Resuming the Talks

Update below.

Finally, Tehran has positively responded to a request, or invitation, from Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, to revive talks in Vienna on the nuclear issue. The meeting is supposed to be held on November 15-17. Another swap proposal is expected.

As a matter of fact, the American President Barack Obama wasn’t honest when seemingly encouraging Brazilian President Lula da Silva, in a letter dated April 20, 2010, to go ahead to Tehran and broker a swap deal, where 1200 kg of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) was supposed to be exchanged by fuel rods for the research reactor in Tehran (TRR), which were manufactured in Russia and France.

In the letter to Lula, Obama first explained that a fuel swap on Iranian soil which had been favored by Iran would be unacceptable:

“We understand from you, Turkey and others that Iran continues to propose that Iran would retain its LEU on its territory until there is a simultaneous exchange of its LEU for nuclear fuel. As General Jones noted during our meeting, it will require one year for any amount of nuclear fuel to be produced. Thus, the confidence-building strength of the IAEA’s proposal would be completely eliminated for the United States and several risks would emerge. First, Iran would be able to continue to stockpile LEU throughout this time, which would enable them to acquire an LEU stockpile equivalent to the amount needed for two or three nuclear weapons in a year’ s time. Second, there would be no guarantee that Iran would ultimately agree to the final exchange. Third, IAEA ‘custody’ of lran’s LEU inside of Iran would provide us no measurable improvement over the current situation, and the IAEA cannot prevent Iran from re-assuming control of its uranium at any time.”

However, in last year’s negotiations in Geneva, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei had tried to broker a swap deal where the 1200 kg LEU would have been shipped to Turkey. Obama continues in his letter to Lula:

“There is a potentially important compromise that has already been offered. Last November, the IAEA conveyed to Iran our offer to allow Iran to ship its 1,200 kg of LEU to a third country — specifically Turkey — at the outset of the process to be held ‘in escrow’ as a guarantee during the fuel production process that Iran would get back its uranium if we failed to deliver the fuel. Iran has never pursued the ‘escrow’ compromise and has provided no credible explanation for its rejection. I believe that this raises real questions about Iran’s nuclear intentions, if Iran is unwilling to accept an offer to demonstrate that its LEU is for peaceful, civilian purposes. I would urge Brazil to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer to ‘escrow’ its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced.” (Emphasis added.)

But that was exactly what Lula da Silva and Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan achieved in Tehran one month later in a last minute compromise (sic!) with their Iranian negotiators, laid down in the joint agreement of Iran, Turkey and Brazil, the so-called  Tehran Declaration. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hysterical objection was, just too little – too late! UN Security Council Resolution 1929 was already in draft and new sanctions supposed to be imposed on Iran.

Now, what can Iranians expect from resuming the talks in Vienna next month? According to David E. Sanger of the New York Times the new offer to Iran would be to send more LEU out of the country, roughly 2000 kg. Iran has also to stop enriching uranium to 20% which has been started since February after the ElBaradei-brokered original swap deal of last year had ultimately been rejected by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Whether the sanctions are to be lifted, immediately or later, is not clear so far.   

In return, Iran would not only get fuel rods for the TRR which produces urgently needed medical isotopes for diagnosis and treatment of cancer. There seem to be deliberations about permanently engaging Russia for conversion and fabrication of fuel also for the Bushehr nuclear power plant. David Albright and his colleagues at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) have warned that such an offer would again legitimize Iran’s enrichment efforts. But legitimization is crucial here.

If the new Vienna talks are not about to be doomed as another foreseeable flop, something has to be put on the table. If Obama’s negotiators in Geneva had not had at least indirectly acknowledged Iran’s right of enriching uranium under the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) when discussing the original swap deal, the Iranian delegation would have left the negotiation table immediately. Tehran’s quid pro quo has to be transparency as regards their nuclear program, specifically, eventually ratifying the additional protocol of the NPT, the modified Code 3.1  and other confidence-building measures.


Update October 30, 2010. Taking as granted that Obama never meant it seriously when urging Brazil “to impress upon Iran the opportunity presented by this offer (ElBaradei’s swap deal) to ‘escrow’ its uranium in Turkey while the nuclear fuel is being produced,” Flynt Leverett notably called Obama recently in a panel during the annual meeting of the National Council of U.S.-Arab Relations a liar. See the c-span video here (3:13). It is obvious that confidence building measures apply to both sides here.

A not so new (that UN Security Council Iran Resolutions since 2006, 1696, 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1929, can hardly been considered legal since they have never been based on Article 39 of the UN Charta: determination of a peace threat, breach of peace or act of aggression; according to Brill the ‘gateway’ to Chapter VII of the Charta) but nevertheless interesting approach to solve the nuclear issue with Iran (“once and for all”) has been suggested by Eric A. Brill who based his proposal on legal (binding) implications of the respective Safeguards Agreement between the IAEA and Iran, in particular Article 22:

“Article 22

Any dispute arising out of the interpretation or application of this Agreement, except a dispute with regard to a finding by the Board under Article 19 or an action taken by the Board pursuant to such a finding, which is not settled by negotiation or another procedure agreed to by the Government of Iran and the Agency shall, at the request of either, be submitted to an arbitral tribunal composed as follows: the Government of Iran and the Agency shall each designate one arbitrator, and the two arbitrators so designated shall elect a third, who shall be the Chairman. If, within thirty days of the request for arbitration, either the Government of Iran or the Agency has not designated an arbitrator, either the Government of Iran or the Agency may request the President of the International Court of Justice to appoint an arbitrator. The same procedure shall apply if, within thirty days of the designation or appointment of the second arbitrator, the third arbitrator has not been elected. A majority of the members of the arbitral tribunal shall constitute a quorum, and all decisions shall require the concurrence of two arbitrators. The arbitral procedure shall be fixed by the tribunal. The decisions of the tribunal shall be binding on the Government of Iran and the Agency.”

It is worth reading carefully through the excellent article by Brill. Arbitration might be tempting, but it presumes that Iran is in fact innocent, i.e., its nuclear program is, what it pretends, entirely peaceful. But then, why isn’t it considered transparent? Brill is, for my taste, much too optimistic as regards Iran which is widely and rightly considered a rogue state. He is in fact naïve:

“The course of action recommended here would be preferable to a continuation of Iran’s stubborn passivity (sic!), which enables the United States to shape world-power public opinion with little effective resistance and heightens the risk of war each day it continues. Even if no broad resolution can be achieved, an arbitration ruling in Iran’s favor would at least highlight the United States’ ulterior purpose by exposing the weakness (sic!) of its claim that Iran is violating its Safeguards Agreement. The US government might find itself unable to marshal sufficient support from the American public and other countries to launch an attack on Iran – just as support for the Iraq war might have fallen short if the baseless WMD claims had been exposed earlier.”

Last update October 30, 2010.

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