In June 2013, two key factors created conditions more favorable for resolving the Iranian nuclear crisis—the devastating impact on Iran’s economy of international sanctions, especially oil and banking sanctions, and the election as president of pragmatic regime insider Hassan Rouhani, who views an agreement on the nuclear issue as a crucial means of ending the sanctions, rebuilding Iran’s economy, and overcoming its international isolation.
P5+1/EU negotiations with Rouhani’s new team— supplemented and accelerated by secret U.S.-Iranian engagement—led to agreement in November 2013 on a Joint Plan of Action (JPA), a six-month interim agreement designed to provide the time and space needed to work out a final, comprehensive solution.
Today the E3+3 (UK, US, Russia, China, France and Germany), led by Baroness Ashton, are meeting Iran in Vienna for the start of the final round of negotiations aimed at reaching a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.
This is a crucial moment in international efforts to resolve one of the most challenging foreign policy issues of to day.
The interim agreement reached in November last year is due to expire on 20 July.
What will Iran choose? Despite many months of discussion, we don’t know yet. We do know that substantial gaps still exist between what Iran’s negotiators say they are willing to do and what they must do to achieve a comprehensive agreement.
As 20 July deadline approaches, Foreign Secretary William Hague says a deal is far from certain but final round of talks must test the possibility to the full. Achieving an agreement is far from certain.
Significant differences remain between the E3+3 and Iran which are yet to be bridged. But I am convinced that the current negotiations are the best opportunity we have had in years to resolve this issue.
These gaps aren’t caused by excessive demands on our part. On the contrary, the E.U. and P5+1 negotiators have listened closely to Iran’s questions and concerns and showed flexibility to the extent possible consistent with our fundamental goals for this negotiation.
Over the next three weeks, an intensive effort will be required by all sides.
There remains a discrepancy, however, between Iran’s professed intent with respect to its nuclear program and the actual content of that program to date. The divide between what Iran says and what it has done underscores why these negotiations are necessary and why the international community united to impose sanctions in the first place.
An Iranian nuclear crisis has been building for a long time. Iran’s claim that the world should simply trust its words ignores the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency has reported since 2002 on dozens of violations by Iran of its international nonproliferation obligations, starting in the early 1980s.
Since the early 2000s, we have witnessed failed negotiations between Iran and the EU3 (U.K., France, Germany); the exposure of several covert Iranian nuclear facilities; the discovery by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of numerous Iranian safeguards violations; a formal finding of Iranian non-compliance by the IAEA’s Board;
the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of sanctions and the demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment; Iran’s defiance of the Council and failure to address IAEA concerns about past nuclear weapons-related activities; years of unproductive talks between Iran and the EU/P5+1; and the imposition by the United States and a broad international coalition of crippling sanctions against Iran.
All the while, Iran steadily ramped up its nuclear program—to the point where it now has the enrichment capacity, should it decide to build nuclear weapons, to produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a first nuclear bomb in about two months.
The U.N. Security Council responded by adopting four resolutions under Chapter VII, requiring Iran to take steps to address these violations.
These issues cannot be dismissed; they must be addressed by the Iranians if a comprehensive solution is to be reached. These are not just the expectations of any one country, but of the community of nations.
Along with our international partners, we helped chart a path that would allow Iran to have a domestic program for exclusively peaceful purposes. We proved that we were flexible in offering financial relief.
It was in that spirit that President Obama committed the United States to exploring the possibility of a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear standoff. Throughout these talks, Iran’s negotiators have been serious. Iran has also defied the expectations of some by meeting its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action, which has allowed time and space for the comprehensive negotiations to proceed. Specifically, Iran has been eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium, limited its enrichment capability by not installing or starting up additional centrifuges, refrained from making further advances at its enrichment facilities and heavy-water reactor, and allowed new and more frequent inspections.
In exchange, the European Union and the P5+1 have provided limited financial relief to Iran, even as the architecture of international sanctions and the vast majority of sanctions themselves remained firmly in place.
To gain relief from sanctions, the world is simply asking Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear activities are what it claims them to be.
If Iran is able to make these choices, there will be positive outcomes for the Iranian people and for their economy. Ultimately, this would lead to the lifting of all nuclear related sanctions and Iran being treated like any other non-nuclear weapons state.
Iran will be able to use its significant scientific know-how for international civil nuclear cooperation. Businesses could return to Iran, bringing much needed investment, jobs and many additional goods and services. Iran could have greater access to the international financial system.
The result would be an Iranian economy that begins to grow at a significant and sustainable pace, boosting the standard of living among the Iranian population. The benefits of a comprehensive deal for Iran are clear. If Iran is not ready to do so, international sanctions will tighten and Iran’s isolation will deepen.
“Our negotiators will be working constantly in Vienna between now and July 20. There may be pressure to put more time on the clock. But no extension is possible unless all sides agree, and the United States and our partners will not consent to an extension merely to drag out negotiations”, writs Secretary of State John Kerry. Iranian nuclear deal still is possible, but time is running out
Iran must show a genuine willingness to respond to the international community’s legitimate concerns in the time that remains.
- Foreign Secretary William Hague This is a crucial moment in international efforts.
- Robert J. Einhorn. Series Paper 10: March 2014: Preventing a nuclear-armed iran: Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement.
- http://www.washingtonpost – iranian-nuclear-deal-still-is-possible-