Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

Iran's Diplomacy in Action

| August 23, 2006


In this insider's assessment of Iran's long-awaited response to the incentive package offered by the United States and other world powers, Abbas Maleki and Kaveh Afrasiabi argue that this is an opportunity for diplomacy that could actually halt Iran's nuclear enrichment and address the concerns of the West.

After months of delay in responding to the package of incentives offered by the UN Security Council's Permanent Five plus Germany (P5+1), Iran has submitted a detailed and comprehensive response that puts the diplomatic ball squarely back in the court of the P5+1.

While rejecting the UN's demand for an immediate halt to its uranium-enrichment activities, Iran¹s response still leaves the door open for serious negotiations, and perhaps an acceptable resolution of the nuclear showdown for all parties.

By agreeing to put the issue of suspension of enrichment activities on the table and to commence the talks immediately, Iran has sent a strong signal that the internal debate between power centers in Iran's leadership has ended in favor of voices of moderation seeking a mutually satisfactory resolution of the nuclear standoff with the West. It will be a pity if Washington overlooks this opportunity for a fair negotiation with Iran, especially considering the details of Iran's response.

Iran has, expectedly, sought clarification on a number of issues, including the following:

€ The incentive package mentions respecting Iran's rights under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), yet the only NPT articles mentioned are Articles I and II, pertaining to non-proliferation, and not Article IV, pertaining to a country's "inalienable right" to acquire nuclear technology;

€ Iran wants firm guarantees on the proposed offers of nuclear assistance, such as the sale of light water reactors to Iran, as well as a secured nuclear fuel supply;

€ Iran seeks clarification on the status of U.S. sanctions which presently prohibit those offers of nuclear and technological assistance to Iran: Is the United States willing to lift some if not all of those sanctions?

€ The package's promise of an Iran-EURATOM cooperation agreement needs to be fleshed out;

€ The package's brief reference to security and its hint of Iran's participation in a "regional security" arrangement needs further clarification; and,

€ The timeline on the promised incentives, including the economic and trade incentives, has to be made specific.

Furthermore, Iran's response indicates that Iran is willing to re-adopt the IAEA's Additional Protocol and to take the steps toward legislating it as part and parcel of a final agreement.

Meanwhile, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has declared Iran's willingness to use its influence in Lebanon for an Israeli-Hezbollah prisoners' exchange, reminding the world of Iran¹s stabilizing role.

Clearly, given the tight interplay between the nuclear issue and Iran's political identity, no one should be surprised that Iran's leaders have opted against committing political suicide by giving in to international pressure and suspending the nuclear fuel cycle. But, far from rejecting this demand, Iran's response makes rather clear its feasibility as a result of the proposed talks, which Iran is willing to commence immediately, particularly if Iran's abstract rights under Article IV of NPT are explicitly recognized by the P5+1.

In light of the rights-sensitive Iranian public, Tehran will seriously entertain suspending the fuel cycle if and when it feels vindicated as a matter of principle, in a manner which creates conditions conducive to the idea of suspensions. A face-saving solution appears in which Iran could decide against implementing as an abstract right hitherto thwarted by the P5+1.

And now the UN Security Council, which had given Iran until the end of August to halt its nuclear fuel cycle, has a unique role to play either as spoiler or catalyst with respect to the opportunity afforded by Iran¹s response — to put the genie of Iran's nuclear crisis back in the bottle. Already Kofi Annan is directly involved in intense negotiations with Tehran, and, indeed, resolving the nuclear row may turn out to be one of the enduring legacies of the departing Secretary General.

Should the United States and its UN envoy, John Bolton, decide to ignore this opportunity and push for UN sanctions against Iran, despite the positive dimensions of Iran's offer, the stage will be set for a full-scale international crisis.


Abbas Maleki is the Director of the International Institute For Caspian Studies in Tehran and currently a senior research fellow at Harvard University¹s Kennedy School of Government. Kaveh Afrasiabi is a political scientist and author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts vs. Fiction.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Maleki, Abbas and Kaveh L. Afrasiabi.“Iran's Diplomacy in Action.” Agence Global, August 23, 2006.

The Authors