The Quirky P5+1 Nuclear Talks With Iran

Laura Rozen in World Politics Review recaps this past weekend’s P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran in Istanbul:

First, the parties agreed that Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is obligated to prove that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful energy purposes, as it claims. If it does so, the P5+1 also reiterated, Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program — including, tacitly, the right to enrich uranium for civil nuclear purposes. The parties also agreed to work toward resolving international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program based on a “step-by-step” process, on a reciprocal basis. That means that if Iran agrees to confidence-building measures, such halting its 20 percent uranium enrichment activities and removing its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium from Iranian territory, the international community would in turn agree to offer something in return, such as providing nuclear fuel for Iran’s medical reactor or easing a set of sanctions.

The fact that these negotiations are even occurring instead of a bombing campaign is itself a laudable development. But its worth pointing out some central tenets of these talks that are, well, quirky.

Iran is a signatory of the NPT and has a right to develop peaceful nuclear energy. Not a single participant in these talks believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons; indeed, there is a consensus in the U.S. intelligence community that no such weapons program exists and that the Iranian leadership has not made the decision to get weapons. Still, the whole purpose behind these talks is to “restore international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.” Try to imagine this happening with any state other than Iran. In what absurd parallel dimension would such high-level talks take place to reassure the international community of what they already know to be a peaceful nuclear program in, say, South Korea, or Bahrain (also NPT signatories)?

[See here for what the real threat from Iran is (it ain’t the nuclear program).]

It’s also strange that one of the central bargaining chips the West is using to negotiate with Iran is the harsh economic sanctions they’ve recently imposed. They’re using as leverage the economic warfare they applied because of Iran’s nuclear program which they have all conceded  is peaceful in nature. Cheeky, isn’t it?

The other quirky aspect of these talks is what’s not being said. Since the peaceful nature of Iran’s current nuclear program is so widely accepted, the only real gripe people have is that Tehran is slightly too opaque on the issue (this, despite all declared enrichment sites being subject to international inspections and having 24-hour video surveillance). Any opaqueness Iran has demonstrated, along with its emphasis on being “nuclear capable,” is merely a defensive posture. But there is a simple solution to this which would vastly decrease the geopolitical tensions in the region. If Israel, Iran’s main adversary and not a NPT signatory, agreed to dismantling its vast stockpiles of nuclear weapons and to a deal enforcing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East – a deal Iran has repeatedly proposed – Iran’s defensive posture would probably expire.

The talks are firmly based in contradictory assumptions and stark double standards that undoubtedly stoke a sense of inherent unfairness among the Iranians. Let us hope this doesn’t lead to a failure of the talks.