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Vail Daily column: Obstacles remain over Iran treaty

Matthew Kennedy
Valley Voices
Matthew Kennedy

The March 9 open letter by 47 U.S. senators to the Iranian government illustrates the challenges facing negotiators involved in the P5+1 talks (the U.S., United Kingdom, France, China, Russia and Germany) surrounding Tehran’s nuclear program. The discussions are one of the international community’s most complicated issues. It is a convergence of the world’s principle strategic players, a vital Middle Eastern actor and a key under-reported issue, nuclear nonproliferation. The talks’ final outcome may enhance America’s relationship with Iran — or result, possibly, in an augmented conflict, affecting Europe and the U.S. homeland.

A final agreement’s obstacles include:

• The status of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.

• When and how U.S., EU and UN sanctions will end.

• An accord’s length.

• Placating the various parties’ domestic audiences, especially those in the U.S. and Iran.

The primary objective of the P5+1’s members is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Tehran is seeking international recognition of its right to a nuclear program. The negotiations are deadlocked over Iran’s uranium enrichment program. Tehran’s nuclear activities probably wouldn’t have attracted international attention if it lacked the above component. Uranium enrichment is a principle element for nuclear weapons production; the process requires utilizing centrifuges. Centrifuges separate a uranium isotope, U-238, into a smaller version, U-235. It is used for nuclear power plants or weapons. A high U-235 enrichment is vital for nuclear weapons; the procedure is expedited with a higher number of centrifuges. The issue divides Iran from the P5+1 consortium. A prime obstacle surrounding the negotiations is determining how many centrifuges Iran is allowed. Washington and the Europeans are demanding Iran reduce its number of operational centrifuges, but Tehran is seeking an augmentation of its centrifuge inventory under an agreement. Iran is also requesting an accord allow for an increase of its enriched uranium output by over 200 percent starting at the agreement’s conclusion. Iran contends both are necessary for reactor fuel and other peaceful uses; Washington opposes the proposal.

The second issue regards an agreement’s time frames. It concerns when the U.S., EU and UN economic sanctions end, plus an accord’s length. The aforementioned parties are imposing various punitive financial measures to entice Iran toward ending its uranium enrichment pursuits. The sanctions are decimating Tehran’s economy. Iran wants an immediate lifting of the measures; Washington and Brussels are offering a phased ending based on Tehran’s compliance with an agreement’s tenets. The other issue is an accord’s length. The U.S. is seeking a 15-year period, while the Iranians insist upon an agreement lasting much less than 10 years. Washington sees a long-term accord as furnishing enough time to detect any treaty violations and covert efforts by Iran to develop nuclear weapons capability.

The final issue entails placating the domestic audiences of various P5+1 members, especially in the U.S. and Iran. The March 9 letter demonstrates one of America’s skeptical element. There is also arguably a similar doubt among other Congressional members and different groups such as the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee. Tehran’s primary critics are the Ayatollah Khamenei, plus an array of parliamentary hardliners and reformers. Iranian skeptics need convincing that Tehran is not abandoning its uranium enrichment program; they also demand an immediate easing of economic sanctions.

The negotiations’ unknown factors are Russia and China. Both possess strategic and commercial interests with Iran. Each has different and potentially conflicting policies with the U.S., UK, France and Germany over Iran’s nuclear program. Beijing and Moscow may prolong or expedite a final agreement. The situation maybe affected by the extent China and Russia are coordinating their negotiating efforts. Collaboration may compel Iran to cooperate on areas or accept measures Tehran rejects — or it might have the opposite impact. Ascertaining the extent of their synchronization efforts is difficult without access to classified intelligence.

In conclusion, one of two outcomes will result from the P5+1 talks. The first is an agreement that limits — if not prevents — Iran from developing and/or acquiring the technology needed for a nuclear weapons’ capability. It may also allow Tehran to retain a nuclear energy infrastructure, as defined under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The second potential result is the negotiations collapse. The former scenario may result in an eventual enhancement/augmentation of Iran’s diplomatic relations with the U.S. and Europe; the latter might result in an eventual Israeli attack against Iran’s various nuclear sites. Tehran may retaliate via attacking Tel Aviv plus different European nations and the U.S. homeland through suspected overseas-based Hezbollah sleeper cells. The scenario might occur depending on the extent Washington, London, Paris and Berlin support an Israeli operation. The P5+1 and Iran have more to gain strategically and economically by the negotiations’ success than failure.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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