On October 1, 2009, negotiators from Iran and the United States met around the negotiating table for the first time in three decades. Alongside representatives from the world’s six major powers in Geneva, their conversation aimed to address the increasing concern surrounding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions. Carnegie’s Pierre Goldschmidt spoke about those ambitions and the implications for the non-proliferation regime, at an event hosted by Carnegie Europe and moderated by Fabrice Pothier.

Goldschmidt opened the discussion with a reflection on the negotiations’ prospects for success. He stressed that while this round of talks represent a potential starting point for serious negotiations, the main obstacle to resolving the issue through diplomatic means without unacceptable delays is the lack of trust between the parties. Considering the past behaviour of both Iran and the international community, this constitutes a major challenge. 

The Enrichment Deal

Goldschmidt also addressed the details of the enrichment deal being discussed between Iran and the United States, Russia and France. 

  • The Nature of the Deal: The compromise would require Iran to send the majority of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment (to 19.75 percent U-235) and fuel fabrication for the Tehran Research Reactor.
  • The Long-Term: This compromise provides the short term advantages of reducing Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium but gives no long-term guarantees. Iran will be able to more or less rapidly replenish its stocks of low-enriched uranium, leaving the international community in no better position than it was before the deal.
  • A Victory for Tehran: With this compromise, Iran still gets enriched uranium for its Tehran Research Reactor. Meanwhile, the deal does not appear to include a commitment from Iran not to produce low-enriched uranium above 5 percent U-235. Nor will they be forced to suspend construction of the Arak heavy water research reactor, as the United Nations Security Council has previously required. This, he believes, is a major victory for Tehran. Furthermore, it is not clear whether Iran would have to send the spent fuel from the Teheran research reactor back to Russia, as it has to do for the Bushehr power plant.

Unless the Security Council agrees to increase sanctions if Iran doesn’t suspend enrichment, which, he said, is highly unlikely at this stage, the deal might be perceived as an implicit acknowledgement that Iran can continue its enrichment activities without facing negative consequences. One can therefore expect that Iran will continue developing more efficient centrifuges at Natanz, Qom, and other possibly still undeclared locations. 

A New Compromise

Goldschmidt considered what form of agreement could be acceptable both to Iran and the international community. He outlined five main conditions that Iran would have to fulfill as part of such a deal:

  1. It would commit not to produce low enriched uranium beyond 5 percent U-235, as long as it receives enough fresh fuel to operate the Tehran research reactor.
  2. It would have to commit to fully implementing the new IAEA Code 3.1 (on early design information), which it signed in February 2003.
  3. It would have to fully implement its Additional Protocol, which it signed in December 2003, and undertake its ratification process seriously.
  4. It would have to conclude an Infcirc/66-type safeguards agreement for all of its nuclear fuel cycle facilities with the IAEA.
  5. All low-enriched uranium produced in Iran would have to be regularly sent abroad to be manufactured by foreign entities into fuel loads for the Tehran and Bushehr reactors, until such time as the IAEA concludes that there are no undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.

Goldschmidt stressed that the first four conditions require a bare minimum from Iran. They do not include the legally binding United Nations Security Council requirement for Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities, nor the construction of the Arak heavy water research reactor. In return, Iran would receive the following concessions:

  • First and foremost, none of the measures outlined endangers Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear technology. 
  • The United Nations Security Council would have to adopt an amendment to three Chapter VII resolutions that currently prevent Iran from exporting a number of specific items, including low-enriched uranium, and prohibit all member states from procuring such items from Iran. This amendment, he stressed, is a major concession, which would fully justify the acceptance by Iran of the conditions he outlined.
  • The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1803 of March 2008 “stresses the willingness” of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany “to further enhance diplomatic efforts to promote resumption of dialogue…based on mutual respect…and, inter alia, starting direct talks and negotiation with Iran as long as Iran suspends all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, as verified by the IAEA”.  Putting aside such a prerequisite is another, little noticed, but important concession made to Iran.

If  Iran chooses not to accept international cooperation based on the forgiving and fair terms being offered by the United States, Russia and France, then, Goldschmidt argued, the United Nations Security Council must be prepared to impose harsher sanctions, and in particular to suspend any and all military cooperation with Iran. Such a measure has the added benefit that it would not negatively impact the wellbeing of ordinary Iranian citizens. If the Security Council does not take such steps, he warned, and is unable to agree on the balanced approach he has described, it will further undermine the credibility of the non-proliferation regime.