In March, the Washington Post’s David Ignatius suggested that sanctions and “covert actions” should be used to “sink” the Iranian government rather than bombs. Six months later, Ignatius — like Dennis Ross and Jeffrey Goldberg — is offering suggestions for slowing Israel’s alleged march to war with Iran. (I say “alleged” because there is still serious debate about whether Israel would actually follow through on its threats).
After noting that negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are expected to resume in the next few weeks, Ignatius argues that “bridging” proposals can help the involved parties avoid the roadblocks from the last round of talks. One such proposal comes from Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian negotiator who is now based at Princeton:
He told me this week that in addition to capping enrichment at 5 percent, Iran might agree to a “zero stockpile” of this low-enriched fuel. A joint committee with the P5+1 would assess Iran’s domestic needs, and any enriched uranium would either be converted immediately to the needed fuel rods or panels, or it would be exported.
In exchange, Mousavian argues, the P5+1 would recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would gradually lift sanctions.
This intriguing proposal lacks official Iranian support, but it would address Israel’s biggest concern and would surely interest U.S. officials. Mousavian also notes Iran’s willingness to allow much wider inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) into what are known as “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program. This transparency proposal would allow the IAEA to monitor any possible breakout, but U.S. officials caution that, if the Iranians decided to go for a bomb, they could simply expel the IAEA inspectors and make the dash.
Ignatius also reiterates a point made in March by the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen: the United States needs to establish a “hotline” with Iran. (Mullen had called for the US to utilize “any channel that’s open” for engagement with Iran, noting that “Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union”, and in July, 11 former US intelligence officials also urged the President to establish a “direct communications link between U.S. and Iranian naval commanders in the Persian Gulf”.)
Here’s a final thought, based on the all-too-real possibility that negotiations will remain deadlocked and Israel will decide to take unilateral military action. In the resulting fog of war, there will be a need for reliable communications in the Persian Gulf and a hotline with Tehran. Establishing these communications links is an urgent priority, as the rumors of war continue.