By Mark Hibbs, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark Hibbs is a senior associate in the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. You can follow him @MarkHibbsCEIP. The views expressed are his own.
France appeared at the weekend to drive a stake into the heart of a deal that it and five other powers have been quietly negotiating with Iran to end the Iran nuclear crisis. The move didn’t prove fatal – both sides are committed to resume negotiations in Geneva on November 20. But France objected that the outline of a deal favored by the United States didn’t commit Iran to suspend work to finish a reactor at Arak, which could make bomb-grade fuel, but only not to start up the reactor during the next six months. When the powers return to Geneva to resume negotiations, they should tell Iran that an initial confidence-building agreement should freeze work on the reactor project.
Suspension would give negotiators space to forge a long-term commitment to address proliferation concerns that are shared by all the powers, Israel, and the Arab Gulf states. Under such an arrangement, Iran could receive assistance to complete the reactor with modern instrumentation, equipment, and fuel, making it safe to operate. The unfinished reactor could be replaced with a less-threatening unit, or its design could be modified to enhance nonproliferation and maximize its potential for peaceful nuclear research and medical isotope production. In return, Iran would agree not to access the reactor’s plutonium and to allow IAEA inspections in perpetuity. One of the six powers – France, perhaps – could take back the plutonium-laden spent fuel.
CNN speaks with Fareed about the failure to reach a deal at the weekend over Iran's nuclear program, and why some countries are so opposed to an agreement. This is an edited version of the transcript.
So what is your take on all of this? The talks fell apart over the weekend. What's your take?
Well, remember, this was always going to be hard. The United States and Iran haven't talked since 1979. There hasn't been any kind of deal on the nuclear program for ten years. But it seemed to me what happened was they almost got too close too quickly.
There was a sense in which it seemed like the deal was going to happen and then a number of countries that have problems – Israel started lobbying from the outside without even knowing what was in the deal, and then, most centrally, France decided to break ranks. Very strange move, publicly breaking ranks. The French probably have a number of motives. It's always fun for the French to be anti- American and to distance themselves from the Americans.
They're also trying to signal to Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Gulf states that don't like Iran, that they are the tough guys here. Because France has a lot of commercial business, particularly arms business with Saudi Arabia. So there's a whole bunch of motives there. But I think it was largely because we got so close faster than anyone thought we would.
By Fareed Zakaria
It's difficult to know what to make of the failure to arrive at an agreement between the West and Tehran over Iran’s nuclear program. The high level talks have ended, and negotiations are scheduled to resume at a lower level in 10 days.
Secretary of State John Kerry's comments seemed the most sensible. "It was always going to be hard to arrive at a deal with Iran when the mistrust was so deep and had gone on for so long," he said.
But what was remarkable was the tone of the negotiators as they broke up. Both the Iranians and the main Western negotiator, Catherine Ashton of the European Union, were positive and constructive, believing that much progress has been made.
By Michael Rubin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of Dancing with the Devil, a history of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes. The views expressed are his own.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Geneva on Friday amidst speculation that marathon talks might yield a nuclear deal, or at least an agreed framework for future talks. Should the two sides come to an agreement, both the State Department and the White House will hail the breakthrough, even as they caution that they will re-impose sanctions should Iran violate the deal. That would be an empty threat. As North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can attest, diplomats don’t abandon a process once begun.
The Iranian nuclear portfolio has stymied diplomats for well over a decade. The Iran issue was the first crisis outside the borders of Europe on which the European Union took the lead. EU officials hoped to show that diplomacy and multilateral organizations could be more successful than cowboy unilateralism. The crisis accelerated in 2005 when, after several warnings, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran in non-compliance with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement. The diplomatic center of gravity then shifted to New York, where the U.N. Security Council passed a series of resolutions, many by unanimous vote, imposing increasing sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Both the United States and European Union augmented these sanctions with increasingly broad unilateral measures targeting both Iran’s oil industry and its currency. Collectively, the sanctions had effect.
By Kelsey Davenport, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kelsey Davenport is the nonproliferation analyst for the Arms Control Association. The views expressed are her own.
For the first time in years, Washington appears to be on the path towards a deal that will guard against a nuclear-armed Iran. But to achieve that goal, America must speak with one voice. Our representatives in Washington must actively support our diplomats and actively avoid undercutting them at the negotiating table.
After two days of talks in Geneva, there is good reason to hope that Iran, the United States, and five other world powers are on the path to an agreement that will end the decades-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.
During the October 15 to 16 negotiations, Iranian officials followed through on newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani’s promise to engage in serious negotiations with the international community and present a proposal that addresses the concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. In a press conference following the talks, a joint statement endorsed by all the participating countries described Iran’s proposal as an “important contribution” and characterized the talks as “substantive and forward looking.”
By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As American, European, Russian, Chinese and Iranian negotiators jockey in Geneva over ending the West’s economic sanctions on Tehran in return for a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, European and U.S. publics are sending negotiators on both sides a clear message: they oppose Iran having nuclear armaments. They agree on the current imposition of economic sanctions. And they generally support the use of military force if sanctions fail. The Chinese and Russian publics, though, dissent.
At a time when people on both sides of the Atlantic have turned critical of the Afghan War and have recoiled from involvement in Syria’s civil war, there is relative cohesion on Iran in both Europe and the United States. Indeed, there are some signs such solidarity may be strengthening. Yet although Iranian negotiators in Geneva will find little daylight between the American and European publics that they can exploit, differences between transatlantic views and those held by the Chinese and Russian publics may yet prove critical in the talks.
By Ali Vaez, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ali Vaez is senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are his own.
Seldom has there been so much anticipation of a breakthrough in talks over Iran’s nuclear crisis than is the case for the negotiations starting Tuesday in Geneva. But inflated hopes are dangerous, and the sobering reality of tough negotiations could quickly dash hopes and even derail diplomacy.
The reality is that despite the recent election of a new Iranian administration, one that has been keen to stress that a breakthrough could be just around the corner, it would be naïve to expect a decade-old impasse to be resolved in just two days. After all, Iran’s nuclear crisis is one of the most complex issues in international politics today. And the last time President Hassan Rouhani and his current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, were Iran’s nuclear negotiators – back in 2003 to 2005 – there were two years of talks over a crisis that was then barely a year old.
A deal today would be even harder to imagine. In 2003, Iran was struggling to assemble 164 centrifuges. Today, it has more than 18,000. Back then, Iran had one enrichment facility, one type of centrifuge, no fissile material stockpile and sought to enrich uranium to 5 percent. Now, it has two enrichment facilities, several types of advanced centrifuges, tons of fissile material and is enriching both to 5 and 20 percent levels. These advancements have come at a hefty price. Today, there are numerous sanctions backed by the United States and international community.
By Karipbek Kuyukov, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Karipbek Kuyukov is an artist and Honorary Ambassador of The ATOM Project, a global campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons testing. The views expressed are his own.
As world leaders gather for the United Nations High-level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament in New York, I would like to deliver a short message from the survivors of nuclear weapons testing in Kazakhstan.
The perpetual question of whether to pursue the nuclear arms race or eradicate nuclear weapons has divided international opinion. Experts, politicians and world leaders have traditionally sided either for or against nuclear arms. Some believe that nuclear weapons help preserve peace, yet surely many more believe these weapons are a certain path to another world war and the eventual obliteration of mankind.
But although there has been much discussion of the issue, few on either side have turned for advice to the victims of nuclear tests and explosions. We have a lot to say and a right to be heard.
I was born in 1968, about 100 kilometers away from the notorious Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in eastern Kazakhstan where the Soviet Union tested hundreds of nuclear devices over four decades. I was born without arms, a result of the horrific impact of nuclear radiation on the health of our people. As I grew up, I saw that I was not alone.
By Mycle Schneider, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mycle Schneider is an independent international consultant on energy and nuclear policy based in Paris. He is the coordinator and lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report. The views expressed are his own.
“Careless” was how Toyoshi Fuketa, commissioner of the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority, reportedly described the inspection quality of hundreds of water tanks at the crippled Fukushima plant following the recent discovery of a serious radioactive spill. China’s Foreign Ministry went further, saying it was “shocking” that radioactive water was still leaking into the Pacific Ocean two years after the Fukushima incident.
Both comments are to the point, and although many inside and outside Japan surely did not realize how bad the March 11, 2011 disaster was – and how bad it could get – it seems clear now that we have been misled about the scale of the problem confronting Japan. The country needs international help – and quickly.
While the amount of radioactivity released into the environment in March 2011 has been estimated as between 10 percent and 50 percent of the fallout from the Chernobyl accident, the 400,000 tons of contaminated water stored on the Fukushima site contain more than 2.5 times the amount of radioactive cesium dispersed during the 1986 catastrophe in Ukraine.
By Alan J. Kuperman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kuperman is editor of Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, where he is an associate professor. The views expressed are his own.
Nearly a dozen years after the al Qaeda strikes of September 11, 2001, America’s nuclear power plants – and civilian research facilities with bomb-grade uranium – are still not required to protect against a maximum credible terrorist attack of this scale. It is time for policymakers to act, if they want to prevent disaster.
The vulnerability to a terrorist strike was a key finding of a year-long study that I co-authored, as part of a larger interdisciplinary project at the University of Texas at Austin, under a contract for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (which has no responsibility for the final contents of the study).
The good news is that America’s military-related nuclear facilities, operated by the Departments of Defense and Energy, are generally much better protected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also modestly raised security requirements at civilian facilities, which have bolstered their protective measures.
Disturbingly, however, nuclear power plants still must protect against only five or six attackers (according to published reports), less than one-third the number who engaged in attacks on 9/11. Nor are these existing facilities required to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, as hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Unlike the Navy’s nuclear assets, civilian reactors adjacent to large bodies of water are not required to deploy floating barriers to defend against ship-borne attacks. Nuclear utilities are not even required to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles with armor-piercing ammunition, weapons that are possessed by many terrorist organizations.
As speculation grows that a North Korean missile test could be imminent, discussion has turned to the question of whether the United States should shoot down any missile fired, even if it appears heading into the ocean.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer speaks with Fareed Zakaria to get his take on the latest developments and why China is key to resolving the current tensions.
What do you make of Senator John McCain and some others who say if they launch a missile, shoot it down, intercept it, destroy it – even if it's heading into the middle of the water? Obviously if it's heading toward a populated area in Tokyo or Guam or South Korea, that goes without saying. But just knock it out to make a point?
I think it's a very good example of the difference between what a John McCain foreign policy would be and what President Obama’s has been.
President Obama throughout this has been trying to show some restraint, not to play into the kind of the yank your chain that the North Koreans are trying to do. The North Koreans are desperately trying to get attention, to get some kind of negotiations going, to get concessions. So they have been threatening, clearly like a child who keeps screaming and has not been paid attention to. They're screaming more and more loudly.
By Heather Williams, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Williams is a research fellow in international security at Chatham House in London. The views expressed are her own.
Whether the latest North Korean nuclear test destabilizes Northeast Asia in the short-term depends on how it is handled within the U.N. Security Council. The major players in the region have made stability a priority, and are likely to continue to do so. And certainly, if stability is defined as the absence of conflict or risk of immediate conflict, all signs suggest the region will indeed remain stable. After all, China’s continued economic growth is dependent on regional stability, South Korea and Japan are terrified of war with nuclear-armed North Korea, and the United States is anxious about becoming embroiled in another regime change.
But regional players will likely still have to take some sort of action against a belligerent and increasingly aggressive North Korea if there is to be a meaningful chance of maintaining stability in the long term. The hard part, though, is balancing short-term and long-term gains.