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October 16, 2013

After Geneva Talks A Consensus on Moving Forward
Posted by The Editors

By Homa Hassan

The two-day round of P5+1 negotiations with Iran just concluded in Geneva and Western diplomats are carefully reviewing a detailed proposal presented by Iran. As this proposal is being reviewed ahead of the follow-on meetings in November it is important to look at what the realistic prospects of a deal will look like. Going into this week’s talks, a number of commentaries came out attempting to set negotiations up for failure. However, it is widely agreed that a negotiated solution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program is the best way to achieve a sustainable solution and a recent survey of reports and recommendations from bipartisan think tanks and high-level experts demonstrates a broad consensus on how to approach negotiations and overall policy towards Iran.

On Sunday, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) wrote in the British paper The Telegraph, “My colleagues in the US Senate and I…will not accept any level of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. We will not accept an Iranian plutonium reactor. And unless we see Iran take immediate steps to comply with all its Security Council obligations, we will move forward with a new round of sanctions targeting all remaining Iranian revenue and reserves.”

Across the board, however, experts agree that it is unrealistic and infeasible to expect a permanent end to Iranian enrichment.  The body of literature indicates that after international concerns are resolved through rounds of negotiations, future enrichment will need strict IAEA supervision. At the same time, the authors encourage exchanging recognition for the right to enrich for a limit on the extent of enrichment, as well as discussing the cost-benefit angles of Iran’s nuclear policies, facilities, and security. Tantamount to moving negotiations forward, the reports say that hostile rhetoric needs to take a backseat during opening of the negotiation process.

Important to keep in mind is that negotiations do not mean appeasement. If sanctions have thus far been working well enough to commence negotiations again, their value has provided the leverage most useful as a preventative tool. The experts agree that forgoing new sanctions and creating a plan to gradually lift them with verifiable cooperation allows sanctions to be among the negotiators’ most useful bargaining chips. They also note that new sanctions could be counterproductive and prevent an amenable deal for the West. The reports further note that a more positive reaffirmation of commitment to the region and strengthening of security and diplomatic ties during negotiations with Iran serve to more adequately bolster U.S. interests, regardless of Iran’s nuclear future.

On the military options, Ambassadors Eric Edelman and Dennis Ross, co-chairs of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, put out a report over the long weekend, saying “[The U.S.] should also make clear the alternatives to an acceptable deal are enhanced sanctions that could collapse Iran's economy and/or a U.S. military strike.” Echoing the sentiment yesterday, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) published an op-ed for USA Today in which he wrote “[A]t some point, Congress should consider making it very clear that if it becomes necessary, the United States reserves the right to take military action to prevent Iran from continuing to advance its nuclear weapons program.” 

The body of expert literature indicates that while the P5+1 have pursued parallel diplomatic and pressure tracks, it is clear that neither approach on their own can induce desirable or sustainable consequences. They assert that while keeping a credible and well thought-out military plan on file is important, ramping up the threat of military force could be extremely costly in a number of ways. Any military operation in a country with the geographic size and location of Iran would not be enough to dash Iranian nuclear aspirations, but could easily rock an already volatile geopolitical region and destroy international support that has taken years, if not decades, to form. Even in the event that the international community fails to prevent Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, the authors assert that predefined contours of a military option as a last resort necessitate multilateral and long-term strategies to resolve the nuclear impasse.

To see the full set of options, refer to the matrix on Addressing Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recommendations


Ms. Hassan is a Herbert Scoville Peace Fellow at the National Security Network



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