The Iranian Nuclear File : Negotiation Can Work (March, 2007)

The deployment of the American Navy in the Gulf has reduced to a thin line indeed the distance between decision and actions of irreparable consequences. On the other end, a feeling develops in United States and in Europe that negotiation should be given at least a last chance.

People have started to realize that Iran, if only for technical reasons, is still a few years away from being able to assemble a nuclear explosive device. This assessment has been endorsed by the US Intelligence community, by the Head of the Mossad and by the Israeli Prime Minister.

People start also to realize that there is a much better chance to consolidate in the long term Iran's status as a non-military member State of the Non-Proliferation Treaty through negotiation than through the use of force.

Strangely enough, in the last months, the West has spent many more efforts to negotiate with Russia, China and others on the Iranian nuclear file than with Iran itself. Precious time has been wasted. A new negotiation should be short, intense, and success oriented. For its duration, both sides should abstain from counter-productive language and gestures. And to give the process the necessary momentum, the negotiation should be led on both sides by a high level personality, dedicated full time to its mission.

But what about the substance? Looking at what has already been said, or hinted at, an agreement can be built along the following lines.

The Western side should be able to acknowledge Iran's desire to spare its resources of fossile energy and prepare for the future. It should understand Iran's aspiration to become a relevant player in the field of advanced, future shaping, technologies.

Iran, on its part, should understand that, to be admitted in the community of responsible nuclear nations, it should abide by a set of rules and obligations, the first of which being the ratification and enforcement of the last rules adopted by IAEA, i.e. the Additional Protocol.

The Western side should also consider that no international regulation can forbid a bona fide NPT Member to explore technologies offering a direct benefit for its peaceful nuclear program, however sensitive they may be. This is the case with the technology of uranium enrichment through centrifugation. It is true that Iran has seriously violated in the past its NPT commitments. But the ratification and faithful enforcement of the Additional Protocol would demonstrate a new attitude, paving the way for a "second chance".

This is not enough. Iran, as well as any country, should also recognize that the high sensitivity of this specific technology calls for a special framework of technical and legal guarantees, placed under IAEA control :

- consistency between the development of a centrifugation capacity and the progression of the electro-nuclear program it is supposed to feed. The possession of a full-scale centrifugation capacity cannot come before the operation of a significant park of nuclear power plants,

- limitation of the rate of enrichment to the needs of a civilian program, that is at most 5%,

- swift integration of the low-enriched uranium (LEU) domestically produced into fuel components, much easier to control. As long as they could not be manufactured in Iran, Iranian LEU should be exported as soon as produced to the country, or countries, providing fuel to the Iranian reactors.

Iran should finally consider the opportunity of renouncing to develop in the foreseeable future sensitive technologies of no interest for its electro-nuclear program, such as the use of heavy water reactors and the reprocessing of spent fuel. Following such a decision, the other side should be ready to cooperate with Iran for the construction of an advanced research reactor and the corresponding research program.

On such a basis, informal contacts with Iran could open without delay. If they were positive, Iran would let know its readiness to suspend its sensitive activities for a preset, limited time, on the condition that the Security Council suspend its sanctions. The Security Council would indicate its readiness to answer positively. Suspension of sensitive activities and suspension of sanctions would be simultaneously announced on both sides. The negotiation would start immediately.

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