Iran: Will the Russian Nuclear Initiative Break the Deadlock?

In mid-July 2011, Russia, in a diplomatic initiative, laid out a “step-by-step” approach toward the Iranian nuclear dilemma. According to it, if Iran clarifies questions about its nuclear program, it would be rewarded with a gradual easing of sanctions. It is described as “phased process” in which Iran would take steps to address the concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency; and in response, the international community would react positively.

This initiative was proposed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after talks with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton two weeks ago. The US Secretary of State did not directly address a question on her views about Russian approach, but commented: “We are committed to our dual track of pressure and engagement and we want to explore with the Russians ways that we can perhaps pursue more effective engagement strategies”.

But on the Iranian side, there has been a kind of duality and hesitation in the officials’ responses towards the Russian initiative. Speaking at a ceremony in Kerman (southern city of Iran), President Ahmadinejad said that Iran has already taken measures to cooperate with the IAEA, “Now, you [the West] should take your step”. He underscored that “you will take one step and we will take one.” He reiterated Iran’s stance about the peacefulness of its nuclear activities, saying: “We have said we do not want bombs, we have also said that if we wanted to develop a bomb, we would not fear announcing it to the world.”

On the other hand, the Iranian Foreign minister voiced Tehran’s readiness to study positively the Russian proposal for the settlement of the Iran-West nuclear standoff, but pointed out that Tehran has not yet received the plan. When Russia was assured that Iran is welcoming the Russian initiative, its deputy Foreign Ministry arrived in Tehran on July 25 and submitted the Russian initiative officially to Iranian officials.

Nuclear talks between Iran and the G5+1 have reached an impasse since they met last January (2011) in Istanbul. While Iran insists that it has answered all IAEA questions, the West, led by the US, maintains that Iran has not been fully transparent about its program. Meantime, all Iranian high-ranking officials stressed Iran’s inalienable right to access and use the peaceful nuclear technology, and called on the other sides to recognize and respect Tehran’s rights in their proposals.

It seems that Russia believes that the “nodes” of the Iranian nuclear case can be untangled just by the US, and it was the US that has caused the prolongation of the case. It looks that Russia with this mentality proposed its initiative first to the US authorities because, if Washington agrees with it, other members of G5+1 surely will accept it.

From the Iranian side, if the Russian scheme is going to give result, the following four basic notes should be considered:

1. The main aspects of Russian Initiative address the technicality of IAEA’s questions and Iranian answering. Iranians also believe that they have a lot of questions which have not been answered; hence it is not fair that just the Western side (G5+1) poses questions. It should be clear that the Russian proposal contains that Iran has the right to pose questions too. In other words, the process of questions and answers should be mutual.

2. If a set of questions should be answered by Iran, is there any guarantee that Iran’s nuclear case will return back to the IAEA from the Security Council and undergo a normal process? Or will the past vicious circle still just continue? For example, in the previous IAEA modality, six questions were put forth and Iran replied to them, but the IAEA and G5+1 asserted that these questions had not been answered clearly and new questions were put forward again. It should be clear and guaranteed that if Iran is going to answer to questions, then no newer questions should be posed. From the Iranian viewpoint, all who’ve followed the trend of Iran’s nuclear case since 2002 can verify that Iran’s nuclear case is a pretext for exerting pressure against Iran. If Iranian foreign policy does not change fundamentally along the US policy, these kinds of pressures will continue through IAEA and Security Council mechanisms. So, in the Russian initiative, it has to be clarified what are the scope and time-limits of questions; if this important issue is not clarified, the vicious circle will continue.

3. In the case of dispute over whether the answers are convincing or not, what final reference or authority can be the criterion? If, for any reason, the concerned parties would not agree on the answers, what final reference should judge who is right?

Documents should also be cross-examined mutually. For example, the IAEA’s questions are usually similar to allegations which are not legally substantiated. While the rule is that claimants should prove their claims by providing the detailed and concrete documents for receiving transparent answers. The mere speculation and suspicion should not be the basis of any legal claim.

4. It seems that the positive aspects of the Russian initiative are that Moscow put away its double standards role and has entered into an innovative brokering in the nuclear case. Since they do not follow just the US policy, this track would be attractive for Iran. Russians should also take note that Iran does not cease its right to uranium enrichment. It seems that the Russian initiative implicitly accepted that Iran continues to its uranium enrichment in the framework of International Law, but at the same time insists that it should answer some questions. Therefore, the initiative should be considered positively and it is believed that Moscow really is seeking to open “nodes” that have been tangled hardly.

A concluding remark is that until now, both concerned parties have followed a zero-sum game on the Iranian nuclear issue. It is believed that the West, by accepting low-level and highly supervised uranium enrichment by Iranians and Iran through full cooperation with IAEA, can change this game to non-zero sum nature; if there would be any good intention!

Source: Foreign Policy Journal