Thursday, August 28, 2014

Iran and the P5+1: Getting to “Yes”

Source: International Crisis Group © 2014

November’s deadline could be the last chance to avoid a breakdown in the Iran and the P5+1 nuclear talks. Compromise on Iran’s enrichment capacity is key to ending the impasse, requiring both sides to walk back from maximalist positions and focus on realistic solutions.

Despite significant headway in negotiations over the past six months, Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., UK, Russia, China, France and Germany) remain far apart on fundamental issues. In its latest briefing, Iran and the P5+1: Getting to “Yes”, the International Crisis Group argues that both sides have forgotten the lessons that brought them this far. They have wrongly assumed that desperation for a deal would soften their rival’s bottom line and compel it to ignore its domestic political constraints. The result is a dangerous game of brinkmanship that, if continued, will yield only failure. Though there is little room for error and no time to waste, a workable compromise is still possible. Iran and the P5+1: Getting to “Yes”, Crisis Group’s latest briefing, building on the 40-point plan for a nuclear accord it detailed in May, explores a half year of talks, investigates the new realities facing negotiators and offers an innovative way out of the impasse.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Iran and the P5+1 should find common ground by reverse-engineering political concerns underlying their technical differences. For Iran, this means a meaningful enrichment program; continued scientific advancement; and tangible sanctions relief. For the P5+1, this requires a firewall between Iran’s civilian and potential military nuclear capabilities; ironclad monitoring mechanisms; and sufficient time and cooperation to build trust.
  • Iran should accept more quantitative constraints on the number of its centrifuges and postpone plans for industrial-scale enrichment. In return, the P5+1 should accept the continuation of qualitative growth of Tehran’s enrichment capacity through research and development.
  • Iran should commit to using Russian-supplied nuclear fuel for the Bushehr reactor for its entire lifetime, in return for stronger Russian guarantees of supply and enhanced P5+1 nuclear cooperation, especially on nuclear fuel fabrication. This would gradually prepare Tehran to assume responsibility for a possible additional plant, or plants, by the end of the agreement, in eleven to sixteen years.
  • An accord should be based on realistic, substantive milestones such as the time the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) needs to investigate Iran's past nuclear activities ­ to determine the duration of the final agreement's several phases rather than subjective ones dictated by political calendars.

“Neither side’s arguments bear scrutiny in the debate over the number of centrifuges, because the roots of their differences are fundamentally political”, says Ali Vaez, Iran Senior Analyst. “Negotiators are both driven and constrained by their respective domestic politics, especially the U.S. and Iran, where powerful constituencies remain skeptical of the negotiations and have the leverage to derail them”.

“The moment of truth for Iran and the P5+1 has arrived. Should it be lost, it is unlikely to soon reappear”, says Robert Blecher, Acting Middle East Program Director. “The parties could allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good and watch the best opportunity to resolve this crisis devolve into a mutually harmful spiral of escalation. Or they could choose wisely”.