Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program between Iran and six major powers -- the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (the P5+1) -- began Wednesday in Baghdad against a backdrop of converging and intersecting factors.
First, there is the standing violation by Iran of international legal prohibitions respecting the development of a nuclear weaponization program. In particular, Iran continues to violate a series of UN Security Council resolutions involving repeated demands for complete and comprehensive suspension of Iran's enrichment related, reprocessing and heavy water activities -- as well as repeatedly violating its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by denying the IAEA permission to openly inspect their facilities.
Second, there is compelling evidence -- particularly that which has emerged from the international nuclear monitor -- the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- that Iran's nuclear program is, in fact, a nuclear weaponization program. As international expert Anthony Cordesman recently concluded after an examination of IAEA reports, "Anyone who concludes that Iran is not yet pursuing a nuclear weapons program is deluding themselves."
Third, there is evidence acknowledged also by Iranian authorities that the comprehensive economic sanctions -- themselves authorized by UN Security Council resolutions -- are having the desired effect. In particular, the Iranian currency has lost half its value, inflation is at above 20 per cent, unemployment is approaching 35 per cent, and Iranian oil sits uselessly in Iranian tankers -- with sources claiming that up to 40 per cent of Iranian oil is currently idle -- as sanctions prevent it from being shipped to its traditional customers.
However, the impact of these sanctions will not last long, as the Iranian government is already finding ways to circumvent some of their more detrimental effects by procuring new super-tankers from China, disabling tracking devices in their ships, securing alternative methods of banking, and forging strong trading relationships with countries not in the pro-Western camp.
Fourth, for the first time there is a unified position entering the negotiations -- adopted by the United States, France, the UK and Germany -- that an Iranian nuclear weapon is "unacceptable," and that the objective is preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, as distinct from containing a nuclear Iran.
Fifth, there is the increasing rhetoric from the U.S. and others that no option "is off the table" -- that the military option is a "credible threat" -- and that, as U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton put it, "time is running out for Iranian compliance."
Sixth, and encouragingly, there is a shared interest between Iran and the P5+1 that these nuclear talks should succeed. Otherwise, for Iran, a new round of consequential and comprehensive economic sanctions will ensue as of July 1, which includes an oil embargo imposed by the EU, the expansion of sanctions targeting the Iranian banking sector, and the withdrawal of insurance-related protections.
Seventh, there is increasing reference -- and indeed indulgence -- of a Fatwah issued by the Supreme Leader Khameini prohibiting a nuclear weaponization program as "sinful," and "contrary to Islam," which some commentators have taken as conclusive in and of itself that Iran's intentions are peaceful and its nuclear program civil in intent and consequence.
Yet, this ignores not only the findings of the "military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program, as determined, inter alia, by the IAEA, but the permissibility within Islam itself to deceive the enemy where it serves a higher interest -- including the specific authority in Islam for the Supreme Leader to do exactly that.
One should recall the report by the IAEA itself in 2009 to the effect that the Supreme Leader Khamenei as early as 1984 had endorsed a decision by the then leader Ayatollah Khomeini to launch a secret nuclear weapons program. In the words of the IAEA report -- and a chilling reminder of Iranian intent and consequence -- "according to Khameini, this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies...and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mahdi."
Finally, and not surprisingly, there has been the Iranian "3 D" pattern -- denial, deception, and delay -- that has characterized the Iranian "negotiating position" all these years. This delay has facilitated the advancement of the nuclear weaponization program while Iran continues to deny its existence and engages in alternate forms of deception and delay as part of the cover-up of the program.
(Accordingly, the crucial question then becomes how to prevent what has been deemed "unacceptable" -- a nuclear Iran -- given the Iranian 3 D's have thus far prevailed -- and the desire that these P5+1 negations neither to flounder nor fail?)
Simply put, there are numerous undertakings that Iran must be called upon to do, and be verified as doing, if it is to comply with its international legal obligations and forestall the consequential sanctions that are to kick in on July 1. Among these undertakings, which should emerge from negotiations:
1. Iran must undertake to abide by, and fully implement, its obligations under UNSC resolutions and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Indeed, Iranian compliance should not be seen as a "concession" for which the West must necessarily reward Iran, but rather a set of obligations that Iran must independently adhere to and comply with.
2. Iran must -- as a threshold requirement -- verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment program, so as to counter the Iranian strategy of delay, or buying time, for a nuclear breakthrough. Indeed, as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta recently put it -- and international experts have similarly made this point -- if the Iranian enrichment program is not suspended, Iran will have a nuclear bomb by the end of 2012, with all the consequences relevant thereto.
3. Iran must ship its supply of enriched uranium out of the country where it can be reprocessed and made available to Iran, under appropriate inspection and monitoring, for use in its civil nuclear program.
4. Iran must verifiably close -- and dismantle -- its nuclear enrichment plant at Fordow, embedded in a mountain near Qom, which the Iranians had initially denied had even existed. Otherwise, Iranian enrichment at Fordow will enter the zone of impenetrability rendering it closed to inspection and immune from any military strike.
5. Iran must suspend its heavy water production facilities at Arak. It is sometimes forgotten that heavy water is an essential component for producing plutonium, which is the nuclear component North Korea used in the building of its own nuclear weapon. Simply put, the path to nuclear weaponization need not be travelled by uranium enrichment alone -- and the suspending of uranium enrichment, however necessary, will not alone result in Iran verifiably abandoning its nuclear weaponization program.
6. Iran must allow IAEA inspectors immediate and unfettered access to any suspected nuclear sites. Indeed, as a signatory to the NPT treaty, Iran is bound by its treaty obligations not to pursue nuclear weapons and to open its nuclear sites and installation.
7. It should not be forgotten that Iranian authorities had announced -- even boasted -- in 2009 and 2010 of their intention to build ten additional uranium enrichment facilities. The IAEA still has not received any substantive response to its request for information about this nuclear archipelago of additional uranium facilities.
8. One should not ignore that Iran's nuclear weaponization program continued to advance against the backdrop of the 3 Ds of denial, deception, and delay. For example, in 2007 and 2010 Iran continued to conceal its nuclear activities by not informing the IAEA of its decision to build a new nuclear plant at Denkhovia, or the additional enrichment facility -- the aforementioned Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant. Therefore, the need for inspection -- and verification -- is crucial, and must include the Iranian authorities providing the IAEA the requisite access, as the IAEA has called for, to the necessary documentation, personnel, sites etc. that Iran is concealing.
9. Iranian authorities need to grant the IAEA access to the Parchin military complex near Tehran. As the IAEA has reported, Iran has conducted high explosive testing -- possibly in conjunction with nuclear materials -- at the Parchin military complex. As Anthony Cordesman has reported, these are "strong indicators of possible weapons development."
Yet Iranian authorities have repeatedly denied such access to the IAEA -- including refusing such visits in January and February 2012, while at the same time dismissing the IAEA information as a set of "forgeries." Moreover, Yukiya Ammano, IAEA chief, has called access to Parchin a "priority" citing also the sanitization of the site -- and possible removal of incriminating evidence of weaponization -- this past March.
This might explain why just this Tuesday information was emerging to the effect that the Iranians are prepared to grant access to Parchin. Interestingly enough, Iran is already being cited for this "concession," which its alleged sanitization -- and cover-up of the evidence -- would have made such access less meaningful in any case, and where access to Parchin alone is but a miniscule part of the undertakings to which Iran must adhere.
10. Iran needs to allow the IAEA to install devices on centrifuges for the monitoring of uranium enrichment levels. Simply put, Iran could move to weapons grade uranium even if it is using only Leu(?) enriched uranium by increasing both the number and the speed of the centrifuges.
11. As Senators Liberman, McCain, and Graham put it in their Wednesday Wall Street Journal article, there needs to be an additional agreement respecting "intrusive inspections based on the Additional Protocol under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to ensure the Iranians aren't lying or cheating about the full scope of their program, as they have in the past."
12. Negotiations should not ignore, marginalize, or be allowed to sanitize Iran's massive domestic repression, or provide cover for their continuance. When the US negotiated an arms control agreement with the Former Soviet Union, it did not turn a blind eye to the USSR's human rights abuses. Indeed, the Helsinki Final Act linked the security, economic, and human rights baskets. Negotiations with Iran should do no less.
13. Nor should the negotiators ignore Iran's ongoing state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide, a standing violation of the Genocide Convention itself. Simply put, Iran has already committed the crime of incitement to genocide prohibited under international law and should be called to account to cease and desist from such incitement.
In summary, given the Iranian pattern of denial, deception, and delay, the whole while uranium continues to be enriched and centrifuges continue to spin, while the nuclear weaponization program is on the verge of a "breakthrough" -- only a verifiable abandonment by Iran of its nuclear weapons pursuits will suffice. For that objective to be secured, negotiations must not be a cover for the 3 Ds, but a password to full Iranian compliance with their international obligations, and a benchmark for international peace and security.