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To nudge Iran talks, new UN resolution needed

UN Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop 'all' enrichment activities are outmoded, unrealistic, and hurt the Iran talks. A new resolution should promise to lift sanctions if the parties reach a reasonable agreement on Iran's nuclear program.

By Reza Nasri / April 25, 2013

Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili (right) leaves a photo shoot with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at talks between world powers and Iranian officials in Almaty, Kazakhstan, April 5. Op-ed contributor Reza Nasri writes: The shadow of the Security Council’s request 'looms over the talks.'

Shamil Zhumatov/pool/AP



The latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and “P5+1” international negotiators ended earlier this month with no more than an agreement to resume negotiations at a later date. As usual, pundits on both sides offered their assessments about why the talks did not succeed.

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But one factor – UN Security Council resolutions that Iran “suspend all enrichment-related activities” – may play more of a role in fruitless negotiations than most commentators realize.

Since 2006, when the Security Council first made that demand, it has repeated it in three subsequent resolutions, the latest being Resolution 1929, adopted in June 2010. But the demand to cease all uranium enrichment is overly restrictive, essentially denying Iran the ability to develop even peaceful nuclear power. For the negotiation process, this restrictiveness poses several problems.

First, the resolutions are out of touch with the realities on the ground in Iran – namely, enrichment taking place that is not at bomb grade (at least not yet). They are also out of date, neglecting all the developments and understandings that both sides have achieved throughout various rounds of negotiations since 2006.

Today, after years of multilateral negotiations, most negotiating countries seem to have adopted a more pragmatic and practical approach and no longer truly expect a full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities. Nonetheless, the shadow of the Security Council’s unrealistic and outdated request still looms over the talks.

Second, because of the Security Council’s radical stance on enrichment, world powers cannot legally offer Iran any meaningful relief on international sanctions in exchange for fair and reasonable concessions from Tehran. In the present climate, agreeing to anything short of a full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities would breach UN resolutions, and that would set a bad precedent and dent the credibility of the UN collective security regime.

Third, because of the legal restrictions that these UN resolutions impose on all states, including on Western states that are in the process of negotiating with Iran, P5+1 negotiators cannot legally offer Iran any technical incentive to secure its cooperation. The Security Council effectively bans most forms of assistance to, and investment in, Iran’s nuclear and energy sector. That restricts the  P5+1 negotiators, which are legally bound to maintain the full force of the resolutions, from offering any captivating alternative to Iran.

To illustrate the point, Germany’s Green Party submitted a proposal last year in which the German government would help Iran build a solar energy facility in exchange for Iran curbing some aspects of its nuclear program. Such a proposition, and similar ones, could have been put on the table by the P5+1 to increase the negotiations change of success. But the Security Council renders such creative initiatives irrelevant as their realization would be illegal under its resolutions.


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