November 20, 2014
Host: The Hudson Institute
Mr. David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security
Dr. Hillel Fradkin, Director, Center on Islam
Dr. Ray Takeyh, Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
On November 24 a year-long negotiating process will reach its deadline, and Iran and the P5+1 will be forced to make a decision: either extend negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program or terminate the process entirely. While the U.S. and its European partners succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table by applying heavy economic pressure, it remains to be seen whether Western led sanctions can yield actual results.
The major issue now facing negotiators is not “whether Iran should be allowed to enrich,” since it is, but “at what capacity should it be allowed to enrich?” However, Mr. Albright is concerned that negotiators are getting too caught up debating the capacity of Iran’s nuclear program while ignoring the program’s focus. While negotiators may be able to reach an agreement on the number of centrifuges that Iran is able to operate, Mr. Albright argued that there should be “no deal until Iran addresses its past nuclear research.” Most importantly he argues that the U.S. and its allies need to know the extent to which Iran pursued and studied nuclear weapons. Without this key bit of information there will be no way of telling just how compliant Iran has been in scaling back its program.
This argument was further supported by Dr. Fradkin, who acknowledged that Iran is already “a threshold nuclear state.” It is the P5+1’s duty to find out just how close to the nuclear threshold it is. Without uncovering this information there is no way to assure the region and world that Iran is developing its program peacefully. Without this assurance, Iran’s continued nuclear activity will only push Saudi Arabia and other regional powers to assume the worst
, develop their own nuclear capabilities, and potentially send the region into a new arms race.
In the end, however, Iranian scientists cannot unlearn what they know, and Iran will from here on out be a nuclear threshold state. Therefore, the goal of negotiations is not to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capabilities but to keep their nuclear program in check, have it heavily monitored by the IAEA, and limit the country’s breakout time to roughly one year. While some politicians in the U.S. have been hopeful that Iran’s new “reformist minded” President Rouhani would be more eager to go against the Supreme Leader and strike deal with the U.S., Dr. Takeyh argues that these thoughts are misguidedly “trying to manipulate factional politics in a government of consensus.” Although Rouhani is certainly different than past Iranian leaders, the U.S. has been too eager to paint him as an outlier in Iranian politics. The reality is that he is a “center-right” leader who, like the rest of Iranian politicians, is largely in line with the Supreme Leader’s policies. While he may have demonstrated pragmatism in the past, President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Zarif, and the rest of Iran’s negotiators have largely stuck to the Supreme Leader’s agenda and have been unwilling to make any meaningful concessions.
With neither side budging, the vast majority of experts expect for the negotiations to be once again extended. Although talks have yet to yield any tangible indicators of progress, all the parties involved have invested too much time and effort to simply walk away now. In Iran Rouhani ran on the platform that he would strengthen the country’s economy. In the U.S. President Obama cannot afford to deal with another escalating crisis in the Middle East. Whether this mutual desire for a deal will result in a mutually palatable agreement remains to be seen.