It’s more than a decade that Iran and the West are embroiled in an erosive conflict over the former’s nuclear energy program. The United States and its allies insist that Iran intends to produce atomic weapons and uses the peaceful nuclear program as a cover to further its “ambitions” while Iran strongly rejects the allegations, responding that with its growing energy demands as a country with a young population, it should access nuclear power to provide its future generations with alternative, sustainable energy resources.
Throughout the past decade, Iran and the P5+1 have held several rounds of talks with the aim of finding a solution to the nuclear standoff. However, the talks were mostly ended in vain without any categorical and definitive outcome. Different proposals have been put forth both by Iran and the P5+1 in the course of negotiations, but the nuclear controversy has not yet come to an end.
Iran Review had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive interview with Dr. Goldschmidt and explore the past experiences and future horizons on Iran’s nuclear program. We asked him questions about the prospect of Iran-West talks under the new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Tehran Declaration of 2010 and the reason why it failed to solve Iran’s nuclear dilemma and the anti-Iran sanctions regime imposed by the United States and its European allies. Iran Review may not agree with all the statements made by Dr. Pierre Goldschmidt, but leaves it upon its readers to judge about his viewpoints.
With the election of Hassan Rouhani as Iran’s new president, hopes were revived that the nuclear controversy may come to an end and the decade-long conflict can be resolved. Do you see this political resolve in the new Iranian administration to engage in serious and substantive talks with the world powers and find a solution for the nuclear standoff?
There are a number of positive signals that the new Iranian administration is ready to engage in constructive negotiations to find a win-win solution for resolving the nuclear standoff which has lasted much too long. I find encouraging that President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and the Head of the AEOI Ali Akbar Salehi, all understand full well the mentalities of their negotiating counterparts and know what they can possibly agree on as well as what is impossible to expect from them. I believe that today the reverse is also true, that world powers better understand their Iranian counterparts.
Iran has usually complained about the exercise of double standards by the West over its nuclear activities. The Iranian officials cite the UNSC Resolution 487 which condemned Israel’s attack on the IAEA-approved Osirak nuclear site in Iraq in June 1981 and called on Israel to put its nuclear facilities under the IAEA safeguards. But Israel continues to violate this resolution and according to the Federation of American Scientists, is said to possess 200-400 nuclear warheads. But there are no sanctions regimes or other punitive measures against Israel. Don’t you believe that such an approach sounds questionable and incoherent?
As you know UNSC Resolution 487 has not been adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and is therefore not legally binding on Israel. I think that when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in 1981 – which is of course a violation of international law – Iran, which was in war with Iraq, must have been very pleased. What is seldom mentioned, and is interesting to note, is that Iran in September 1980 had already bombed the Osirak site (see here).
Israel, like India and Pakistan, has not signed the NPT, and so even if it did have nuclear weapons, it would not be in violation of an international agreement. Because Iran has ratified the NPT, it has willingly subjected itself to standards different from those applied to Israel. If I were to identify an incoherent approach to international non-proliferation, it would be the so-called “Indian exception” agreed upon by the Nuclear Supplier Group. NSG rules forbid nuclear trade with a country which is not a party to the NPT, but such rules were disregarded in the case of India.
On May 17, 2010, the Tehran Declaration, signed by the foreign ministers of Iran, Brazil and Turkey laid the basis for a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear standoff. Under this agreement, Iran would be committed to ship 1,200 kg of its Low-Enriched Uranium to Turkey, and the members of Vienna Group (the U.S., Russia, France and IAEA) would provide Iran with 120 kg of fuel required for Tehran Research Reactor. This meant that Iran would not continue to enrich uranium to the purity of 20%. Why didn’t the United States accept this proposal and immediately took action for passing the resolution 1929 in the Security Council which imposed a new round of sanctions against Iran?
The proposal of delivering fabricated fuel elements containing uranium enriched at 19.75% U-235 for the Tehran nuclear research reactor (TRR) if Iran agreed to export a limited quantity of uranium enriched below 5% U-235 was made by the Vienna Group in October 2009. It was rejected by Iran.
Under the Tehran Declaration negotiated with Brazil and Turkey in May 2010, Iran expressed its readiness to deposit. Turkey 1200 kg of low enriched uranium (below 5% U-235) in exchange for the Vienna Group to deliver 120 kg of fuel required for the TRR. Contrary to what you indicate, there was no commitment on the part of Iran not to enrich uranium “to the purity of 20%.” In fact shortly before the Tehran Declaration, Iran had for the first time enriched uranium to the 19.75% level. As this was a violation of previously binding UNSC resolutions, Iran knew that such an action would be seen as a provocation by the Vienna Group.
One of the reasons why the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 were mostly stalled in the past is that the United States would usually ratchet up pressure on Iran ahead of the talks, whether in the form of increasing the sanctions or issuing war threats against Iran. This would make it difficult for the Iranian negotiators to convince the public inside Iran that the United States is a reliable partner. Now, with the new government in power in Iran, what attitude should the United States adopt in order to contribute to the progress of the talks?
To put things in perspective it is necessary to recall that in November 2003 the IAEA reported that Iran had for many years used undeclared nuclear material in undeclared nuclear facilities and had therefore been in breach of its obligations to comply with its safeguards agreement. At the time Dr. Rouhani successfully negotiated with France, Germany and the UK (the so-called “EU-3”) to make sure that they would oppose any attempt to report Iran’s non-compliance to the UN Security Council.
However, after the election of President Ahmadinejad, Iran resumed uranium conversion activities at Isfahan in August 2005. In September 2005 the IAEA Board of Directors adopted a resolution finding that Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations to comply with its NPT Safeguards Agreement constituted non-compliance in the context of Article XII.C of the IAEA Statute, but refrained from reporting this non-compliance to the UNSC. In November 2005 the IAEA reported that it had found in Iran a document related to the casting and machining of enriched uranium metal into hemispherical forms, a process only related to the fabrication of nuclear weapons. It is only after Iran resumed enrichment activities in January 2006 that the IAEA decided to inform the UNSC. Iran responded by ceasing to implement the Additional Protocol. In July 2006 the UNSC adopted a legally binding resolution requiring Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activities, but didn’t impose any sanctions. Limited and targeted UNSC sanctions were first decided by the UNSC at the end of December 2006.
To paraphrase your question: don’t you think that Iran’s behavior after July 2005 makes it difficult for the P5+1 negotiators to convince the world that Iran is a reliable partner?
It is always difficult to put oneself in the shoes of the other party. Notwithstanding the perceived errors of both sides in the past, I think that both President Rouhani and his team and the Obama Administration in coordination with the other permanent members of the UNSC and Germany have a clear understanding of what can and should be achieved to resolve the nuclear crisis in everyone’s best interest. For instance, it appears that the U.S. is now prepared to concede that Iran continues limited enrichment activities under strengthened safeguards.
One of your suggestions for solving the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program was the full implementation of a Temporary Complementary Protocol (TCP) by which Iran would have a “grace period” to voluntarily disclose any undeclared materials or activities it has had, and also acknowledge the past violations, if existed, without facing punitive measures by the Board of Governors or the Security Council. Has this suggestion ever been made to Iran? What do you think about the possibility of Iran and P5+1 reaching an agreement over this proposal?
I have been promoting the idea of offering Iran the “grace period” you mentioned for more than three years. Such a proposal should allow Iran to be more forthcoming about its past nuclear-related activities without fear of retaliation, which is essential to build the necessary trust and confidence between the parties. Unfortunately, I have no indication that the P5+1 will make such a proposal to Iran, nor do I know if Iran would agree to implement the TCP for a limited period of time.
And a final question: Iran’s nuclear program was set in motion in 1957 with the cooperation of the United States when President Eisenhower was in power. Iran’s nuclear program was part of General Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace initiative he first introduced to the United Nations on December 8, 1953. Since that date, the Americans, Germans and French cooperated in constructing nuclear power plants and reactors in Iran. They ceased their cooperation immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Why don’t they continue their cooperation with Iran to both ensure that Iran’s nuclear activities will remain peaceful, and also to make Iran confident that they are not dealing with the country’s nuclear program in a hypocritical way?
I don’t think it is useful to go back to the events which took place in 1979 in Iran. The hostage-taking of fifty-two Americans in November 1979 was seen by most countries as an outrage violating the principle of international law granting diplomats immunity from arrest. Would anyone seriously expect that after such an event the United States would continue its nuclear cooperation with Iran? Let’s not focus on past frustrations, but look at what can be done now to re-establish better relations between Iran and the West.
The U.S. has long recognized Iran’s right to generate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and has long since stopped objecting to Iranian-Russian cooperation over Bushehr. If Iran rebuilds confidence in its nuclear program, it will be easier to find partners to help it realize its ambitious nuclear energy plans. You have referred to the UNSC Resolution 1929 of June 2010. In paragraph 32 this resolutions states:
“The Security Council, Stresses the willingness of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States to further enhance diplomatic efforts to promote dialogue and consultations, including to resume dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue without preconditions,[...] with a view to seeking a comprehensive, long term and proper solution of this issue on the basis of the proposal made [...] on 14 June 2008, which would allow for the development of relations and wider cooperation with Iran based on mutual respect and the establishment of international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme [...], and acknowledges with appreciation that the June 2008 proposal, as attached in Annex IV to this resolution, remains on the table.”
This remains a good negotiation basis and I hope and trust that President Rouhani and the P5+1 will this time show the flexibility necessary to reach an agreement enabling first the suspension and later the removal of all sanctions imposed on Iran for the greatest benefit of the Iranian people.