Iran Nuclear Talks: Progress Requires Confidence-Building

Laura Rozen’s article “US Mulls Seeking Broader Deal In Nuclear Talks With Iran” is extremely interesting but also worrying.

It’s unclear what “a broader proposal” would look like but the implication that it would be “accompanied by a military threat” is cause for foreboding. How much time has to pass before some in the West understand that sticks don’t work with Iranians, who are not donkeys. Our Western addiction to coercion reminds me of what Talleyrand said about the Bourbons after the Restoration: “They learnt nothing and they forgot nothing”. In any case isn’t it a little early to be “doubting the viability of an incremental deal” and changing track? It’s only two months since the United States agreed, in Istanbul, to a “step-by-step” negotiation based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the principle of reciprocity. Does the US so easily go back on its word? God help the rest of the world, if so.

Some of us are not surprised that the Baghdad offer was unattractive to Iran. It would not have attracted us had we been representing Iran. Instead of offering some of the sanctions relief of which Iran is in sore need, the West offered no additional sanctions–and this in return for one of Iran’s strongest negotiating assets: the 20% enrichment activity at Fordow. It was rather like a mugger saying to a victim:” Hand over your wallet and I promise to stop kicking you.”

Incidentally, the “reversibility” of a freeze at Fordow would be no greater than the “reversibility” of a Western promise to abstain from further sanctions, or even to freeze the implementation of sanctions not yet in force.

US frustration over Iranian refusal to meet bilaterally is understandable. But Iran’s position is not incomprehensible. The Supreme Leader has made very clear that he has no confidence in the US. “[Americans] break their promises very easily. they feel no shame…they simply utter lies.” The trust deficit is not one-sided. Mutual confidence-building is required.

Surely the right call at this point is not to tear up the script and start afresh, but to try to come up with a better package of incentives and to set up a mechanism that permits intensive negotiation?

And wouldn’t it be sensible to turn a deaf ear to Israel? Israeli Ministers have made clear that they do not want this negotiation to succeed, because they know that a condition for success is recognition of Iran’s rights under the NPT (a treaty to which Israel has not seen fit to become a party). Israel’s refusal to join the NPT as a Non-Nuclear-Weapon State has created a big political problem for all in the West who regard the NPT as a more effective bulwark against nuclear proliferation than all the tricky wheezes of the “counter-proliferation” gang, and ought to vitiate Israel’s moral right to pronounce on nuclear non-proliferation issues.

Peter Jenkins

Peter Jenkins was a British career diplomat for 33 years, following studies at the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard. He served in Vienna (twice), Washington, Paris, Brasilia and Geneva. He specialized in global economic and security issues. His last assignment (2001-06) was that of UK Ambassador to the IAEA and UN (Vienna). Since 2006 he has represented the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership, advised the Director of IIASA and set up a partnership, The Ambassador Partnership llp, with former diplomatic colleagues, to offer the corporate sector dispute resolution and solutions to cross-border problems. He was an associate fellow of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy from 2010 to 2012. He writes and speaks on nuclear and trade policy issues.