A new IAEA report says that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council resolutions and enrich uranium while refusing to answer IAEA questions regarding possible weaponization activities. If the United States is to induce Iran to halt enrichment activities, both the costs of defiance and the benefits of cooperation must be greater, warns George Perkovich in a new policy brief.

Perkovich argues that the United States should pursue a revised strategy showing Iran’s leaders that the more they advance enrichment capabilities, the less valuable cessation of those activities becomes for negotiating incentives packages.

A three-step approach for the next U.S. president:

  • Give Iran one last, time-limited chance to negotiate suspension of its fuel-cycle-related activities. The European Union, Russia, China, and the United States have consistently increased offers of incentives to Iran without signs that Iran is willing to negotiate at all.  Interlocutors should set a  date to stop bidding unless Iran clarifies that there are conditions under which it would suspend.
  • If Iran rejects the opportunity, break off negotiations and focus on developing a consensus to maintain international sanctions as long as Iran remains in violation of Security Council and IAEA resolutions.  Rather than defending a redline Iran already crossed, the United States should build resolve within the UN Security Council and among allies for continued sanctions and robust consequences should evidence emerge of new Iranian weaponization activities.
  • Finally, clarify the international redline.  Even if Iran is able to weather sanctions, it may be persuaded to accept stringent safeguards and verifications inspections to prevent weaponization. Iran insists it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but the international community could define its redline for Iran as weaponization, further violation of nonproliferation obligations, or withdrawal from the NPT.  The United States and the Security Council should insist on an understanding that the use of military force would be authorized should evidence of ongoing weaponization activities emerge.  However, military force must be limited to enforcement of nonproliferation obligations and not encompass a wider campaign to weaken or destroy the Iranian government.

Anticipating the September IAEA Report, Perkovich notes:

“An underappreciated factor in Tehran’s unwillingness to answer the IAEA’s questions is that Iranian leaders must wonder what would happen if they did ‘come clean,’ perhaps acknowledging that past nuclear activities were related to acquiring at least the option to produce nuclear weapons.  The fact that neither the United States nor the Security Council has told Iran how it would react if Iran admitted to past nuclear weaponization violations may pose a genuine quandary in Iran.  The UN Security Council could clarify that Iranian admission of past weaponization activities, coupled with willingness to accept that the NPT violation required ‘restitution,’ would not necessarily lead to further sanctions or punitive sanctions.” 

About the Author
George Perkovich
is vice president for studies–global security and economic development and director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His personal research has focused on nuclear strategy and nonproliferation, with a focus on South Asia and Iran, and on the problem of justice in the international political economy. He is the author of the award-winning book India's Nuclear Bomb, which Foreign Affairs called “an extraordinary and perhaps definitive account of 50 years of Indian nuclear policymaking.”  He is coauthor of a major Carnegie report, Universal Compliance: A Strategy for Nuclear Security, a blueprint for rethinking the international nuclear nonproliferation regime.