Though Iran will probably not completely give up their civilian nuclear program, an agreement that is acceptable to both sides and secures stability is possible.
The Iranian government correctly argues that nuclear power is within their rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and it isvital to understand that any agreement that infringes upon this right would be political suicide for the regime.
Noting this, Iran must not be allowed to retain secret facilities or programs that enable it to have a nuclear “breakthrough” capability. This means that all non-IAEA monitored nuclear sites, especially the facilities at Parchin, must be open to inspectors. A strict monitoring and verification regime must be implemented to assure the international community that their nuclear program remains peaceful.
This would vastly improve the transparency of the Iranian nuclear program and work to allay Western fears of illicit weapons research. Eventually, the P5+1 can press Iran to finally ratify the Additional Protocol, but an inspections agreement and unfettered access to all of Iran’s sites must be set as a baseline for future assurances.
Iranian representatives have talked in recent weeks about their desire for sanctions relief to be a point of discussion in Baghdad. This shows that the strong sanctions implemented against Iran are working and legitimizes recent reports of an Iranian economy under siege. But unless there are substantial concessions from Iran, major sanctions relief should not be on the table. The U.S. and EU may opt to postpone additional sanctions as part of anagreement, but the negotiations between the two parties is not yet at the point where discussions regarding major sanctions relief is appropriate.
What the United States should look to achieve at this meeting are small but important confidence building measures. The U.S. views Iran with deep-seated suspicion built upon three decades of animosity. This hampers negotiations, taints the possibility of any future agreement, and invites political backlash.
A good first step for the Iranians would be the cessation of Uranium enrichment to 20%, verified by the IAEA, or a pause in the construction at Fordow. In return, the US or EU could sell excess grain or commercial airplane parts to Iran or temporarily suspend additional EU sanctions that enter into force July 1st.
These are only examples, but they illustrate that there is room for negotiation. Whatever is accomplished next week, whether it is a resolution to talk about IAEA inspections or small confidence building measures, they must show that the Iranians areserious about coming to an agreement on their nuclear program.
Of course, there are still major obstacles in the way of the full resolution of this issue. At the core of the problem is crafting an agreement that will satisfy all three parties: Iran, the United States, and Israel, all of which have vastly different threat perceptions and political challenges to consider. Reconciling these differences will be a monumentally difficult task, but next week’s meeting represents a real opportunity for progress on this important issue.
Lodge is the director of nuclear security at the American Security Project specializing in nuclear non-proliferation and international nuclear agreements.