Vail Daily letter: Accord may bring new trust
December 11, 2013
The Nov. 23 agreement between the United States, Iran, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China was possibly a strategic turning point. The problems surrounding the Iranian nuclear program remain far from resolved. The accord is an opportunity that may ultimately serve as a foundation for the resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis, and the eventual re-establishment of U.S.-Iranian diplomatic relations. Both scenarios can occur, but only if a mutual, verifiable trust transpires.
The "Joint Plan of Action," as the accord is officially called, achieves several objectives:
• Iran's right to enrich uranium is acknowledged.
• Tehran allows inspections of key nuclear sites.
• Iran agrees to halt enriching its current uranium stockpile.
• Various U.S.-E.U. mandated financial/energy sanctions are eased that will start elevating Iran's economic hardships.
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• A long-term solution toward resolving the controversy is offered.
• The agreement fails to cover potential military elements of Iran's nuclear program.
A key Iranian demand since the talks between Tehran and P5+1 participants (the United Kingdom, France, United States, Russia, China and Germany) began has been recognition of Tehran's right to enrich uranium. Many within Washington and London's foreign policy circles have resisted the requirement. Enriched uranium is a key ingredient for nuclear weapons production. A concern is that Iran will eventually use its enriched uranium for the aforementioned purpose; Tehran's leaders assert it is for medical purposes. The various negotiators arrived at a compromise. The agreement's language states, "Iran (will) fully enjoy its right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes under the relevant articles of the (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) in conformity with its obligations therein. This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits."
The agreement's wording absolves British and American leaders of condoning Iran's right to enriching uranium, while meeting Tehran's condition.
Iran acceded to several U.S., French, U.K. and German requirements. These included unhindered, in-depth inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities by IAEA officials, most notably the Natanz Fuel Enrichment Plant, Fordow and Arak sites. The nuclear agency's inspectors are also allowed comprehensive access to the details of Iran's nuclear program (aside from the potential military element, a topic later discussed). These include plans, nuclear sites descriptions, scale of operations and related data. A key final Iranian concession regards its enrichment activities. Tehran agreed not to enrich its existing uranium stockpile from 5 to 20 percent for six months.
The P5+1 members agreed to an Iranian demand regarding sanctions to a lesser degree. Tehran insisted on an easing of economic-energy sanctions in return for concessions on its nuclear program. The consortium agreed to avoid introducing new E.U./U.N. sanctions directed toward Iran's nuclear program. It suspended sanctions designed to curtail revenue from Iran's oil imports. The last major concession included creating a financial channel facilitating humanitarian trade for Iran's domestic needs by using Iranian oil revenues held abroad.
The agreement's last major element is it provides a long-term framework for resolving the Iranian nuclear program controversy — providing all parties adhere to the accord's tenets. The agreement will be implemented over a six-month period.
The accord is flawed, however. Its prime weakness is the agreement doesn't address Iran's nuclear program's military dimension. The matter would be a non-issue — if the negotiating parties had dealt with Iran's activities at the Parchin military site. The facility is suspected of conducting high explosive experiments relating to the development of nuclear weapons. The agreement failed to address the site's activities. The site's inspection could confirm or refute suspicions that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons program. Failure to include the Parchin site in the accord doesn't mean the issue won't be discussed later. It's possible the P5+1 members agreed to revisit the matter once an assessment of all sides authenticity and trustworthiness is determined after the initial six-month agreement transpired.
The accord is an opportunity, despite its imperfections. It is a chance to take a small step toward re-establishing trust. The agreement is probably more of a trial for the Americans and the Iranians than the British, French, Germans or the Russians and Chinese (both have strong ties with Tehran). Its success or failure is contingent upon how observant all parties are to the agreement's tenets. A successful implementation may lead to a long-term resolution of the Iranian nuclear crisis; it might also result in an improvement in other strategic issues between Washington and Tehran, perhaps even the re-establishment of diplomatic relations eventually. The accord's failure will probably continue an ongoing mistrust between the United States and Iran. It might also heighten instability in the Middle East, especially between Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States. The next six months will determine whether U.S.-Iranian relations remain permeated by suspicion — or if the relationship starts a long-term improvement.
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 email@example.com.
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