Around Laurent Fabius' visit to Tehran

interview with Shokoo Khodaie for Tehran Times (August 2, 2015)

What is the purpose of Mr. Fabius’ trip to Iran ?

 Obviously, the purpose was to start anew with the Iranian-French relationship which has been battered by the long and difficult nuclear crisis. Mr. Fabius has been very well received in Tehran and this shows that the Iranian governement is in the same state of mind. President Rouhani will go to Paris in November at the invitation of President Hollande and this will be also a very strong signal of willingness to build together again a warm and fruitful relationship. Do not forget that President Hollande was the first Western Head of State to meet President Rouhani after his election, in September 2013, on the occasion of the United Nations General Assembly, in New York. So, on the French side, the will is clearly there, and I am convinced that it is the same on Iran's side. 

What are the priorities for co-operation between the two countries ?

Most people will answer that the priority should be business, but I believe that the history of Iranian-French relations goes much beyond shere business. It is much richer than that. Business is of course important, it is a good way to build up confidence between people, but cultural and scientific cooperation, cooperation between Universities, cooperation for the protection of the environment, and of course political cooperation on all subjects of common interest are equally and perhaps  even more important. If I had the choice, I would probably choose the protection of environment as the absolute and most urgent priority.  

Apart from bilateral co-operation between the two countries, what were the most important issues discussed during this visit ? 

I believe that all the crises affecting at the present moment the Middle East, as in Iraq, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen, Lebanon, as well as the fight against extremism and terrorism, have been part of the conversations of Mr.Fabius with Mr.Zarif and President Rouhani. These are subjects in which Iran and France may have differing views, but have certainly common interests!

Is there any rivalry between France and German to penetrate the Iranian markets? 

There is certainly no rivalry between Germany and France. There is, at least in some fields, the normal and healthsome competition  which should exist in an open market between companies which have an shared interest in the Iranian market. Sometimes French and Germans work together in the same company, as in Airbus. Sometimes, French companies have no German competitors, as in the oil and gaz industry, where there is no German equivalent of Total or Institut français du Petrole. Sometimes there is indeed a competition, as between Siemens and Alstom on the public transportation market. For the benefit of the Iranians, may the best win!

French automobile companies do not have a good track record during recent years in Iran. What are their projects and plans to make up for this ?

I beg to differ with this statement. If you ask the Iranian customers, I believe that they are satisfied with the  models constructed in Iran with the cooperation of Peugeot and Renault, and consider these cars as robust, pleasant to drive, and accessible to the middle class. If you ask the Iranian manufacturers, I believe that they consider their French partners as having greatly contributed to create with them a culture of quality, of reliability, of "zero defect", of respect for the Iranian customer. And I can confirm to you that the French automakers were also deeply satisfied with their cooperation with Iran Khodro and Saipa and have developed with their Iranian counterparts solid bonds of trust and friendship. Now, it is true that American pressure and sanctions have almost completely destroyed in a few years this beautiful common venture. But it is only a matter of common will to restore it. It could be put together again in no time.

The Minister, Mr. Laurent Fabius, has been criticized for his firm stance during the nuclear talks — many Iranians perceived him to be particularly harsh. What do you expect from the Iranian side about French positions?

I can understand how the Iranians were somewhat puzzled and angered by some of Mr.Fabius' statements during this long and difficult negotiation, but I can assure you that it was never in his intention to derail the talks. He had his own vision of a "robust" agreement, but after all, the Iranians also wanted a robust agreement! It was in nobody's interest to have a weak agreement, which could have been the source of new quarrels about its interpretation and implementation. Now that all the parties are satisfied with the result,  it is time to turn the page and start a new chapter. 

What did you recommend to Mr. Fabius for this mission ?

I did not meet Mr. Fabius personally before his visit, but I have had the opportunity to express my views in several media outlets. There are two points on which I believe that France could play a useful role in the region. First by helping to bring closer two key players in the Middle East, Iran of course and also Saudi Arabia, with which France has developed recently a good relationship. If these two countries could start working together on solutions for solving the Syrian, the Iraqi, the Yemeni crises, this would be more helpful than all the American interventions! I know it is not easy, but it is not a reason not to try. The second point is a bit technical. It concerns the pending ratification by three countries in the region of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which forbids any kind of nuclear explosion. The ratification of this Treaty creates no difficulty at all for Iran. It has already signed it in 1996, and has, of  course,  no intention  whatsoever  to build a bomb. But Iran, with some good reason, says that it will not ratify it if Israel does not ratify it. Egypt is in the same position. France has good relations with Iran, Egypt and Israel. If it could slowly by slowly convince these three countries to ratify simultanuously this treaty, it would be a first step in the direction of a Nuclear Free Middle East, which is in important goal for the Iranian diplomacy.

How do you see the future of relations between Iran and France ?

Of course, we have to accept that it will take some time to rebuild a fully trusting and close relationship, but in all fields of cooperation, if we put our strengths in common, the sky is the limit! 

The Additional Protocol and Beyond: A Legal and Political Point of View

Nobody knows the exact content of the Additional Protocol signed by Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in December 2003. That protocol was designed to complement and reinforce the somewhat outdated Safeguards Agreement signed by the same two parties in 1973, which entered into force the following year. Iran did not present the protocol to its parliament for ratification but applied it as a goodwill gesture from 2004 to February 2006, when Tehran was dragged before the Security Council. The text of this protocol has never been published, and we must thus believe Mr. Yukio Amano, the director general of the IAEA, when he tells us that this document allows his agency to investigate all types of Iranian locations, be they civilian or military. We also know that the Iranian Supreme Leader has vehemently forbidden his negotiators to accept a future agreement that permits just any kind of intrusion of the IAEA into military facilities or access by IAEA inspectors to Tehran’s nuclear scientists.

On the other hand, we can assume that the content of the Additional Protocol signed between the IAEA and Iran is not significantly different from the model Additional Protocol, text available on the Agency website. If this is the case, what exactly are the rights and duties of Iran under the provisions of such an agreement? This is a point of major importance, as Iran has accepted, in the Lausanne framework for the future Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to be finalized by the end of June—with the “P5+1” group of China, France, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States—to voluntarily implement, again, the Additional Protocol signed in 2003, pending ratification by its parliament.

The model Additional Protocol makes it clear that the IAEA has a right of access to any place, site, location, or facility, thus implicitly including military sites. But the grounds on which the Agency can seek such access are precisely defined. They must relate to the presence of nuclear material or nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities. In other words, the IAEA inspectors are entitled to look for fissionable material or sources of fissionable material—mainly uranium and plutonium—and activities related to the management of such material in processes such as conversion, enrichment, fuel fabrication, operation of nuclear reactors, and fuel reprocessing. But any activities related to theoretical or basic scientific research are outside the IAEA’s domain. Even under the Additional Protocol, its inspectors are not authorized to enter any building or any office, or open any drawer in search of just any kind of document.

“Possible Military Dimensions”

Strangely enough, activities properly dedicated to the engineering of a nuclear explosive device are not covered by the model Additional Protocol, as long as those activities do not include some use or manipulation of uranium or plutonium. This means, for example, that the IAEA’s repeated requests to inspect a specific building located in the sprawling military complex of Parchin—where it suspects that Iran conducted experiments in the late 1990s with classical explosives capable of triggering a nuclear explosion—do not fall under the scope of the Additional Protocol. And this should also be the case for all the other requests submitted by the Agency on the ground of “possible military dimensions” (PMD) of the Iranian nuclear program.

In the Agency’s jargon, these “possible military dimensions” cover activities conducted for the most part before 2003, the date on which the American intelligence community, followed later by the IAEA itself, considers that Iran halted a clandestine weaponization program by a decision taken at the highest political level. We know that the P5+1, or at least its Western members, are eager to clarify the PMD question. But the above analysis of the scope and limits of the Additional Protocol leads to the conclusion that the protocol does not cover that question. It should be addressed in a separate chapter of the future JCPOA, still to be completed, that is sometimes referred to as “Additional Protocol Plus.”

This should also be the case regarding the IAEA’s request to interview Iranian scientists. The Model Additional Protocol does not specifically consider this type of activity in the definition of “verification activities” that the Agency is entitled to conduct. But it could rightly be considered as part of information-gathering procedures pertaining to the implementation of the basic Safeguards Agreement as well as the Additional Protocol. Even so, such interviews should not blur the borders of these two documents. They should be limited to collecting data related to uranium and plutonium present on Iran territory and to nuclear fuel cycle-related research and development activities. But again, the questions that the IAEA would like to ask in order to clarify the “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program go much beyond these definitions and belong rather to an “Additional Protocol Plus.”

Bad Memories and Fears

The provisions contemplated for such an “Additional Protocol Plus” naturally revive unpleasant memories for the Iranians. They were not, of course, directly concerned about the investigations conducted by the United Nations and the IAEA on Iraqi territory after the first Gulf War in search of production sites and stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. But various reports regarding rough behavior and poor secrecy discipline of some of the UN inspection teams reverberated throughout the region and beyond. The whole episode was perceived as humiliating to any sovereign State.

And there is also the Stuxnet affair, which although not linked to IAEA inspections, certainly resonated negatively as an act of aggression by one or more foreign powers. The introduction by a foreign hand of this highly destructive computer virus in a centrifuge-monitoring program produced by Siemens was made possible by Iran’s interaction with the outside world. Iranians also cannot forget the serial assassinations of their nuclear scientists between 2010 and 2012. There is also no link here with IAEA verification activities, but these murders likely were related to some kind of international cooperation. Three of the victims participated in the Sesame project, a regional scientific venture around a synchrotron based in Jordan and run by nine participants: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Pakistan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey. Those scientists therefore had to travel to Amman, thus making them easy targets for clandestine collection of information on their residences, personal relationships and other data of interest for an intelligence service. Some observers also consider that, contrary to its previous record, the IAEA has developed somewhat unwholesome relationships in recent years with various intelligence services, relationships that, while allowing the Agency to expand its information base, has also enhanced the risk of its manipulation.

All these elements certainly loom large in the minds of the Iranian negotiators, making them particularly suspicious of any proposal regarding verification requirements that go beyond the limits of their Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol. On one hand, the suspicions raised by Iran’s previous infractions of its non-proliferation obligations make it difficult for the IAEA to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear activities on Iranian territory without having at its disposal, at least for a given period of time, some kind of toolbox allowing it to probe into possible weaponization activities. And the issuance of such a clean bill of health is an essential step for creating long-standing confidence between Iran and the international community.

On the other hand, the Iranians fear that such a toolbox could very well turn into a kind of Pandora’s box, paving the way for never-ending and ever more intrusive inquiries. Making things even more difficult, Iranian scientists, engineers, and officers who may have played a role in the covert nuclear program halted in late 2003 have most likely obtained from the Supreme Leader himself some kind of pledge of immunity and personal protection in exchange for their compliance with such a painful decision. As a result, negotiators on both sides must deploy all their imagination and ingenuity in finding a mutually acceptable solution to the highly divisive issue of an “Additional Protocol Plus.”

(as published by the website Lobelog on June 2, 2015)

Lights and Shadows of the Lausanne Agreement

                                                                                                             April 5, 2015

The results obtained in Lausanne on April 2 in the negotiation between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) and Iran represent an outstanding landmark in the long process initiated by the first contacts in 2012 between Iran and the United States under the aegis of the Sultan of Oman. This process was bolstered by the November 24, 2013 Joint Plan of Action establishing the method, the accompanying confidence-building measures, and the end goals of the negotiation of a comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. Now, the Lausanne arrangements appear to have removed a significant number of stumbling blocks on the way to such an agreement, allowing us at long last to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Reached through exceptional efforts by the American and Iranian delegations, it can be hailed as a success of the U.S. team led by Secretary of State John Kerry, which displayed an extraordinary amount of perseverance, imagination, and initiative to circumvent Iranian resistance and finally win the day.

At the same time, an analyst owes the truth to its readers. Two documents seem to constitute the visible bulk of the Lausanne arrangements. First, a Joint Statement read successively to the press by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif; second, a document issued almost simultaneously by the US State Department Press Office, and entitled “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Nuclear Program.” The first one is rather short and drafted in general terms. The second is much more detailed, with precise figures, percentages, and time spans, such as the number of first-generation centrifuges allowed to spin over a period of 10 years, or the maximum stockpile of low enriched uranium (3.67% at most) allowed on Iranian soil over a period of 15 years.

Of the two documents, only the first can be considered as being formally agreed by all the parties. The second has been issued unilaterally, under the sole responsibility of the American side. We presume of course that American diplomacy behaves in a responsible way and, therefore, that the Iranian delegation has judged the numerous parameters listed in this document as at least acceptable. But this is the most that we can say. The first paragraph of this second document underlines that these key parameters have been “decided in Lausanne” but does not say by whom exactly. It reminds the reader that these parameters “form the foundation upon which the final text of the JCPOA will be written between now and June 30, and reflect the significant progress that has been made in discussions.” Needless to say, in diplomatic language, there is still a long way between “significant progress in discussions” and a real agreement. And the paragraph concludes with the now consecrated formula: “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” In other words, at this point in time, nothing is agreed.

As for the short Joint Statement, which reflects the common understanding of the parties, it speaks indeed of solutions reached on “key parameters,” thus alluding to the American document. But it does not say explicitly that all the delegations have agreed to these solutions. On the positive side, however, the Iranian authorities have not yet raised any formal protest following the publication of the “Parameters” document, which contrasts with what happened in November 2013 after the Americans had issued a similar document giving their own vision of the Joint Plan of Action just agreed upon. This time, Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif tweeted that “The solutions are good for all, as they stand. There is no need to spin using ‘fact sheets’ so early on.” This can be read as a veiled critique of the “Parameters” document but not as an outright rejection. It should also be kept in mind that the Supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, publicly dismissed last February the idea of a two-stage deal, thus preventing the Iranian delegation from joining in Lausanne any kind of interim detailed agreement. All in all, these parameters can certainly be considered as a kind of resource bank for building the final agreement and a basis for discussion for all the parties. But obviously the road to the comprehensive, detailed agreement expected at the end of June will still be hard, bumpy, and full of booby traps.

At the present time, the indisputable bedrock on which the Parties are invited to build an agreement consists only of the formulas found in the Joint Statement:

  • “Iran’s enrichment capacity, enrichment level and stockpile will be limited for specified durations… there will be no other enrichment facility than Natanz;”
  • “Iran’s research and development on centrifuges will be carried out on a scope and schedule that has been mutually agreed;”
  • “Fordow will be converted from an enrichment site into a nuclear, physics and technology centre…There will not be any fissile material at Fordow;” 
  • “A modernized Heavy Water Research Reactor in Arak …will not produce weapons grade plutonium;”
  • “A set of measures has been agreed… including implementation of the modified Code 3.1 and provisional application of the Additional Protocol;”
  • The EU will terminate the implementation of all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions and the US will cease the application of all nuclear-related secondary economic and financial sanctions, simultaneously with the IAEA-verified implementation by Iran of its key nuclear commitments;”
  • “A new UN Security Council Resolution will endorse the JCPOA, terminate all previous nuclear-related resolutions and incorporate certain restrictive measures for a mutually agreed period of time.” 

This is already plenty, enough to characterize the Lausanne arrangement as a success, and to be optimistic about the final result.

One concluding remark. A silence looms large over the results of the Lausanne meetings. Why do we not find in any of the available documents or the flow of accompanying declarations produced in Lausanne at least a signal encouraging Iran to consider ratifying the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which forbids all kinds of nuclear explosions for military as well as civilian purposes? As we know, Iran was among the first countries to sign this treaty in 1996 but has not yet ratified it. Its ratification within the framework of the future Comprehensive Plan of Action would be an overwhelmingly positive indication for the international community and provide an added solemn guarantee about the peaceful intentions of Iran in the nuclear field. There is an explanation, of course, for this strange neglect. Two members of the P5+1 group, whose ratification of the Treaty would help it enter into force, still hold back on their own decision: China and the United States. This is how it goes with non-proliferation.

(as published on April 5, 2015 by the Lobelog website :

What if Iran were to say that it is considering withdrawing from the NPT?

The risk for failure in the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran has increased after the emergence of difficulties put to light in the last meetings in Oman and Vienna. The resolution of the main remaining points of contention, which concern the Iranian capacity of enrichment, and even more problematic, the timetable of the lifting of sanctions, call for daring political decisions from both parties, running counter to the positions of their respective establishments. The new majority of the American Congress, obviously eager to intervene in the process, can at any time, by adopting additional sanctions, threaten to trigger the collapse of the discussions or make it irreparable.

As the perspective of a comprehensive agreement has become more elusive, the idea has been floated of a less damaging solution, based on revolving extensions of the present provisional agreement. After all, the Joint Plan of Action adopted on November 24, 2013, offers to the United States and its partners inside the P5+1 Group (the permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany), in exchange of modest alleviations of sanctions, an effective control over Iran’s nuclear ambitions : as long as its uranium enrichment activity remains capped at the low rate of 5% and the completion of the Arak reactor is indefinitely postponed, the two ways to the bomb (production of highly enriched uranium and production of weapon grade plutonium) are blocked for good.

 But for Tehran, such a deal would mean a freeze in the development of its nuclear capacities while reducing any hopes of regaining some day its freedom of making decisions within the framework of a clear and permanent set of rules. It is therefore doubtful that Iran will wait passively until the United States makes it choice between extending again, or not, the present provisional agreement; inking, or not, a comprehensive and long-term agreement; imposing, or not, new sanctions on Iran… eventually striking, or not, the Iranian nuclear facilities.

At such a juncture, people in charge on the P5+1’s side should be careful not to entertain the illusion that they have finally cornered Iran under the pressure of sanctions, now combined to a dramatic drop in oil price. Tehran still keeps at its disposal a capacity for turning the tables. Americans and Europeans could be themselves under pressure to review their behavior if, for instance, Iran were to announce its intention to evaluate the opportunity of launching in the near future a legal procedure of withdrawal from the Treaty of Non-Proliferation.

Article X of the Treaty reads :“Each Party shall … have the right to withdraw from the Treaty if it decides that extraordinary events, related to the subject matter of this Treaty, have jeopardized the supreme interests of its country.” Iran is in a position to argue that the almost complete blockade imposed on its economy and its population in the name of a supposed “threat to peace” has all the aspects of a discriminatory and extraordinary measure deeply hurting its supreme interests. And of course, new American sanctions would only make things worse. It could underline that such a behavior directed against a fellow member of the Treaty having accepted not to acquire the bomb by members of the NPT enjoying the privilege to maintain a nuclear arsenal is indeed contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Treaty.

Iran could argue along the same lines that, whatever its past infractions to its obligations under its safeguards agreement with the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA), with most of them admitted and corrected, nobody, even among the numerous inspectors of the Agency after thousands of hours of research, has been able to present any “smoking gun” pointing to the manufacturing of a nuclear explosive device and the preparation of a nuclear test. Tehran could also argue that the focus put by the P5+1 Group on the famous “breakout time” makes it clear that, in all cases, Iran still is behind he starting line of an eventual race to the bomb. As a result, it could conclude that the Security Council had no right to impose upon Iran the type of sanctions provided for by Chapter VII of the United Nations’ Charter only in response to an alleged “threat to peace” – and for some of its most prominent members, even less right to adopt on the wake of these first sanctions their own unilateral sanctions.

At the same time, Iran, in order to present itself as a responsible player, should clearly state that its withdrawal from the NPT would have no influence upon the validity of its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA and its overall commitment not to acquire the bomb. In accordance with the provisions of this agreement, Iranian nuclear material placed today under IAEA safeguards would remain submitted to exactly the same controls and inspections. New facilities such as the nuclear reactors to be built in Bushehr by the Russians would also be submitted to the same IAEA safeguards.

Within such a new legal framework, Iran, in order to escape IAEA safeguards, would need to run nuclear facilities built without external assistance, using only domestically extracted uranium and nuclear fuel produced in Iran. But to alleviate all fears and suspicions, it would be in Iran’s interest to accompany its eventual withdrawal from the NPT by a declaration stating that it would keep on abiding on a voluntary basis to the Treaty’s provisions by keeping all its nuclear material and facilities, present and future, under IAEA safeguards. Such an occurrence is not unknown in History. France, which joined the NPT only in 1992, issued in 1968 a statement at the United Nations explaining at the same time its reasons of principle for not signing the Treaty, but also its firm intention, for the sake of non-proliferation, to behave like a signatory. Of course, it would be made clear at the same time that any plan to attack Iranian nuclear facilities placed under IAEA safeguards would definitively compromise this set of commitments.

Finally, it would be important for Iran to declare that it would be ready, if it were to engage in such a venture, to rejoin the NPT the very day the UN and unilateral sanctions related to its nuclear activities were rescinded. Considering the importance of not setting a precedent undermining the coherence and the effectiveness of the Treaty, the  risk of Iran’s withdrawal should force the P5+1 to face up their responsibilities as the main guardians of the NPT. Hopefully, it could have a sobering effect on the American Congress, and hasten the conclusion of the comprehensive agreement under discussion with Iran.