A Blueprint for Solving the Iran Crisis
Image Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

A Blueprint for Solving the Iran Crisis


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 discussions scheduled 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.

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.

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.

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.

Javad Heydarian
April 19, 2012 at 05:02

Dear Meir,

First of all, I must say that I have been quite encouraged by your increasingly pro-diplomacy stance on this issue. As a fellow Iranian, and also a contributor to the Diplomat, I have followed your recent articles, and interestingly I have found out that we share similar sentiments on how there is a rational and peaceful way out of this impasse.

Second, yes, you are right. You have extended the logic of the step-by-step approach to encompass the issue of caping enrichment and transferring the 20 % stockpile under real-time intensive inspection. The thing is this, both Iran’s nuclear chief and foreign minister have already hinted at reverting back to the 3.5%, and the Tehran Declaration in 2010 covered the issue of transferring the 20% stockpile (although of course, the Tehran Declaration could be expanded overtime to encompass a larger amount of Iran’s HEU stockpile as hinted by FM Davutoglu). Recently, Mohamad Javad Larijani also hinted that Iran will be amenable to another Additional Protocol or ‘full transparency’ to resolve the issue.

In exchange, Iran wants two things: first, guarantee that it will be provided medicinal isotopes; and second, reversal of sanctions. This is also where I agree that reversing the SWIFT expulsion is crucial, but also sanctions on Iran’s oil exports and ports is important – for they hurt the ordinary people the most.

Third, I understand that you are also an Israeli, but this is precisely why i also expected you to be more critical of how the Netanyahu administration is sabotaging any sort of negotiated settlement by constantly flaring up the threat of strikes and dismissing any negotiation as a cynical ploy by Iran to drag its feet and a sign of weakness by Obama. I believe that for your suggestions to work, there should be a reversal in such Israeli maneuvering in consonance with the Republicans, who have a vested interest in portraying Obama weak ahead of elections.

Fourth, sure, entry into WTO might be a tricky issue. After all, the issue of copyrights and patents alone is a huge headache once Iran joins the WTO. But I believe sanctions on Iran’s energy sector – from investments to exports – is very crucial point, and the West could also give incentives in terms of integrating Iran into the so-called Silk Road strategy and all those multi-billion Nabucco and Central Asia-Europe pipeline projects.

Fifth, I think we also have to talk about how the West could help Iran in terms of its civilian nuclear program, from environmental safety to waste disposal and infrastructural safety – in light of Iran’s precarious geography and the recent Fukushima incident.

Lastly, as I have always argued, the ultimate way to resolve the nuclear issue is to pay attention to the real problem: integrating Iran into the regional order. A sentiment that Kissinger has expressed recently, similar to how Post-revolutionary France was integrated into the European Concert of states. This integration will involve two things: first, recognize Iran’s interests and influence in the region; and second, provide security guarantee to Iran against any external invasion. By doing this, the West could encourage Iran to not only abandon any plan – if ever – for nuclear weapons, but to also moderate its revolutionary zeal by transforming from a ’cause’ to a nation-state with a ‘stake’ in the status quo. That opportunity arose after the first Gulf War, but again Israel – intent to strike a deal with Arabs and isolate a rising Iran amidst the collapse of the Soviet Union – did anything to reverse whatever overtures made by Rafsanjani and pragmatists during those time.

The fundamental question as of now is this: I believe that Iran is consolidated under the traditional conservatives, so the West know with whom it can deal with. I expect Larijani or Ghalibaf to be the next key candidates for Presidency in 2013. Nonetheless, the regime has quite consolidated its ranks, after the March elections. However, Obama remains fragile unless he secures his presidency by the end of the year. This means that there might be little chance for any great deal now, but the sanctions are heavily hurting Iran and the ordinary people and by June not only are the embargo and US sanctions to be implemented, but the senate and republicans are pushing the envelope by contemplating on a economic naval blockade, whereby trade with Iranian ports will be targeted. Within this dynamic, I wonder how you see a chance for a breakthrough in Baghdad or in coming months, in spite of the growing grip of sanctions.

I appreciate your response Meir, and always look forward to critical dialogue on this issue.

James Bishop
April 16, 2012 at 12:16

Yeah, the only common ground I can see with Iran is total mutual inialation.

April 16, 2012 at 10:23

Here is my solution to these crisis; Iran stops 20 percent enrichment, the west drops the unilateral sanctions. Then Iran transfers it’s 20 percent stockpile in 4 phases to a friendly country like Iraq, for every shipment the rest of the UN sanctions are lifted precipitously and totally with final shipment. Otherwise Iran should continue full steam with 20 percent production. This is how Iranian populations and the average Iranian could compromise, not what Mr. Javedanfar has stated here as a Solution.

Meir Javedanfar
April 13, 2012 at 14:04

Dear all,

Thank you for your kind feedback. I appreciate them very much.

In reply to Mr Javad Heydarian’s sound comments which was concluded with “It is about brining Iran back to the international community of states”:

For that to happen we need two things:
1- progress in the nuclear talks as its the most urgent issue. Success there would build confidence which can help the two sides to address the other security issues which you mentioned.

2 – Khamenei’s motivation: Although I don’t think he wants war I am not sure he wants full integration. eg. entry into WTO would mean many economic concessions as well as competition in the economic field. I don’t think the Revolutionary Guards would stand for it as foreign competition could cost them many lucrative contracts.

In terms of my suggestions being “practically the Russia Step-by-Step proposal”: this is only true about 1 part and that is Iran answering questions to the IAEA in return for UN sanctions being lifted which I noted. My proposal goes much further than the Russian Step by Step proposal. It calls for cessation of uranium enrichment at 20%, its transfer abroad, as well as the imposition of a tough inspection system. These are important steps which the Russian proposal does not cover.

April 13, 2012 at 02:07

Mark wrote, “The problem is that the US in bad faith rejected that better proposal after having made those demands in its letters to Brazil and Turkey. There is no reason to expect the US will now act to accept something worse than it rejected before, having already proven its bad faith and ill will towards Iran.”

Well, if it wasn’t bad faith, it sure looked like bad faith. I’m not sure I understand why the US rejected–backed out of–that deal when we got 100% of everything that we demanded. That has never been explained.

Question: Is the US leadership rational?


April 13, 2012 at 01:28

This is a solid piece of writing and reporting. Well done. The article outlines quite clearly the complexity of the diplomacy invovled in this mess.

Question: Is the Irainian leadership rational? Do they make decisions on a rational basis?


Mark Thomason
April 13, 2012 at 00:28

This proposal actually gives Iran more than it offered via its proposal through Brazil and Turkey. It would get fuel rods before giving up its 20% stock, rather than sending them to Turkey and waiting a year for delivery trusting that the West acts in good faith. It gives the same acceptance of the right to enrich to 3.5%.

The problem is that the US in bad faith rejected that better proposal after having made those demands in its letters to Brazil and Turkey. There is no reason to expect the US will now act to accept something worse than it rejected before, having already proven its bad faith and ill will towards Iran.

Javad Heydarian
April 12, 2012 at 15:12

Dear Meir, what you should consider is the fact that the Iranian leadership sees the nuclear crisis as part and parcel of the bigger issue of the Cold War between Iran and the U.S. (and Israel by that matter).

All your suggestion – succinctly fleshed out – on resolving the nuclear issue (which is practically the Russia Step-by-Step proposal and similar to the previous 2010 Tehran Declaration’s provisions on confidence-building measures) will not be sufficient unless there will be something like a Tehran Communique, whereby Iran will be given security guarantee by the US and there will be significant offers of economic incentives – from allowing Iran to join major pipeline projects in Eurasia to its membership in WTO and decisive reversal of all UN and unilateral Western sanctions.

This is the only way to fundamentally shift the dynamics of Iran-US relations and dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear breakout capability, precipitating a more stable and normalized state of relations.

It is about brining Iran back to the international community of states.

April 12, 2012 at 13:31

Great article Meir, good constructive addition to the debate. Which more voices like yours would come out of Israel.

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