A blueprint for solving the Iran crisis
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Getty Images)
April 12th, 2012
12:05 PM ET

A blueprint for solving the Iran crisis

Editor's Note: Meir Javedanfar is an Iranian – Israeli Middle East analyst and the co-author of The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and The State of IranThe following post was originally published in The Diplomat, a stellar international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region.

By Meir JavedanfarThe Diplomat

A new round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, is upon us. Based on the failures of previous talks, the upcoming discussionsscheduled for April 14 have had an air of pessimism hanging over them.

But not all hope is lost.

A recent proposal by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), as well as a leaked report about U.S and European demands for the upcoming talks, suggest some common ground may be emerging between the two sides.

The report, leaked to the New York Times, find the U.S and European position in the upcoming talks is centered around demands that Iran ceases uranium enrichment of 20 percent at the Fordo nuclear site near the city of Qom. This is in addition to a demand that Iran transfers its existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.

Meanwhile, according to a proposal by Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, who is the current head of the AEOI, Iran “could eventually stop its production of the 20 percent enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, used for medical research and treatments.” Davani then goes on to add: “Iran would continue enriching uranium to lower levels of about 3.5 percent for power generation.”

It’s not clear whether Davani’s view represents that of Ali Khamenei, and it’s certainly the supreme leader who has the final word on nuclear matters. Still, his proposal that Iran could eventually stop production of 20 percent enriched uranium deserves attention.

Obama’s Hopeless Iran Strategy

There are, of course, gaps between the current U.S and European position on the one side, and Davani’s proposal on the other. For example, Davani’s proposal doesn’t include the transfer of existing stock of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium. However, despite the differences, the proposals on each side show  two important areas of common interest.

One is the U.S and European proposal that shows there’s tacit agreement to Iran enriching at lower levels on its own soil. This is a departure from previous Israeli demands, as well as those under the administration of George W. Bush, that enrichment in Iran must stop altogether. This overture also happens to chime with Davani’s proposal that Iran continues with lower level enrichment on its soil.

Is Iran Ready to Compromise?

The other area of common ground is the idea of ceasing enrichment at Fordo. The difference between the two sides is a matter of timing – the U.S and European position calls for immediate cessation, while Davani’s proposal calls for “eventual” cessation.

In terms of areas of concern on both side, the Iranians during previous deals have expressed concern that if they transfer all their enriched uranium abroad in large batches, they will be left with no leverage if the West doesn’t comply with its own commitments. At the same time, the Iranian government is most probably extremely concerned about the current unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU against its central bank. This is in addition to sanctions imposed by the international SWIFT clearing system against transactions with Iran’s other banks.

Iran: Between U.S. and a Hard Place

Meanwhile the P5+1 is for its part concerned about continued enrichment of 20 percent at Iran’s nuclear site in Fordo, as well as Iran’s existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.

So, how to move forward? A quid pro quo proposal divided into two stages: interim and permanent.

The goal of the interim part of this plan is to alleviate immediate concerns in the West about Iran’s current stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which would be useful for Khamenei’s regime should he decide to go the bomb route. The interim stage could also be used to alleviate Iran’s concerns about current unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU. It would work sequentially, as follows:

The initial stage:

1) Iran immediately ceases enrichment at 20 percent at Fordo, but continues to enrich uranium at 3.5 percent. Tacit western recognition of the continuation of enrichment on Iranian soil, albeit at a lower level, would be an achievement for the Iranian side that could provide Khamenei with a face saving option, and could help him justify the cessation of enrichment at higher levels. In return, the West ceases to impose further unilateral sanctions against Iran.

2) The West provides Iran with the medical isotopes that Iran has stated it wants to develop from the nuclear fuel made from the 20 percent enriched uranium produced at Fordo. In return, Iran agrees to place all its existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium under the strictest IAEA supervision inside Iranian territory. This includes snap inspections as well as cameras with direct, real time feeds into IAEA headquarters in Vienna.

3) Iran then starts to transfer its existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium in four or five batches to another country for conversion to fuel. This would be based on a clear timetable. With each batch delivered, elements of the current unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU against Iran are lifted. When the last batch of 20 percent enriched uranium leaves Iran, the remaining elements of the current unilateral sanctions against Iran would be lifted.

How to Avoid Disaster With Iran

Although this quid pro quo proposal offers an interim solution, if the plan succeeds it could lead to a major boost in confidence between the two sides. Both sides could then move to the next stage for resolving outstanding issues.

The final stage:

1)  The Iranian government would then move to dismantle the site in Fordo. In return, the P5+1 would agree to provide Iran with the nuclear fuel it needs on a continuous basis. Both the Iranian and P5+1 moves would be supervised by the IAEA. The IAEA must ensure that Iran gets the nuclear fuel it requires on time and in the right quantities.

2) Iran would then answer remaining IAEA questions. For each “major” question answered, elements of existing U.N. sanctions would be lifted (as per the Russian step-by-step proposal). Once all questions are answered, and the Iranian nuclear program receives a clean bill of health from the IAEA, the final U.N. sanctions against Iran would be removed.

3) The United Nations and the P5+1 move from tacit recognition to official recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium at 3.5 percent. The P5+1 and the United Nations would support IAEA programs to provide Iran with assistance for its nuclear program.  Iran would then agree to additional protocol IAEA inspections for its existing sites.

The Truth About Nuclear Iran

Despite previous failures, the upcoming talks between Iran and the P5+1 could still be turned into a success, depending on how far both sides are ready to compromise.

It’s often said that pessimists are simply optimists with experience. But to give the next round of talks a fair chance, both sides may need to work harder to put some of their previous bad experiences behind them.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Meir Javedanfar.

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Topics: Diplomacy • Iran

soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. TAMI

    How I miss the SHA-N-SHA I know he had a son take your country back. so the world can live in peace;

    April 15, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Only by hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism, hinduism, absurdity of Egyptian and Persian hindu's, deniers of truth absolute 360*. One has to be a hindu, ignorant to say Allah, Truth absolute had a son, proven other wise by Quantum Physics and teachings of Nabeen, Naviam Pbt, the messengers of Allah the merciful.

      April 16, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  2. king kong

    Mohammad A Dar eats pigs on the sabbath

    April 15, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      hinduism, absurdity of a hindu, absurd in his hindu Judaism, pagan self center ism, secularism.

      April 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
  3. Ekram

    for some reason CNN does not publish my comments........I never make outrageous and stupid comments but.....does CNN censor??? Here goes the freedom of expression that we in the west gloat about all the time!

    April 16, 2012 at 4:03 am | Reply
    • krm1007

      It is been my experience also that CNN not only censors but filters these postings as well. Shame on CNN for stampling on the 1st amendment rights .....the very basis of their business model permitted by the american citizens and govt.. SHAME ON CNN.

      April 16, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  4. Ali

    You do not know Molah government. You had just a trip to the Tehran , But I'm Iranian that quit the country 15 years ago. They are big liar that break their promise easily. The have promised to better life, democracy and peace for Iranian, but they didn't provide any. Thousands of educated people ran away from Iran and Thousands are in the Jail. They want nuclear weapon, because they wanted to control the region: from Bahrain to Iraq and Afghnistan, Tajiekestan and Lebonan. The best approach is helping Iranian to get rid of this regime. Iranian do not want Atomic bomb, neither another war.

    April 16, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  5. krm1007

    How can the Iran problem be solved when we have friends of USA (supposed) like India backstabbing them? Shame on these Indians for double dealing and double crossing the Americans in Iran and Syria among other places.

    April 16, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Reply
  6. Zill

    Angry muslims and hindu's here. Mohammad A Dar I would love to test your faith with mine, us and two and a pair of schimitars. I am not a christian, hindu, or muslim but my faith and that of others whom believe in a universal peace will temper your rage. I will drop my blade before you strike at me and I will try to smile through the pain. It is just as fleeting as your anger that permiates this life. You are no better than the followers of kali whom believe in bringing a purifying light through death. I do not seek redeption in heaven or hell as you do, I seek it through my current actions of compassion and understanding not death and segregation. You liberate yourself into a realm of hell. I pray you will understand this one day. For this life is more important than an eternity in heaven. Go read the Noble Qur'an again as you did when you were an innocent child unadultured vby your fears, read it again with a heart and mind clear of attachment and hate then tell me I am wrong. May all the eyes in the world be open to the ONLY truth, that compassion and love raise those around you to a higher level while fear and bigotry bring all around you into a living hell of ones own creation that is believed to be normal and acceptable. I pray for you all to follow a true light and not an illusion. If not in this life then the next.

    ~ Zill

    April 16, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  7. AlexShch

    I read this article, as well as the referred article about the so called "Russian step-by-step proposal". It all sounds reasonable at the first glance, but unfortunately I do not see it working.

    At first, lets analyze the motivation of the parties involved:

    Suppose an utopia variant: Iran's goal is to develop peaceful, independent, and economically viable nuclear power industry. This means developing all the relevant technologies: enrichment, reactor/power generation, reprocessing of spent fuel, relevant safety technologies, etc... This can be done under IAEA supervision which implies two issues: (i) to ensure that the industry is peaceful, and (ii) to insure that it is safe. The second item implies technology transfer from the advances western nations (Russia included into this) to Iran. The first part implies full disclosure from Iran to ensure that IAEA monitors the entire industry and not only part of it. So what is wrong with this idea?

    There are tree things which are wrong with this idea:

    1. Russia does not want Iran to have independent nuclear industry. Russia wants Iran to have nuclear reactors and power plants, but buying fuel from Russia and returning spent fuel back to Russia for reprocessing. In other words, Russia wants Iranian nuclear power industry be part of its own business. This is economic interest: business is business, there is nothing political about it. Obviously Russia does not want to do any technology transfer other than whatever is required for safe operation of Russian supplied equipment.

    Europe also does not want any peaceful Iranian nuclear industry, but for another reason: it is easier to negotiate about oil wit a country which has nothing other than oil.

    2. US wants just to have tensions kept on reasonably high level, short of war. Just balancing on the brink of way. This is the inherent part of mechanism of US dominance in The Middle East. If not Iran, then there is a need for another enemy. If no enemy in sight, then how you can explain to the neighbors that they should adhere to what US is telling them to do. US fully controls the level of these tensions: US can escalate or de-escalate it depending on US political needs at any particular moment.

    Paradoxically Russia also wants to keep some tensions around Iran, but obviously on a much milder level - opportunity to set arbitrary high prices resulting from Russia's monopoly of doing this business with Iran.

    3. Unfortunately US position above makes impossible for Iran and IAEA to have full disclosure: the numerous experiences in neighborhood show that US/UN sanctions is merely to wear out and weaken a country in order to prepare a military operation against it. In this situation full disclosure for Iran means that US/NATO has a complete and accurate target list. On the other hand, uncertainty and doubt - i.e., rumors some parts of nuclear industry hidden in underground tunnels beyond the reach of bunker buster bomb - is what exactly keeps US/NATO/Israel from attacking Iranian installations.

    Given the 1, 2, 3 above one can drive the conclusion about viability of this plan.

    April 17, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
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