Three Iran Nuclear Analysts Explain why hope is not lost

Yesterday I picked up a copy of the July/August issue of Arms Control Today, the magazine of the non-profit Arms Control Association (ACA) based here, in Washington, DC. Those who follow events surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and US-Iran relations will appreciate the ACA’s output, which, while not exclusively focused on Iran, consistently provides a wealth of related expert analysis and resources.

There are three important articles in this year’s Summer issue (available in print or online), the most interesting of which seems to be a piece penned by Hossein Mousavian, a former member of the Iranian government and nuclear negotiator who is now a research scholar at Princeton. Mousavian, who is no friend of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (he was briefly imprisoned in 2007 under dubious-sounding charges of spying), is considered an authority on matters related to Iran’s nuclear program especially when it comes to explaining the Iranian perspective. He does just that in Arms Control Today while charting the “origins” of and “current options” for the nuclear dispute. Missed opportunities and the constant imposition of pressure and punitive measures against Iran by the West have resulted in Iranian advances of its nuclear program, argues Mousavian, before listing 7 points in support of his thesis including historical triggers for Iranian nuclear advances such as the West’s withdrawal from nuclear deals that were made during the era of Iran’s last Shah, US support for Saddam Hussein’s savage use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces during the bitter Iran-Iraq war and Western failures to take advantage of deals proposed by Iran that would have satisfied almost all of the outcomes being sought today. Counterproductive seems to be the word for summing up the West’s approach to Iran according to Mousavian:

At the time of [the June 18-19 talks in Moscow], Iran had not only mastered enrichment to the 20 percent level, it had achieved milestones few could have imagined: the domestic production of fuel rods for use in the Tehran reactor, about 10,000 centrifuges, more than 6,000 kilograms of LEU, and 150 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium. Yet, the West still is not ready to respect the right to enrichment to 20 percent or even 5 percent. Not only has the West pushed Iran to seek self-sufficiency, but at every juncture, it has tried to deprive Iran of its inalienable right to enrichment. This has simply propelled Iran to proceed full throttle toward mastering nuclear technology. The Iranians never intended to go this far and would have been content with the West or another country supplying their fuel. The irony is that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program is the product of Western efforts to pressure and isolate Iran while refusing to recognize Iran’s rights.

While Mousavian states that the West seems positioned towards limiting its options to embarking on a disastrous military campaign or implementing measures that will only propel the Iranians to make further nuclear advancements, he still sees “a way out”:

All is not lost, however. Iran and the P5+1 could agree on a face-saving solution under which Iran would adhere to all international nuclear conventions and treaties at the maximum level of transparency defined by the IAEA. Furthermore, Iran would be flexible on 20 percent enrichment, its stockpile of material enriched to that level, and every other confidence-building measure to assure the international community that the country would remain a non-nuclear-weapon state forever. This would ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear activity. In response, the United States and the other members of the P5+1 would agree to recognize Iran’s legitimate right to enrichment under the NPT and gradually lift the sanctions. This framework can be realized in forthcoming talks through a step-by-step plan based on the NPT, mutual confidence building, and appropriate reciprocity as agreed in the Istanbul talks in April.

Also in the magazine is an editorial by ACA Executive Director Daryl Kimball, a steadfast charter of Iranian nuclear developments, wherein he counters claims (most loudly made by hawkish commentators regularly tracked at Lobe Log) that all hope is lost over the possibility of resolving the current impasse peacefully:

A deal that ties Iran’s enrichment activities and its stockpiles to the actual needs of Iran’s nuclear power plants, combined with more extensive IAEA safeguards, could sufficiently guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. Pursuing such a course is difficult, but it is the best option on the table.

Finally, Harvard’s Olli Heinonen, who served for 27 years at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, lists Iran’s nuclear program advances which he believes show that “Iran is positioning itself as a virtual or latent nuclear-weapon state”. But even Heinonen, a widely quoted expert who is never shy about shining a glaring light on worrying Iranian actions, says a “potential solution is still in sight”:

The involved parties already have charted the rough outlines of a long-term deal, comprising efforts by Iran to undertake practical steps to ensure that its nuclear program cannot be used for nuclear weapons and to give the international community confidence that this is the case. In return, Iran would receive cooperation with the West in a number of areas. These could include, as part of a comprehensive package, addressing Iran’s nuclear power needs, giving assurances of nuclear fuel supply, providing fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor to produce radioisotopes for medical and industrial purposes, replacing that reactor with a modern civilian reactor, and providing assistance in nuclear safety and security.

Heinonen concludes by urging continued participation in the diplomatic process:

The road of negotiations after Moscow will continue to be rocky, but it is crucial to keep diplomacy on track. This means focusing on the overall goal that would address the proliferation concern of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, instead of becoming bogged down in the process itself.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. Olli Heinonen claims that Iran is a “virtual nuclear weapons state” because it has a crude diagram of nuclear warheads. In fact much more detailed and accurate diagrams of nuclear weapons have been declassified by British and American governments, and can be found in any library.

    Furthermore even right now, 40 countries are already “virtual nuclear weapons states” so Iran is hardly the odd one out.

  2. damn it! my computer has this internet access that gives it these plans too. I for one will watch this computer like a hawk.

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