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Iran: The Room For Diplomatic Maneuver

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad El-Baradei, briefs the media on 2 February during in a crucial meeting of the IAEA's governors about Iran's nuclear dossier. (epa) With the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) set to ask the United Nations' Security Council to address the issue of Iran's failure to extend "indispensable and overdue" cooperation and help the IAEA to "clarify possible activities which could have a military dimension," Shahran Tabari of RFE/RL's Radio Farda asked Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London, to sketch out what the international community might do in the months ahead to persuade Iran to compromise.

RFE/RL: The IAEA is voting today on Iran's nuclear dossier and all predictions say that it will agree with the EU-3's draft resolution to refer Iran to the Security Council [the EU-3 comprises Britain, France, and Germany]. Iran has already threatened that it will immediately start nuclear enrichment and close its door to outside inspection. What would you think the next step would be for the West?

Mark Fitzpatrick: Well, Iran's threats are a bit strange, because they already began the enrichment work on 10 January, so to say that they will resume enrichment is a bit, you know, putting the cart before the horse. In terms of their threat to suspend voluntary cooperation with the agency inspectors [of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency], this would be another belligerent act by them that I think will only make the rest of the world more united in requiring Iran to suspend its enrichment activity. But Iran seems to be very defiant and not in a mood for compromise, even though many concessions have been offered and there's a good face-saving way out on the table.

RFE/RL: Some Iranian experts, or some Iranian officials, believe that, although the West believes that the West would be united against Iran, but that when push comes to shove China and Russia will take Iran's side, in a way. In other words, even if they on the surface agree with the agreement, they would continue dealing with Iran; and Iran is hoping to divert its business to these countries, [so] it will not need the West, in a sense. Do you think that will be acceptable?

Fitzpatrick: Iran is hoping that it will be protected by Russia and China from facing any serious measures. But I think that Iran has to now make another calculation, because, for the first time, Russia and China have sided with the other permanent members of the Security Council to say 'yes, we are frustrated with Iran, it's time to send this issue to the Security Council.' So I think that when this issue gets to the Security Council there will be various consultations on what measures to take. Russia and China will be reluctant to impose economic sanctions – but, if Iran continues to refuse to accept any compromise, I think Russia and China will make the necessary calculation that it's time to put some pressure on Iran.

RFE/RL: Do you see any further room for diplomacy and negotiation in this case?

Fitzpatrick: I think there's plenty of room for diplomacy and negotiation. When this issues goes to the Security Council, diplomacy will continue, just in another venue, while it continues in Iran. Negotiations are going to be continuing over the next month. Iran has been given one last chance to strike a compromise, to accept the Russian deal. And, if that happens, the Security Council won't take any action for the next month. So there's some breathing room here, some room for compromise

RFE/RL: Iran has threatened to play the oil card, but OPEC has refused to cooperate with Iran. How far do you think that the West can play the oil card, by reducing purchases of oil from Iran or, for some period, maybe even stop purchasing oil from Iran . Do you think that would [offer] room for maneuver for the West?

Fitzpatrick: I think that there are many other steps that the West would look at before trying to play that particular oil card. The West may start to reduce its oil dependency on Iran, but that's a very harsh, double-edged sword. I think [that] before that there are a lot of diplomatic measures, political sanctions might be considered, targeted economic sanctions; and if it gets to hydrocarbon sanctions, it's more likely that there would be targeted measures applied to areas of the Iranian economy [and] oil industry that are bottlenecks.

RFE/RL: You said that there's one month's buffer zone for diplomacy and coming to some agreement. What do you think that agreement would be? Would Iran completely, do you think, give up its claim to its right to enrich [uranium]?

Fitzpatrick: No. Iran is not being asked to give up any rights at all. And I think that's the thing that is not understood in Iran – that no one is asking Iran to give up rights. They are only being asked to forego the exercise of those rights until they have restored the confidence and trust of the international world. So the compromise here is to enrich uranium outside Iran, in a joint venture with Russia – [with] maybe some other countries, like China, joining in – until that date by which Iran is able, by its actions, to assure everyone that it is not seeking a military nuclear program.

The IAEA Resolution

The IAEA Resolution

On 2 February, the 35-member Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency began discussing a draft resolution aimed at referring the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the United Nations Security Council. The key section of the resolution is Section 1, which states that the Board of Governors:

Underlines that outstanding questions can best be resolved and confidence built in the exclusive peaceful nature of Iran's program by Iran responding positively to the calls for confidence building measures which the Board has made on Iran, and in this context deems it necessary for Iran to:

  • reestablish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and processing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the Agency;
  • reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water;
  • ratify promptly and implement in full Additional Protocol;
  • pending ratification, continue to act in accordance with the provisions of the Additional Protocol with Iran signed on 18 December 2003;
  • implement the transparency measures, as requested by the Director General, which extend beyond the former requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol, and include such access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military-owned workshops and research and development as the Agency may request in support of its ongoing investigations.

THE COMPLETE TEXT: To read the complete text of the resolution, click here.

THE COMPLETE PICTURE: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.