Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme

Peter Jenkins CMG, The Ambassador Partnership

The Iranian government would rather the negotiations fail than sign on to a programme that meant it could never develop its domestic civil nuclear industry further. Therefore, the United States and EU need to revisit their assumptions about Iran’s intentions.

The seal of the connections between the twin cascades for 20 per cent uranium production bearing the initials of the IAEA at nuclear power plant of Natanz. Photo: KAZEM GHANE/AFP/Getty ImagesPhoto: Getty Images.
  • Since September 2013 a diplomatic solution has come to look possible to concerns that aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme could be a cover for an eventual nuclear weapon programme. 
  • There is a risk, however, that the six countries negotiating with Iran will miss the opportunity for a solution by seeking to impose restrictions on the country’s uranium enrichment activities that are incompatible with its strong sense of identity as a sovereign state. Both sides have been pressing for more than they can reasonably expect to achieve. If a deal is not done by 24 November 2014, the negotiation will probably break down.
  • The West should review its assessment of Iranian intentions. If the conclusion remains that Iran is not intent on acquiring nuclear weapons, the West can afford to settle for measures that do not compromise Iranian self-respect.
  • Chief among those is the legally based cooperation that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will need to determine that Iran’s programme is indeed exclusively peaceful.
  • Iran can also be asked to commit to not adding to its current operating uranium enrichment capacity until the first all-Iranian power reactor is nearing completion, which will be many years from now. Meanwhile Iran can rely on fuel-provision arrangements with the suppliers of foreign-built power reactors, enhanced by international assurances against cut-off of fuel supplies.
  • The surest protection against an Iranian nuclear threat will come from a combination of Iranian self-interest and the deterrent effect of IAEA monitoring (as is the case with the potential threat posed by the nuclear programmes of several other countries). This can be backed by military deterrence and should be reinforced by gradual normalization of Iran’s regional relations.