International Crisis Group, Amman/Brussels, 24 November 2004: With Iran's nuclear clock ticking, the U.S. must become engaged in seeking a comprehensive resolution to the crisis that includes addressing legitimate Iranian security concerns.
As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prepares to meet tomorrow to discuss Iran's nuclear program, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, Iran: Where Next on the Nuclear Standoff?, argues for enhanced U.S.-EU coordination and a serious joint offer with U.S. participation. Washington remained on the sidelines of the two reprieves for Iran negotiated in 2003 and again this month by the EU-3 (France, Germany, the UK), acquiescing in the deals but not believing in them.
"The U.S. has good reasons to be sceptical -- Tehran has been playing the EU and IAEA skilfully while acting as if it has something to hide", says Robert Malley, Crisis Group's Director of Middle East and North Africa Program. "But the problem with the U.S. posture is it simply hasn't worked. Four years of threats without tangible incentives to change behaviour have only bolstered hard-liners, increasing the regime's hold on power to its strongest level in a decade".
Crisis Group called the 2003 deal a "crisis deferred", because it did not address the underlying issues. What little has changed since then is mainly for the worse: added mistrust, fewer options available and, critically, less time as the nuclear program goes forward. That deal collapsed, Iran's conservatives strengthened their position, and the country has pursued its nuclear efforts.
Continued U.S. non-engagement would only continue this trend. If Iran is prepared to trade away military ambitions, only the U.S. can give it what it wants in terms of security guarantees and the prospect of normal relations; and if Iran is not prepared to deal, then only the rejection of a good faith U.S. offer will persuade the world to take tougher action. Waiting for a new regime is not realistic: Iran's nuclear clock is ticking at a faster and far more reliable rate than its regime-change clock.
The second Bush administration will need to confront rapidly the issue it so far has studiously avoided. This is what should happen: First, Iran must immediately and unconditionally implement its new agreement with the EU-3, in particular suspending uranium enrichment activities. Once the IAEA has verified Iranian implementation, negotiations on longer term arrangements should begin. For these to have any chance, the U.S. will need to back EU incentives with its own. If Iran rejects a comprehensive, good faith offer, then a plan of graduated sanctions will be needed.
"The optimal solution is diplomatic, and it ought to be given a serious try," says Karim Sadjadpour, Crisis Group's Iran Analyst. "Given the dearth of satisfactory alternatives, failure of this path likely would mean having to learn to live with a nuclear Iran."
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