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Sanctions Could Not Force Iran to Negotiate: Interview with Peter Jenkins, the former British Ambassador to IAEA

Interviewed by: Farid Marjai and Cyrus Safdari (originally published by Iranian Diplomacy)

Peter Jenkins

IRD: Could you please provide a summary of your background and involvement in Iran’s nuclear program?

PJ: I was a British diplomat for 33 years. As UK Permanent Representative in Vienna from 2001 to 2006 I had to handle the Iranian nuclear question in the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board of Governors. I am now a trained mediator, working as a partner for the consulting group ADRg Ambassadors.

IRD: In 2003, Iran agreed to suspend all enrichment-related activities, and did so for about 2.5 years. What where the circumstances in which enrichment was restarted? How has that affected the current state of affairs with respect to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program?

PJ: Iran’s leaders concluded around April 2005 that there was little point in pursuing the dialogue with the European Union (EU)3 (France, Germany, UK) launched by the October 2003 "Tehran Agreement", because they sensed the EU3 were not open to compromise on the future of Iran’s enrichment program. In August 2005 they asked the IAEA to remove the seals on the Isfahan UF6 production plant. The EU3 responded by proposing that the IAEA Board find Iran non-compliant on account of the pre-2003 safeguards violations reported by the IAEA Director General, in the hope that fear of a non-compliance report to the UN would spur Iran to resume suspension at the UCF. The Board found Iran non-compliant in September but decided not to report this to the UN till an unspecified future date. Iran did not re-suspend the production of UF6. Instead in January 2006 Iran resumed the production and testing of centrifuge machines. So two months later the Board of Governors decided to report Iran’s past non-compliance to the UN and to ask the Security Council to turn suspension into an “international obligation” under Ch. VII of the UN Charter.

The creation of this obligation may well have complicated the search for a peaceful settlement of the dispute. The West has been reluctant to allow Iran, which has continued to engage in several enrichment-related activities, to defy the will of the UN Security Council with impunity, and equally reluctant to recognize that suspension no longer serves a useful purpose. Back in 2003 suspension imposed a halt on Iran’s attempts to master enrichment technology. Now IAEA reports suggest that Iran has overcome most, if not all, of the technical problems involved and has a basic centrifuge enrichment capability.

IRD: What are your thoughts about the latest (November, 2011) IAEA report?

PJ: The report has been misrepresented in the Western media. It does not contain evidence that Iran has decided to manufacture nuclear weapons (NWs), or to divert nuclear material to a Nuclear Weapon program, or to contravene the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) in any other way.

The report went some way towards allaying my doubts about the authenticity of the material on which allegations of nuclear-related research are based. But I would have liked the IAEA secretariat to spell out the nature of the multiple sources that have led it to the conclusion that the allegations are well-founded. It is possible that these multiple sources are all drawing on a single original source, or that several sources have conspired to produce mutually supportive material (though my experience as a diplomat leads me to think this unlikely).

I wonder whether IAEA officials foresaw that the report would be so misrepresented by those who wanted to build political pressure for further sanctions. I am not sure they did. Rather, they may have seen it as a way of building pressure on Iran to move from denying all truth to these allegations, since, as long as Iran maintains that position, progress towards the resolution of these questions is impossible and Iran’s enemies are offered an easy way of stoking fear of Iran in the West.

(There is an analogy with Iran’s decision, in 2006, to cease applying the Additional Protocol (AP). This decision denied IAEA inspectors the access they needed to produce the assurance that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material in Iran. The absence of such an assurance plays into the hands of Iran’s enemies.)

IRD: In general, what are the duties of countries such as Iran with respect to the NPT, and does Iran’s current nuclear program violate these obligations? What if any additional demands are being made on Iran and what has been Iran’s reaction to these demands?

PJ: Essentially: to place all nuclear material under IAEA safeguards and to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear explosive devices.

As far as is known, Iran is respecting these obligations.

In addition Iran has been asked to bring the Additional Protocol into force, to re-apply modified code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangement, to cooperate fully with the IAEA in resolving outstanding nuclear and nuclear-related questions, and to suspend both all enrichment and enrichment-related activities and the construction of a heavy-water reactor (HWRR).

Iran has declined to satisfy these demands which it considers discriminatory, apart from cooperation with the IAEA. (It portrays its cooperation as going beyond the letter of its NPT safeguards obligations.) There have been signs, though, that Iran might be ready to move on the Additional Protocols and code 3.1 if the UN were to lift the sanctions it has adopted in an attempt to force Iran into meeting these requirements.

IRD: In an article posted on LobeLog and regarding the on-going p5+1 negotiations with Iran, you ask "why does Iran need to be coerced into negotiating?" and refer to European Union Foreign Policy chief Ashton’s letter as a potential answer. Could you please explain what the letter contained, and why Iran would feel coerced by it.

PJ: What I had in mind is a sentence in Baroness Ashton’s October letter to Dr. Jalili that implies the P5+1 expect Iran to enter negotiations only if it is ready to affirm a commitment to implement the above UN demands in full. My point was that it is misleading to say that sanctions are needed to make Iran negotiate. The purpose of sanctions is, instead, to make Iran concede suspension and other UN demands. Iran would not need to be forced into negotiation if the invitation to talks had no strings attached to it, if the talks were to be based on a clean slate, on the search for a basis for allaying the concerns of all participants.

I suspect that this is not the first time European Union public statements have been at variance with the reality. EU spokesmen have claimed on several occasions that the European Union has offered to negotiate with Iran on an unconditional basis. In reality, Iranian concession of an enrichment "freeze" (another word for “suspension”) has always, I suspect, been a precondition for moving from a preliminary stage (talks) into a genuine negotiation.

IRD: Sir Richard Dalton, along with several other former European ambassadors to Iran,have written that the continued US/EU demand that Iran give up enrichment -- summarized as “zero enrichment” -- has contributed to the current standoff with Iran. You appear to agree, characterizing this demand as “increasingly baroque” and as serving least any practical non-proliferation purposes. In your opinion, why do the US/ EU continue to demand zero enrichment in Iran if it serves no real non-proliferation purpose? Is non-proliferation the real motivation behind the continued insistence on this demand?

PJ: It’s not zero enrichment that is “increasingly baroque”. It’s the UN’s resolutions since 2006.

Some Western policy-makers want to deny Iran a latent Nuclear Weapon potential - what a US State Dept. official once described as “nuclear pregnancy”. That requires eliminating all enrichment from Iranian soil. I am not aware of any basis in international law for making such a demand of Iran - for imposing an abortion, to pursue the metaphor. It is a political objective that in my view can only be pursued legitimately through persuasion, or if the Security Council determines that Iran’s possession of an enrichment capability constitutes a threat to peace.

Other policy-makers appear to be ready to see Iran possessing an enrichment capability in the long term provided Iran suspends all enrichment activity in the short term. I see this demand for suspension as an obstacle to the peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear question, since I have detected zero Iranian readiness to concede it. And I see it as an unnecessary obstacle, since suspension now, as opposed to in 2003, would not serve a practical purpose. Suspension has metamorphosed into a symbol of Iranian submission to the will of the Security Council - the Council’s Western members in particular.

IRD: In your article you express pessimism regarding the current p5+1 negotiations because, you ask “what would the West have to offer Iran?”

Could you explain why this question is a cause of pessimism with respect to the talks?

PJ: In any meaningful negotiation a degree of reciprocity is required to produce an agreed outcome. Supposing Iran were to tell the P5+1 that it was ready to apply the Additional Protocols and modified code 3.1, to resolve all outstanding IAEA questions, and to volunteer a number of "confidence-building measures" (CBMs) to show to neighbors that it intends to continue respecting the NPT - how could the West reciprocate? The White House cannot concede any diminution in the pressure of bilateral or UN sanctions in an electoral year, for fear of the President’s opponents accusing him of weakness, and the White House would be unhappy if the European Union were to rescind bilateral EU sanctions. Conclusion: it is hard to envisage any progress through talks/negotiations this year, even if the P5+1 were to drop its insistence on full implementation of all UN demands as a precondition.

IRD: In June 2005, Bruno Pellaud, former IAEA Deputy Director General for Safeguards, said that if Iran had a military program, it would not have accepted the Additional Protocol. Is this a sound analysis?

PJ: Essentially, yes. Iran would have been taking a big risk in December 2003, when it provisionally applied the Additional Protocol, if it had possessed nuclear material or facilities that it had no intention of declaring to the IAEA, since the Additional Protocols grants the IAEA intrusive inspection rights.

IRD:At this juncture, what are your recommendations to the West for resolving the standoff regarding Iran’s nuclear file?

PJ: To wipe the slate clean and seek inspiration in the NPT, one of the global family’s greatest post-war achievements (and one to which Iranian diplomats made a significant contribution). The NPT can provide a basis for settling this in a way that safeguards the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation regime. In addition, Iran can be invited to volunteer a number of "Confidence Building Measures" to allay the fears and suspicions aroused in the West, and in neighboring countries, by Iran’s misguided pursuit of a “policy of concealment” for 18 years prior to 2003. In return, of course, the P5+1 would have to rescind UN sanctions and volunteer economic cooperation that would benefit Iran.

This would amount to giving Iran a second chance to show that it is fully committed to the NPT. I feel confident Iran would respond well to that. If, however, Iran were to contravene the NPT at some future date, I feel equally confident that the world would be united in condemning a second betrayal of trust and would support measures to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear menace to other states.

IRD: Do you see a role for a third party to potentially act as an intermediary between the US and Iran which can convince each in backing down from this standoff?

PJ: I can think of a number of states that are well-qualified to play the role of mediator, and the resolution of many disputes has been facilitated by skilful mediation. But I do not detect any current willingness in Washington to submit the US quarrel with Iran, of which the nuclear controversy is a part, to mediation. The prevailing view there is that sooner or later, by hook or by crook, the US will succeed in imposing its will on Iran.

Of course this was not the mind-set with which President Obama entered the White House in 2009. But Western perceptions of Iran’s 2009 presidential election and its aftermath, and Iran’s inability to meet the US dead-line for responding to the October 2009 confidence-building proposal, caused his advisers to recommend that he change course. It remains to be seen whether he will tack back to engaging Iran on a basis of mutual respect if he succeeds in getting re-elected.

IRD: What are your thoughts on a Middle East nuclear free zone? In your lecture at the Chatham House (26 September, 2011), you recommended a sub-regional (Persian Gulf) nuclear free zone - which recognizes the exclusivity of Israel. Why is that?

PJ: To me it seems a very remote possibility that Israel will agree to accede to the NPT as a non-nuclear-weapon state. So a Middle East “Nuclear Weapon Free Zone” is a fine goal but irrelevant to current nuclear non-proliferation needs. Better, therefore, to conceive of a sub-regional zone covering all the states that abut the Persian Gulf. All existing nuclear-free zones are regional, but that does not preclude creating a sub-regional zone when this can serve a useful confidence-building purpose, and as a step towards a regional zone in the fullness of time.

The existing zones have more than proved their worth. No state in Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, South East Asia or the Pacific is suspected of working to violate its nuclear non-proliferation commitments. It’s as though commitments made to neighbors weigh more heavily in the considerations of policy-makers than commitments made to the more distant global family.

IRD:"Since you've been critical of the Western media coverage of Iran's nuclear program could you please point out the things about the coverage which you'd like to see improved?"

PJ: "It's difficult to generalize, of course; some of the Western media coverage is good. And one has to make allowances for the fact that this is a complex issue, legally, politically and technologically. I suspect few journalists have the time to master these complexities, and this inclines many of them to be less questioning of official orthodoxies than they might otherwise be.

That said, I would like to see the Western media striving to be more objective and less partisan, by which I mean more sceptical in relation to the impressions that official statements seek to create, and more conscious of the extent to which Westerners have slipped into a morally prejudiced, almost Manichaean, attitude to Iran and Iranians.

I would also like to see them doing their home-work better, despite the time pressures they are under. All too often, for instance, one reads or hears that Western governments fear that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, or wants to possess nuclear weapons. Given the assessments produced by the US intelligence community in 2007, 2011, and now this year, this is shoddy work.

I suspect some may believe, frivolously, that painting the scariest possible picture of Iran's nuclear program will give readers and listeners a not unpleasurable frisson and will "sell newspapers". Some others are ideologically in tune with Israeli and Republican strands of opinion that are hostile to Iran."

Peter Jenkins had a distinguished 33 year career with the British Diplomatic Service; he also was the UK representative to the "International Atomic Energy Agency" IAEA in Vienna between 2001 and 2006.

Peter Jenkins' most recent analysis and articles on the issue:

Lobelog -- Foreign Policy:
The Latest Offer To Iran Of Nuclear Talks: Don't Hold Your Breath

The Daily Telegraph:
The deal the West could strike with Iran

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