Monday, November 02, 2009

Iran: What Does “The West” Want?

Processes on this side of the negotiations are more transparent than on the Iranian side, but not completely so. As a result, I’ll take the liberty of adding in more interpretation than I did in my post on what the Iranians want. I’ve also put “the West” in quotes because it encompasses a number of countries with different objectives: America, the European countries, Russia, China, and, of course, Israel. You will note that I am leaving out other countries in Iran’s neighborhood. I am echoing most of the American news coverage in this; it may be a bad judgement, but that’s how the negotiations are set up.

I’ll list most of the objectives.

1. That Iran not build nuclear weapons. This objective is shared by all “Western” parties for a number of reasons. Introducing one more nuclear player into an overnuclearized and unstable part of the world is a bad idea. Iran is signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), and its leaving or defying that treaty will damage the world consensus on that subject. Israel does not want a nuclear competitor, and America tends to side with Israel. The European nations may have some sympathy for maintaing Israel’s special status; it’s probably a small factor for Russia and China. We can add the desire of existing nuclear powers to minimize competition.

2. That Iran not have a nuclear “breakout” capability. This objective is shared more weakly for similar reasons. These first two objectives raise the question of whether and how the world might cope with a nuclear or near-nuclear Iran. Such a situation probably would be tolerable to all except Israel, and even they might be able to live with it, although that outcome would likely take much persuasion by America and Europe.

3. That Iran not enrich uranium. This comes in two strengths: that Iran suspend enrichment for talks and confidence-building and that it give up the ability to enrich uranium. Five United Nations Security Council resolutions deal with this (1696 [31 July 2006]; 1737[23 December 2006]; 1747 [24 March 2007]; 1803 [3 March 2008]; 1835 [27 September 2008]). Resolution 1696 demands that Iran suspend enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and to ratify the Additional Protocol, which will give IAEA inspectors more access to Iran’s nuclear sites. Resolution 1737 adds in a demand for suspension of heavy-water-related activities. The later two resolutions continue these demands.

Israel and American neoconservatives would prefer that Iran give up its enrichment capacity altogether. This expectation is in violation of the NPT’s Article IV, which grants full nuclear capability to signatories for peaceful purposes.

Iran argues that it has the right to continue its activities under Article IV. Article IV, however, may be interpreted to be conditioned by cooperation with the IAEA, which Iran has not done consistently.

4. That Iran send much of its low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment and a third country for fabrication into fuel elements for the Tehran Research Reactor. This goal is shared among the “Western” nations. Russia has offered a number of enrichment services to Iran and has been part of proposals for internationalization of such services, which, along with reprocessing and fuel fabrication, are the problematic capabilities that could lead to weapons programs. There may be some reservation in America and Europe to allow Russia such a large part, but getting a deal with Iran seems to be trumping that.

4a. That this uranium be kept away from Iran to prevent further enrichment. Some take this to be the underlying purpose of objective 4, including a number of Iranians. Many news stories are written as though this were an objective; does this reflect inherent prejudice on the part of reporters or information being shared by interested parties. If the latter, Israel seems a likely player, Russia and China much less so, and the other countries somewhere in the middle. This seems like a foolish gambit for negotiating reasons I will go into in a third post. On the technical side, it delays Iran’s enrichment program by perhaps a year.

5. Continued trade with Iran. Iran’s oil resource is significant to China in particular. Russia and Europe see Iran as a possible buyer of nuclear technology. The civilian reactor at Bushehr is being built by the Russians, although progress is slow, possibly reflecting a Russian desire to aid in negotiations with the Iranians, although there have been payment problems as well. Iran could be a good trading partner with America as well, but this seems to be a small part of the American motivations.

I think that “the West” is not doing a particularly good job of negotiating, because there are too many objectives in play, some of them conflicting. This latest round, focusing on the fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, has some potential. I’ll tackle the dynamics of the negotiations next.

No comments: