Cau­tion voiced on Iran’s nu­clear pro­posal

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­sponded with cau­tion Tues­day to a new Ira­nian of­fer to scale back — but not elim­i­nate — its ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram and al­low in­creased in­ter­na­tional mon­i­tor­ing in ex­change for the lift­ing of U.S.-led sanc­tions that have dam­aged the Is­lamic repub­lic’s econ­omy and oil in­dus­try in re­cent years.

Spe­cific de­tails of the Ira­nian of­fer re­mained vague. But in what ap­peared to be a grand ges­ture fol­low­ing a month of warm­ing re­la­tions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran, Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif re­port­edly made the pro­posal dur­ing a closed-door pre­sen­ta­tion as in­ter­na­tional ne­go­tia­tors gath­ered in Geneva for the first day of highly an­tic­i­pated talks aimed at block­ing Iran’s sus­pected drive to de­velop nu­clear weapons.

One Western ne­go­tia­tor in Geneva told The As­so­ci­ated Press that the Ira­nian of­fer in­cludes re­duc­tions in both the lev­els of ura­nium en­rich­ment be­ing con­ducted by Iran and the num­ber of cen­trifuges do­ing the en­rich­ment — a key de­mand of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies. The diplo­mat de­manded anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to di­vulge de­tails.

Iran’s state TV, which closely re­flects gov­ern­ment views, said Tehran of­fered to dis­cuss ura­nium en­rich­ment lev­els. The re­port also said Iran pro­posed adopt­ing the ad­di­tional pro­to­cols of the U.N.’s nu­clear treaty — ef­fec­tively open­ing its nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties to wider in­spec­tion and mon­i­tor­ing — if the West rec­og­nizes Iran’s right to en­rich ura­nium for civil­ian uses.

The pa­ram­e­ters of the pro­posal are ex­pected to emerge Wed­nes­day as Ira­nian ne­go­tia­tors head into a sec­ond day of talks with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the U.S., Rus­sia, China, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many. But it re­mains to be seen how the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will re­spond, fac­ing pres­sure from Is­rael — Wash­ing­ton’s clos­est ally in the Mid­dle East — to re­sist rush­ing into a hasty deal with Tehran.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken a softer rhetor­i­cal pos­ture to­ward Iran since the June elec­tion of re­formist Pres­i­dent Hasan Rouhani, who some an­a­lysts be­lieve has the po­lit­i­cal power and skill to in­flu­ence anti-Western hard-liners among Tehran’s lead­er­ship to­ward more pos­i­tive re­la­tions with Wash­ing­ton.

But as a thaw ap­peared im­mi­nent fol­low­ing last month’s gath­er­ing of world lead­ers for the U.N. Gen­eral As­sem­bly in New York, Is­raeli pres­sure on Wash­ing­ton has mounted.

Is­raeli fears

As the Ira­nian nu­clear talks were get­ting un­der­way Tues­day in Geneva, the gov­ern­ment of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu is­sued a stark warn­ing to in­ter­na­tional ne­go­tia­tors against mov­ing too quickly to­ward lift­ing the sanc­tions against Tehran — as­sert­ing that the Ira­nian lead­ers have “sys­tem­at­i­cally de­fied” past U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions that had called for an end to ura­nium en­rich­ment ac­tiv­i­ties.

In a state­ment, Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s se­cu­rity cab­i­net urged the “P5+1” group gath­er­ing in Geneva — com­posed of the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil’s five per­ma­nent mem­bers plus Ger­many — to de­mand a full sus­pen­sion of all ura­nium en­rich­ment ac­tiv­i­ties from Iran. Iran con­tends its nu­clear ac­tiv­i­ties are in­tended solely for civil­ian power use.

While the Is­raeli state­ment ac­knowl­edges that the win­dow may be open for “a gen­uine diplo­matic so­lu­tion that peace­fully ends Iran’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram,” it warns that “this op­por­tu­nity can be re­al­ized only if the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to put pres­sure on Iran and does not ease the sanc­tions pre­ma­turely.”

In Wash­ing­ton, Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials walked a del­i­cate line. On the one hand, the ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­peared ea­ger to em­brace a po­ten­tially his­toric open­ing with Iran. On the other, it seemed soberly com­mit­ted to the pro­tec­tion of Is­rael, where fears are ram­pant that Iran is close to hav­ing en­riched enough ura­nium for a bomb.

“The mis­trust here is very deep, but we hope for progress,” said White House press sec­re­tary Jay Car­ney, who told re­porters at the White House that it was too early to de­scribe Iran’s pre­sen­ta­tion in Geneva as a “break­through.”

“Al­though we ap­pre­ci­ate the re­cent change in tone from the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Car­ney said, “we will be look­ing for spe­cific steps that ad­dress core is­sues, such as the pace and scope of its en­rich­ment pro­gram, the trans­parency of its over­all nu­clear pro­gram and its stock­piles of en­rich­ment.”

At the State Depart­ment, spokes­woman Jen Psaki de­clined to say specif­i­cally whether the ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­sid­er­ing lift­ing ex­ist­ing sanc­tions on Tehran, or re­lax­ing what has been a two-year push by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to bring about a global em­bargo on crude oil from Iran.

“We are go­ing into th­ese dis­cus­sions with our eyes open,” Ms. Psaki said. “We have put in place the most crip­pling sanc­tions — some of the most crip­pling sanc­tions in his­tory here, which is why Iran is at the point it’s at.”

“We wouldn’t take any ac­tion un­less we felt it was war­ranted and it was pro­por­tional,” she said. “But we also have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to seek diplo­matic op­tions when the door opens, and that’s the point we’re at now.”

With Iran sig­nal­ing a de­sire to re­tain some ura­nium-en­rich­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties and Is­rael de­mand­ing a halt of en­rich­ment ac­tiv­ity, it re­mains to be seen how the ad­min­is­tra­tion will pro­ceed.

Still, many Mid­dle East schol­ars in Wash­ing­ton were guard­edly op­ti­mistic about the prospects for a break­through.

“I think that a deal can be at­tained that pro­vides suf­fi­cient con­straints on the Ira­nian pro­gram and suf­fi­cient trans­parency for the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and would prob­a­bly reach Is­rael’s bot­tom-line re­quire­ments as well,” said Suzanne Maloney, a scholar at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion who stud­ies Iran, the po­lit­i­cal econ­omy of the Per­sian Gulf and Mid­dle East en­ergy pol­icy.

“Whether or not we reach that,” she added, “is very un­cer­tain.”

This ar­ti­cle is based in part on wire ser­vice re­ports.

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