The Key to Progress in Nuclear Diplomacy with Iran

We have long argued that there will not be a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue without explicit recognition — from the United States and other Western countries, first of all — of the Islamic Republic’s right to the full range of civil nuclear technologies and activities, including uranium enrichment.  Two recent developments affirm this view.

First, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has been in Moscow this week to talk about the latest Russian proposal on the nuclear issue.  The proposal, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed during his visit to Washington last month, envisions a “step-by-step” process, in which steps by Tehran to resolve outstanding questions regarding Iranian nuclear activities with the International Atomic Energy Agency would be met with specific actions to reduce sanctions and normalize the Islamic Republic’s international status.

In Moscow, Salehi described the proposal as “positive” and said that “we agreed that we will study all the details of this project and will continue to perfect it through expert work.”  One senses, though, that, while Tehran will not say definitively “no” to the Russian proposal, Iranian officials are wary of being maneuvered into a process which would not, upfront, provide clear international (really, Western) recognition of Iran’s right to enrich.

That this still remains the key to diplomatic progress was also affirmed in a recent interview by Seyed Hossein Moussavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator currently in residence at Princeton University.  Moussavian outlines the fundamental drivers and multiple nuances of Iran’s nuclear policy.  According to Moussavian, “On the nuclear issue, the end state for the Iranians is full rights under the NPT, without discrimination over enrichment.”

The requirements for progress on the issue are clear.  What is not clear is how much longer the Obama Administration will persist in refusing to meet them.  The Islamic Republic, for its part, continues to profess its interest in negotiations, but not under conditions of “pressure” and “discrimination.”  It also continues to pursue greater degrees of nuclear independence.  The Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereydoun Abbasi, said earlier this week that domestically produced fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor will be ready by the end of the Iranian calendar year (March 21, 2012 on the Western calendar).

Flynt Leverett directs the Iran Project at the New America Foundation, where he is also a Senior Research Fellow.  Additionally, he teaches at Pennsylvania State University’s School of International Affairs.  Hillary Mann Leverett is CEO of Strategic Energy and Global Analysis (STRATEGA), a political risk consultancy.  She is also Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.  This article was first published in The Race for Iran on 18 August 2011 under a Creative Commons license. 

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