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May 21, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 838

Ahead of the Baghdad Nuclear Talks Between Iran And The 5+1 – An Assessment

May 21, 2012 | By Yigal Carmon and A. Savyon
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 838

On the eve of the Baghdad talks between Iran and the West, slated for May 23, 2012, reports in the West suggest that an understanding between the two sides is taking shape. This document assesses the chances and validity of such an understanding.

Is There Basis for an Understanding?

A. The demands of the sides

Iranian demands

1. Iran demands the cessation of all Western activity aimed at promoting a democratic change of regime in Iran.[1], [2]

The West has not responded to this demand or addressed it in any way.

2. Iran demands the immediate lifting of existing oil and financial sanctions, and the cancellation of the sanctions meant to come into effect in July.

The Western response: According to reports, Britain has proposed to delay some of the July sanctions by six months.[3] The New York Times referred to a possible Western willingness to ease the sanctions, and warned: "If Iran makes credible gestures, sanctions should be eased, but not significantly until it takes irreversible steps to roll back its nuclear activities."[4]

3. Iran demands that the negotiations be based on a Western recognition of its inalienable right to nuclear technology.

The West has partly accepted this (in consenting to continued activity of 5 percent enrichment).

Western demands

The West demands the removal from Iran of all 20 percent enriched uranium, and access to all nuclear sites in the country, including military ones.

Iran has not agreed to this, so far.

B. The sides' range of flexibility

Iran's range of flexibility

According to Western assessments, Iranian concessions to the West might include the following:

1. Access to the Parchin military site, where, according to reports, extensive clean-up activities have recently taken place;

2. The removal of some of the 20 percent enriched uranium from the country. We assess that, if Iran consents to this at all, it will agree to the removal of a small amount of material, such as the amount necessary for operating the research reactor in Tehran, while retaining most of the material in its possession and continuing the enrichment activities.

The West's range of flexibility

According to Western assessments, Western concessions to Iran might include:

1. The removal of the ban on supplying spare parts for Iranian civilian aircraft.

2. Assistance for Iran's energy sector (oil refineries and construction of civilian nuclear plants).

3. A postponement of the decision to remove the anti-regime Iranian group Mujahideen Khalq from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

4. The lifting of some of the sanctions.

Conclusions

An examination of the two sides' demands and flexibility range suggests that the gaps are too wide to bridge.

However, since both sides have a considerable interest in preventing the failure of the Baghdad talks (a failure that could strengthen the forces pushing for a military attack on Iran), they are likely to make a substantial effort to present the talks as a success, even if only a limited one. This, in order to enable the continuation of the dialogue, which would benefit both sides (Iran, because it would delay a Western military attack, and the West, because it would prevent an economic crisis stemming from a rise in oil prices, which could affect the upcoming elections in the U.S.).[5]

As part of the mutual effort to create an impression of progress, Iran and the West may present Khamenei's non-existent fatwa against nuclear weapons as evidence of a shift in Iran's nuclear position which justifies the continuation of the talks,[6] and even limited Western concessions.

In order to achieve its immediate goal – an extension of the talks[7] – Iran might concede to make small concessions as a basis for interim agreements. This will allow it to pursue its strategic objective, which is to obtain recognition by the 5+1 of Iran as a "nuclear threshold state"[8] (in fact, Iran is already close to attaining this status, but has not been internationally recognized as such). As a recognized nuclear threshold state, it could not be subjected to the political and economic sanctions and limitations that are currently imposed upon it.

Even if recognized as a threshold state, Iran – unlike other threshold states, such as Germany and Japan – will likely refuse to maintain full transparency of its nuclear facilities.

* A. Savyon is director of MEMRI's Iranian Media Project; Y. Carmon is President of MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 837, "Khamenei's Aim at the Nuclear Talks – Securing the Survival of His Regime,"

May 15, 2012, Khamenei's Aim at the Nuclear Talks – Securing the Survival of His Regime.

"Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei," April 19, 2012, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part II: Tehran Attempts to Deceive U.S. President Obama, Sec'y of State Clinton With Nonexistent Anti-Nuclear Weapons Fatwa By Supreme Leader Khamenei.

[2] In a recent interview with ISNA, Majlis Supreme National Security Committee chairman Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi said that, at the nuclear negotiations, Iran also means to address other issues that are part of a proposal package it has prepared, including the war on terror, regional crises, energy crises, the war on drugs, and other matters. ISNA (Iran), May 20, 2012.

[3] Reuters, May 8, 2012.

[4] The New York Times (USA), May 19, 2012.

[5] See, for example, Boroujerdi's statement indicating that Tehran means to engage in long-term negotiations. ISNA (Iran), May 20, 2012. National Security Council secretary and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili likewise hinted that the talks would continue when he rejected Western claims that the time for dialogue is running out. Press TV (Iran), May 17, 2012.

[6] According to The Wall Street Journal, Obama has already mentioned the fatwa as grounds for renewing the talks. The paper's executive Washington editor, Gerald Seib, said that "Obama in March sent Ayatollah Khamenei a back-channel message via Turkey saying the ayatollah's recent religious declaration that possession of nuclear weapons is immoral provides the basis for negotiation." The Wall Street Journal (USA) May 15, 2012.

[7] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 823, "Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part I: Following First Round of Talks, Iran Celebrates Double Victory Over West, Arabs," April 17, 2012, Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part I: Following First Round of Talks, Iran Celebrates Double Victory Over West, Arabs.

[8] MEMRI reported on Iran's aspiration to attain this status as early as 2005. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 209,

"Iran Seeks EU Consent for Modeling Its Nuclear Program on the 'Japanese/German Model' – i.e. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capabilities Three Months Short of a Bomb," February 23, 2005, Iran Seeks EU Consent for Modeling Its Nuclear Program on the 'Japanese/German Model' – i.e. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Capabilities Three Months Short of a Bomb.

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