Thursday, December 11, 2014

Iran Nuclear Talks: The Fog Recedes

Source International Crisis Group
Iran Nuclear Talks: The Fog Recedes

When twelve months of intense negotiations between Iran and the P5+1/EU3+3 ended with yet another extension, sceptics saw this as confirmation that the talks are doomed. But it would be as grave a mistake to underestimate the real progress as to overstate the chances of ultimate success. A landmark agreement is still within reach if both sides adopt more flexible postures on enrichment capacity and sanctions relief.  

Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, also known as the EU3+3) failed to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement by their self-imposed 24 November deadline but have made considerable progress in the past twelve months. Though both sides expressed their political constraints and irreducible requirements for a deal more clearly than before, two core differences remain: the size of Iran’s enrichment capacity and sanctions relief. In its latest briefing, Iran Nuclear Talks: The Fog Recedes, the International Crisis Group sheds light on deficiencies of the talks thus far, examines both sides’ concerns and redlines, and argues that an accord can still be reached without violating either side’s core principles and interests.

The briefing’s major findings and recommendations are:
  • Iran’s redlines are two-fold: recognition of its right to industrial-scale enrichment and that any irreversible concessions it makes will be met with commensurate relief on sanctions, specifically their termination, not just suspension. For its part, the P5+1 insists on denying Iran a breakout time – the interval required to enrich enough fissile material for one weapon – of less than a year and on maintaining the sanctions architecture, even if some are suspended, for the duration of the comprehensive agreement.
  • To expedite talks, Iran and the U.S. should immediately reactivate a quiet diplomatic channel to find a solution that takes into account their respective domestic constraints and core interests. In parallel, France, Germany and the UK should join forces to alleviate the concerns of the U.S. Congress, Israel and Arab states by clearly explaining the merits of an agreement and bolstering their security and strategic cooperation.
  • Both sides are excessively concerned with the number of centrifuges permitted by a putative agreement. Iran will have no need for its currently operational enrichment capacity in the near future; the West has no reason to fear an Iranian breakout in declared and closely monitored facilities with a limited number of centrifuges.
  • There is a credible path to a long-lasting deal. It would require Iran to postpone its plans for industrial-scale enrichment while the P5+1 countenances controlled growth of that enrichment program and clearly defines target dates for a phased lifting of sanctions. The U.S. Congress should refrain from passing new sanctions that could undermine the diplomatic process and erode the P5+1’s unity.
“As pressures build in Washington and Tehran, and the region endures horrific instability and violence, the status quo might not be sustainable for long”, says Ali Vaez, Iran Senior Analyst. “Without tangible progress, even if the talks survive outside pressure until 1 July, another extension will damage the parties’ credibility and drastically diminish their chances of success”.

“There is no reason to be pollyannaish, but neither is there any reason to write off the talks when the parties have just had their most fruitful exchanges”, says Robert Blecher, Acting Middle East Program Director. “With patience, persistence, creativity and sufficient will, an agreement is within reach”.