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Iran: A Middle Route Out Of The Crisis

Iran's uranium conversion facility in Isfahan (file photo) (AFP) Russia and Iran resume talks today on a Russian proposal aimed at ending the standoff between Iran and the international community over Iran's nuclear program. The signals from recent rounds of discussions have been tentatively positive, with the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh, saying the two countries have reached a basic understanding but the head of Russia's Federal Atomic Energy Agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, adding that much work remains to be done. What if the chairman of Russia's Security Council, Igor Ivanov, and Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, fail to broker an agreement?

A report published in late February by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a nongovernmental organization that provides policy advice aimed at resolving conflicts, addressed the options and issued a set of recommendations aimed at finding a middle-ground solution. While saying the current Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf is its preferred option, ICG suggests a three-phase solution that would allow Iran a "delayed, limited enrichment" capability but under strict IAEA supervision and coupled with a series of concessions, assurances, and control mechanisms. Fatemeh Aman of RFE/RL's Radio Farda interviewed with the former deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr. Bruno Pellaud, who is a strong supporter of the recommendations.

Radio Farda: How do you expect the ICG plan to solve the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program?

Bruno Pellaud: Well, I think the report of the International Crisis Group tries to find a reasonable middle way between the European/Western views and those of Iran. Iran, as you know, is very reluctant to abandon completely enrichment forever, and the West, on the other side, would like Iran to stop completely. The question is, in a situation like this: How can we try to resolve the issue and come up with a solution that is acceptable to both parties? I believe that there are interesting middle grounds. First of all, it would be in the interest of all parties to delay any enrichment activities in Iran by a few years, just to help gain confidence in each other. Therefore, the ICG report suggests an initial delay, or a suspension period during which the parties will negotiate toward an agreement on the economic field. This period would be followed up by allowing Iran a limited enrichment capacity with a small number of centrifuges, maybe a few hundred. It is a consensus among many reputable scientists that with a small number of centrifuges, it is not possible to produce enough nuclear material for military purposes in a short period of time. So the ICG recommendation is a constructive attempt to resolve the issue peacefully. The report rejects military solutions, because there are none, and the Middle East is already enough of a muddle without adding another dimension. Therefore, the report incorporates security assurances to Iran. On the other hand, the West needs to be reassured about the long-term intent of Iran.

Radio Farda: If this is supposed to be a compromise making each side happy why is there so much resistance to it? David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) and a former inspector of the Iraqi nuclear program, writes that "contrary to the ICG claim, or implied claim, Iran has not obtained all the information it needs to operate centrifuges" and that Iran needs several more years to master the operation of centrifuge cascades and the construction of a centrifuge plant. ISIS writes: "Iran has spun or enriched uranium…only as single machines or in small cascades comprising no more than 10-20 machines."

Pellaud: I agree. But, there is no indication in the ICG report that Iran has spun more than several centrifuges separately, and that the Iranian have a full cascade in operation. The report never said Iran is able to do it now. However, it does say that they might do so in the future, so therefore one has to be careful. According to the ICG recommendation, in Phase Two of the plan, Iran will be allowed to enrich at no more than 5 percent, just sufficient for research and development. The enriched uranium should either be stored outside the country or immediately converted to fuel rods, and all unused centrifuges should be mothballed by IAEA.

Radio Farda: David Albright charges that allowing Iran to operate 500 centrifuges will enable it to acquire the expertise to establish secret enrichment facilities. How do you respond to that?

Pellaud: The ICG report did not specify the figure 500 as a recommendation. Mr. Albright believes that IAEA will never be able to impose an inspection regime capable of preventing such secret activities. I think that the IAEA could do that kind of verification, and Iran may well accept it, as it had accepted the voluntary implementation of the very intrusive Additional Protocol.

Radio Farda: Besides the criticism directed at the essence of the recommendations, there is also concern about the timing of this report, that by putting out a fallback position before negotiations have reached a final stalemate ICG might be weakening the position of the West at the negotiation table.

Pellaud: ICG has in the past made many proposals to resolve difficult conflicts all around the world. Several ICG initiatives have indeed contributed to bringing about fruitful negotiations between parties at odds with each other. ICG is neutral and nonpartisan. The Western arguments will have to stand on their own; ICG will not define policies. The ICG objective, I believe, is to contribute to a broad discussion of all sensible alternatives.

Radio Farda: ICG recommended that sanctions be lifted and normal diplomatic relations be resumed between Iran and the United States. However, the hardliners in Iran, primarily Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, may perhaps not want relations with anybody, and especially not with the United States. How would establishing normal diplomatic ties be perceived? As a reward for Iran?

Pellaud: Let me be even-handed. In Iran, with Mr. Ahmadinejad and his friends, there could be a tendency not to find a solution because international tensions can help the conservatives. There are also a number of people in Washington who don't want any solution with Iran and who are ready to reject any compromise for reasonable negotiations. This is the main difficulty we have right now, but I do believe that the ICG report is a useful contribution to bringing about a solution that is in the interests of both sides.

Security Guarantees For Iran?

Security Guarantees For Iran?

Hans Blix (CTK)

SECURITY GUARANTEES On January 26, RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman spoke with former UN chief weapons inspector HANS BLIX about the confrontation between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Blix urged the United States to participate in direct negotiations with Tehran and to offer Iran security guarantees that are similar to those being discussed with North Korea...(more)


Listen to the complete interview (about five minutes):
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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.