World powers must cut a deal with Iran before it's too late
Having hobbled Iran’s economy, the P5+1 believe they are negotiating from a position of power. But this attitude could be dangerously delusional and may backfire. A deal is needed to address the top concerns on both sides.
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Alternatively, or in addition, some of the EU banking and oil sanctions could also be suspended. As the P5+1 includes the UN Security Council nations, these negotiators could also propose the removal of some of the more painful UN sanctions.Skip to next paragraph
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The point is to use the sanctions for their purpose: to bring about a change in Iran's nuclear calculus, not to endlessly punish the Iranian people. In fact, it is possible that one of Iran's goals in continuing to enrich to 20 percent is its usefulness as a bargaining chip to exchange for sanctions relief. Tehran’s leaders may see enriching to this level as the only remaining leverage they have to get the sanctions removed.
What are perceived in the West as being provocative steps toward nuclear weapons capability may just be a negotiating strategy to get the draconian sanctions removed.
And if, for some reason, a deal between the P5+1 and Iran is still not forthcoming in April, there is yet another tactic to try: The IAEA could independently offer Iran technical assistance in converting its gaseous enriched-uranium stockpile to metallic fuel plates for future use in its research reactor. It is known that Iran is having trouble with this process.
This conversion essentially freezes the enrichment level and subtracts from the “enrichable” gaseous stockpile used in centrifuges. Whatever amount is converted to metal-oxide form is not easily available for further enrichment to weapons-grade uranium, even if Iran decided to launch a weaponization effort in the future. Reconversion back to gaseous form is difficult and time-consuming and a major roadblock if a country intends to “race to the bomb.”
And if the IAEA is hesitant to teach Iranian scientists the relevant uranium metallurgy for converting their fuel, another possibility would be to have a fuel-plate fabrication facility in Iran staffed by the IAEA. Though this may be somewhat expensive, it would be far cheaper than any war. To make certain Iran is not going to “breakout,” the IAEA could also propose to station permanent on-site inspectors at Iran's nuclear facilities.
Fundamentally, the ball is now in the world powers' court: Some serious sanctions relief could bring about the suspension of Iran's 20 percent enrichment work. The P5+1 nations should seize this opportunity. Why not achieve the P5+1 goals peacefully and inexpensively by lifting some sanctions soon, instead of trying – and likely failing to – do so at greater cost in a later war?
Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, is professor and scientist-in-residence at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. The views expressed are his own.