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Backgrounder: What to know about the upcoming P5+1 & Iran summit
Updated: 23 May 2012
he Iranian nuclear program is one of the most polarizing issues facing the international community since its public disclosure in 2002. Over the past decade, the program has significantly expanded and tensions over it have continually increased. However, over the past month there have been a series of exciting developments and the most promising summit in years is scheduled to take place tomorrow between the P5+1 nations and Iran to discuss the enduring stalemate over the Iranian nuclear program.
US and EU Reactions to the Istanbul Meeting
he Iran – P5+1 meeting that took place on April 13th was regarded as a success by diplomats and the American view on Iran’s intractability for seriously dealing with its nuclear program has begun to soften.1 Now, experts believe that the threat of conflict with Iran is less likely and that the revival of negotiations has tempered the rhetoric on both sides.2 Iranian leaders and representatives have worked to portray the previous negotiations as a success, raising the possibility that Iran is preparing for serious negotiation with the P5+1. While the United States and European Union felt that the negotiations were “constructive and useful”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believed that the negotiations gave Iran a “freebie.”3, 4 Mr. Netanyahu derided the outcome of the first meeting, saying that Iran had essentially gained another month to continue enrichment unabated.
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Israeli and Iranian Reaction to Istanbul Meeting
imultaneously, there were interesting developments coming from Israel in the form of stinging retributions of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership on the Iran issue.5 Two former Israeli government officials, Yuval Diskin, the former head of Shin Bet and Ehud Olmert, a former Prime Minister, have taken shots at Mr. Netanyahu’s handling of the situation.6, 7 Another Israeli official, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the IDF Chief of Staff, told Haaretz that he believes that not only is Iran rational but it has not yet decided to make a nuclear weapon. This view is consistent with that of the US military and intelligence communities.8 On April 23rd, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that he is optimistic about the upcoming round of nuclear talks, and hopes there will be progress towards the resolution of the nuclear issue. Two days later on the 25th, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, declared that Iran and major nations have a “historic opportunity” to settle their decade-old nuclear dispute.9 Mousavian suggested a “win-win solution” for both sides, where Iran’s “rights” under the NPT would be recognized, sanctions would be lifted, and Iran would “accept the maximum level of transparency” over the program. But it may be viewed skeptically by Western diplomats because of Iranian stonewalling over IAEA inspectors and the Additional Protocol. Nevertheless, these two statements reflect a rare optimistic attitude of the Iranian negotiators. Iran is also considering a proposal by Russia in which it would halt the expansion of its nuclear program in order to avert new sanctions.10 Under this proposal, Iran would stop building centrifuges and mothball the ones that have not yet been installed. However this does not halt Iranian enrichment, a key demand of the EU and Israel, but rather only stops the expansion of the program.
US Shift on Iran’s Enrichment Program
n April 27th, the Obama administration signaled a major shift in its position on Uranium enrichment.11 Rather than demanding Iran halt all of its enrichment, the US may allow Iran to enrich up to 5% purity, the upper end for most civilian uses, in return for unrestricted inspections and strict oversight. While the Obama administration has signaled its willingness to allow Iran to keep its enrichment program, the administration has been clear on its opposition to discussing sanctions relief at the upcoming talks before concrete steps have been taken by Iran on its nuclear program. This runs counter to the stated objectives of Iranian negotiators who have said that sanctions relief is one of their top priorities.12
On May 8th, both the US and EU pressed Iran to comply with its obligations to the IAEA. Robert Wood, the US’s acting representative to the IAEA, spoke at the NPT preparatory committee meeting and pushed for Iran to take “urgent practical steps to build confidence.”13
In the same meeting the EU representative Gyorgyi Martin Zanathy, declared that “Iran must suspend its enrichment activities and heavy-water-related projects, including research and development.”14 However, Iran has repeatedly stated in the past that it will not give up its right to nuclear enrichment, nor is it bound to under the regulations of the NPT.
n May 13th, more evidence that the Iranian economy is under stress came to light as it was reported that Iran has been routinely shutting off satellite tracking systems on its sea-bound oil tankers for more than a month in an effort to avoid sanctions now hitting the country.15
Sanctions have severely hurt the value of the Iranian Rial making it increasingly difficult to “pay for materials for the nuclear program, and, more broadly, it puts pressure on the leadership,” said David Cohen, Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
New Iran-IAEA Meetings
ran and IAEA negotiators began a two day meeting scheduled for the 14th and 15th of May to discuss Iranian intransigence over allowing inspectors to visit all nuclear sites and have access to vital information on its nuclear program. At the top of IAEA’s agenda may be access to the nuclear site at Parchin, which has been rumored to house nuclear weapons-related work.16 Furthermore, an IAEA report last November found that Iran had constructed a containment vessel in 2000 that may be a “strong indicator of possible [nuclear] weapon development.”17 Iran and the IAEA viewed the two days of talks to be a success and agreed to meet again on the 21st. Those talks were also referred to as “very useful.”18 Oil production in Iran fell 12% in the first three months of the year and is expected to fall even more in the coming months.19 Unable to sell its oil and unwilling to reduce production, Iran has been storing its unsold oil in supertankers moored off the coast of its main oil terminals. On May 19th, the P5+1 agreed to offer Iran a joint proposal to fuel a small reactor used to produce medical isotopes, most likely the Tehran Research Reactor.20 Iran would then have to stop 20% enrichment, remove its stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium out of the country, and halt work on the Fordow facility. On May 22nd, the IAEA announced that an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is near and that a “structured agreement” was reached to “determine how its inspectors would conduct an investigation into possible military applications of the Iranian program.”21 The structure and details of this agreement have not yet been released, but it will surely send Western negotiators scrambling.
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United States’ Position and Possible Demands
he United States’ aims for the talks are the same as the last conference in Istanbul. President Obama and the P5+1 want to de-fang the Iranian nuclear program and assure that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. The President has also publicly committed to preventing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon, rather than contain Iran. Administration officials have stood by their demands unveiled at the last conference in Istanbul on April 13th; starting with closing and dismantling of the Fordow enrichment facility located under a mountain near the city of Qom, a permanent halt in the production of 20% enriched Uranium, and the removal of Iran’s current stockpile of 20% enriched material. Fordow began operations in January of 2012 and is estimated to hold approximately 3,000 centrifuges enriching Uranium up to 20%. The Fordow facility’s location in a hardened mountainside tunnel makes it difficult to destroy by aerial bombardment. The Administration is also calling for the halt in the production of 20% enriched Uranium and the removal of Iran’s 20% stockpile. Iran currently holds 100 kg of 20% enriched Uranium and has announced plans to increase its production in coming months but claims it will cease production of 20% Uranium as soon as its domestic needs are met.22
While the Administration, in concert with the other members of the P5+1, are prepared to allow Iran to possess a nuclear power program for civilian power generation and medical isotope production, Iran must first prove that it does not have a nuclear weapons program. To do so, Administration representatives have stated Iran must allow IAEA inspectors to visit all Iranian nuclear sites, including the Parchin facility. The meetings, in the words of Secretary of State Clinton, will not be “an open-ended session,” that allows the Iranians to stall for time while building their nuclear program.23 Most experts agree that the meeting will not bring a swift conclusion to the issue but will hopefully build confidence or set a framework for an eventual agreement.
Possible Future U.S. Initiatives:
• Restart the 2010 fuel swap agreement in which Iran would send enriched Uranium to Turkey and would retain the right to import 20% enriched Uranium from Russia • Expand the Russian-Iranian fuel swap agreement to include 20% enriched Uranium in which the material would be processed by Russia and used in Iran’s medical isotope reactor and the Tehran Research Reactor 24 • Increase Iranian transparency and IAEA inspection of all Iranian nuclear sites in return for sanction reductions and security guarantees • Halt and remove Iran’s 20% enriched Uranium and pause construction at Fordow in exchange for commercial airplane parts or temporary suspension of additional EU sanctions that enter into force July 1st • Ratification of, and full compliance with, the IAEA Additional Protocol in exchange for concessions from the P5+1 up to and including limited sanctions relief
Iran’s Position and Possible Demands
he Iranian nuclear program serves two purposes. One is to continue Supreme Leader Khamenei’s “vision of an Iran that is self-sufficient enough to be economically independent, and economically independent enough to be politically independent.”25 Nuclear power will reduce Iran’s reliance on oil and natural gas for electricity production, and allow more oil and natural gas exports. Secondly, the capability to produce a nuclear weapon will increase Iran’s national security in a region surrounded by threats from Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States. A nuclear weapons capability is a more efficient and cost-effective defense against attack than building up a conventional military. The nuclear program or weapons capability may also increase the internal stability of the Iranian government by improving its internal prestige and proving its technological prowess. Recently, the Chief of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereidoun Abbasi Davan has publicly acknowledged that the country would consider limiting its Uranium enrichment to 3.5% and halting enrichment of 20%.26 However, Mr. Abbasi stated that the cessation of 20% enrichment will only begin once Iran has produced enough enriched Uranium. Thereafter, the country will reduce its enrichment to only 3.5%. Countering one of the United States’ demands, Mr. Abbasi also snubbed the idea that Iran would transfer its stockpile of 20% enriched Uranium out of the country.27 Iran’s aim for the talks is to walk a fine line between the complete removal of its nuclear program and the possibility of U.S. or Israeli military action. Supreme Leader Khamenei will not accept any settlement with the United States where there is not a significant quid pro quo on
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the American side. Iran is unwilling to completely abandon its enrichment program even if that entails a nuclear fuel swap agreement. Iran’s demands in this conference will be similar to previous negotiations: the acknowledgement of Iran’s right to enrichment and its right to a nuclear program under the Nuclear NonProliferation Treaty. It will also seek security guarantees from the United States and the termination of American-supported covert operations or support of Iranian militant groups.28 Lastly, Iran will demand the removal of all sanctions, U.S. or otherwise, instituted against the Government of Iran or any other Iranian entity.
ran and Supreme Leader Khamenei are not opposed to diplomacy with the West, but the United States must appreciate Iran’s domestic politics and security concerns as much as Iran must understand the United States’ domestic politics and security concerns. In the past month there have been a series of promising developments with the Iranian nuclear program and its situation. But at the core of the problem is crafting agreement that will satisfy all three parties: Iran, the United States, and Israel, all of which have vastly different threat perceptions and political challenges to consider. Reconciling these differences will be a monumentally difficult task. But next week’s meeting represents real development in this crisis and a step in the right direction. Hopefully, the talks scheduled for tomorrow kick-start a sustained dialogue.
Bryan Gold is an Adjunct Junior Fellow for defense and national security policy at the American Security Project.
Notes to Sources:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D05EED91530F936A25757C0A9649D8B63&ref=nuclearprogram http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/world/middleeast/chances-of-iran-strike-receding-us-officials-say.html?_r=3&ref=globalhome&pagewanted=all http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/14/world/meast/iran-nuclear/index.html http://www.jpost.com/IranianThreat/News/Article.aspx?id=266114 http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/04/israels-leaders-increasingly-isolated-on-iran/ http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/world/middleeast/yuval-diskin-criticizes-israel-government-on-iran-nuclear-threat.html?pagewanted=2 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/30/world/middleeast/olmert-ex-premier-of-israel-assails-netanyahu-on-iran.html?ref=middleeast http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/26/world/middleeast/israeli-army-chief-says-he-believes-iran-wont-build-bomb.html?_r=2 http://news.yahoo.com/ex-iran-negotiator-historic-chance-nuke-talks-090217825.html
10. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-04-25/iran-considers-halting-nuclear-expansion-to-avert-eu-oil-embargo#p1 11. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/apr/27/world/la-fg-iran-nuclear-20120428 12. http://www.startribune.com/world/149852115.html 13. http://vienna.usmission.gov/120507prepcom.html 14. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/world/middleeast/united-states-and-europe-warn-iran-on-nuclear-talks.html?ref=nuclearprogram 15. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/iran-unable-to-sell-oil-stores-it-on-tankers/2012/05/13/gIQAp0eUNU_story.html 16. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-05-14/iran-s-parchin-site-may-top-un-inspectors-meeting-agenda 17. http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2011/gov2011-65.pdf 18. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/22/world/middleeast/international-agency-resumes-talks-with-iran-on-nuclear-program. html?ref=nuclearprogram 19. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/world/middleeast/iran-oil-production-drop-seen.html?_r=1&ref=middleeast 20. http://articles.latimes.com/2012/may/19/world/la-fg-iran-talks-20120519 21. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/world/middleeast/un-nuclear-monitor-strikes-deal-with-iran-reports-say.html?_r=1 22. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/world/middleeast/us-defines-its-demands-for-new-round-of-talks-with-iran.html?pagewanted=2 23. http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-04/04/c_131506082.htm 24. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4301889.stm 25. http://www.scribd.com/doc/13250515/-Reading-Khamenei-The-World-View-of-Irans-Most-Powerful-Leader 26. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/10/world/middleeast/iran-hints-at-shift-in-advance-of-nuclear-talks.html 27. http://bostonglobe.com/news/world/2012/04/09/iran-offers-possible-nuclear-compromise/BapXVZCI157kEjqQz5PCsO/story.html 28. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2012/04/mek.html
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