Friday, October 30, 2009

Iran: One Cool Nuclear Negotiator

by Mark Pyruz

There is a mistaken impression in the West that Iran perceives itself the focus of an international demand to relinquish the majority of its low-enriched uranium, in order to prevent its imminent manufacturing of a nuclear weapon. For their part, the Iranian perspective is completely different.

Contrary to Western perceptions, the current deal put forward by the E3+3/P5+1 is not the initial proposal for refueling the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). That initial proposal was publicly put forward last September in New York by President Ahmadinejad, where he offered to purchase medium enriched uranium from existing nuclear fuel suppliers (including the United States). Subsequently, at the Geneva 2 talks, the West and Russia provided a counter-proposal that Iran ship 1200 kilograms of its LEU to Russia by January 15, to be converted to medium-enriched uranium, whereupon France would fashion the product into fuel rods for shipment back to Iran. This complicated arrangement was explored "in principle" in Geneva and later worked on still further in subsequent talks held in Vienna. At the conclusion of those talks, a target date for a decision by all powers present was put forward by ElBaradei for the following Friday. However, the Iranians understood this date as a time frame, and surely anything but a demand. Throughout all of this, it's important to realize that Iran is not looking at this process in terms of diplomatic demand. Rather, it views this as an ongoing negotiation process being managed by the IAEA.

This nuclear proposal has since been formally introduced to Iran's decision makers. Predictably, there are quite a few who find the offer highly dubious. For starters, there is a very poor track record for both France and Russia, in regards to these two countries living up to their word in previous nuclear agreements with Iran. Thirty years ago Iran put up more than $1 billion dollars to help build a French nuclear reactor in return for access to that reactor's fuel. To date, the French have never delivered any amount of fuel- not one iota. Likewise, roughly fifteen years ago Iran signed a contract with a Russian firm to complete the Bushehr nuclear facility. What's transpired since then is an endless stream of broken promises, missed schedules and arbitrary work stoppages. To this day, Bushehr remains less than fully operational. These are the two partners Iran is expected to do business with in this proposed nuclear deal. In addition to this, there are legitimate concerns that while Iran's LEU stock is away, in further nuclear negotiations down the road, the West may try to leverage its returned fuel by imposing additional conditions for its release.

Details are sketchy of Iran's decision making, but we can make out three Iranian nuclear proposals (to the West's one) put forward in this ongoing negotiation process:

1) Iran offers to purchase the nuclear fuel required for TRR from an existing supplier.
2) Iran offers to further enrich its own LEU stock into fuel stock inside Iran for TRR, under the strict technical supervision of the IAEA (a benefit stipulated under the terms of the NPT), possibly in partnership with another country.
3) Iran may be offering to accept the current deal offered by the West with some modifications, such as transferring its LEU stock in installments. Also, Iran may yet accept the current deal as it now stands.

It's interesting to note that at this point in time, certain Western officials and media outlets are depicting this ongoing negotiation process in a dire and negative light; while in stark contrast, President Ahmadinejad publicly praises the effort. Right now, the ball seems somewhere near mid-court. One thing appears likely: it will not be the Iranians that decide to break off negotiations, if that's how this ultimately plays out.

One item of significance which seems absent from Iran's internal public debate is any talk of rejecting further negotiation based on the recent Jundallah terrorist attack in southeastern Iran. Iran maintains substantiated claims of Western support for Jundallah (see here and here), yet the Iranians haven't so much as missed a beat in their continued engagement with the nuclear negotiation process. Just imagine for a second if the United States, France or the United Kingdom had suffered a terrorist attack with any sort of linkage back to the Islamic Republic of Iran; how that would have affected the nuclear talks! Nor did the Iranians wilt under the West's bombastic assertions over its disclosure of the Qom pilot enrichment facility.

No, the West is being shown that it faces a cool yet reserved negotiator. It's not in the West's interest to attempt negotiations in bad faith or to critically overestimate the amount of leverage it has over Iran. For Iran may not need this deal as much as the West thinks it does, while Iran retains the option of the status quo.

Acknowledgments to Arnold Evans, Muhammad Sahimi and Mahan Abedin


Anonymous said...

a really good Analyse from Mark Pyroz

Anonymous said...

if iranians suck at everything, but there is one thing they are really good at: hypnotic negotiations !

Kemjika said...

where does Iran really go from here? the stalling tactic has paid off for a while, but this is the getting to "crunch time"-crunch time for ISrael,US, even Iran. I predict that Iran will either have to give complete,undoubted access to its entire nuclear program, or She will have to fight to keep the program the way they want-which i would assume means a military aspect. Its time for the IRGC to prepare to stand for the nuclear program, or iran can kiss this nuclear "dream" bye bye for ISrael and US' dogs of war will be on their way to Natanz very soon..

Anonymous said...

Israel and US have their foot deep in the manure of their own problems and if you know the iranians, bombing natanz wont just end their. You have to ask, what happens next? will the Iranians sit down and pop sunflower seeds in their mouth after an attack? They will turn the whole region into hell eventually leading to the destruction of Israel, even to the cost of their own destruction. So you have to realize that these military threats from the west are hollow, because Mommy USA has a habbit of only attcking nations that are already dead or near death (pick on the weak)

Kemjika said...


1.You're correct.I know the IRGC! offcourse it wouldn't just stop at bombing Natanz. THe question the Iranian leadership must think about is.."do we want Natanz bombed at all"?
If the US and Israel attack Iran, by airforce or other means within the next year, i predict Iran will flood IRGC troops into Afghanistan and Iraq and look to sustain a destabilizing campaign against NATO+US troops. Iran is very likely already cranking up the heat on NATO troops in Afghanistan.Iran loses money for the most part, AMerican loses lives. And we're surprised it might be showdown soon? ha ha.