,” said Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, who remains an active participant in Iran’s democracy movement.
“The nuclear file has to be closed in order for (the) Iranian people to take power,” she said.
Although concerns over an Israeli strike on Iran have significantly decreased since Obama refused to align the U.S.’s “red line” on Iran (a nuclear weapon) with Israel’s red line (nuclear weapon capability), the threat of a military conflict is still in the horizon as efforts to reach a deal continue to fail.
U.S. experts included on the Wilson Center panel argued that the letter provides a “useful” framework for an agreement, but is lacking in the way of important details.
George Perkovich, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Iran’s belief that it has a right to enrich uranium peacefully in accordance with the NPT is a matter of interpretation rather than fact.
“From the standpoint of the P5+1 (acknowledging Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear enrichment) is a huge concession,” he said, adding that the P5+1 “also understand(s) that there won’t be a diplomatic outcome if that isn’t one of the concessions.”
Perkovich also stated that concerns over past nuclear weapons-related work conducted by Iran that was halted in 2003 must be thoroughly investigated and laid to rest before a deal is made.
Iran’s alleged past nuclear work remains an important issue for U.S.-based experts.
“The former parliamentarians formula…should acknowledge not just the NPT members right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy programmes, but also their responsibility to comply with safeguards and cooperate with the IAEA’s efforts to verify that there is no diversion for military purposes,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told IPS.
“It is in Iran’s interest to immediately address questions about its past activities in order to bolster its claim that its programme is only for peaceful purposes,” he said.
For Reza Marashi, the research director of the National Iranian American Council, the letter is a solid example of “the mainstream view of Iran’s opposition” which “calls for the regime to be more transparent and flexible with regard to its nuclear program, but also calls for the U.S. and E.U. to lift sanctions and acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich on Iranian soil.”
“Perhaps most promising, (the letter) shows that Iran’s opposition understands how conflict resolution works: both sides must trade compromises of equal value, rather than letting the “perfect” deal be the enemy of a good one,” Marashi told IPS.
“This type of sound thinking and leadership bodes well for Iran’s future,” he said.
While the U.S.-led “crippling” sanctions regime on Iran continues to take a toll on Iran’s economy and average Iranians, it has yet to produce tangible results for the U.S. at the negotiating table and U.S. experts are increasingly acknowledging this.
In a Jan. 17 “memorandum to President Obama”, Suzanne Maloney, an Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, urges Obama to “intensify the diplomatic dialogue” and offer sanctions relief “in order to obtain any meaningful concessions on the part of Tehran, despite the strategic and moral disinclination for rewarding Iran’s nuclear transgressions.”
“Working with our partners in Europe, Russia and China, an interagency effort should develop a persuasive package of specific sanctions relief that is sequenced to clear actions and credible commitments on the Iranian side,” wrote Maloney.
Obama seemed to be nodding at Iran when he made several war-averse statements during his second inaugural address this week.
“We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully – not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said.
But with Iran being accused of stalling on a date for more talks and members of Congress having pushed for yet more punitive measures against Iran and those who aid its circumvention of sanctions just this December, prospects for a nuclear deal are currently dismal.
“I worry that this is déjà vu all over again,” said MIT international security expert Jim Walsh, at the Wilson Center.
“You can’t do the same thing you’ve always done before and expect a different result,” he said.
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