8 Aug 2013

Forget trust: Iran’s nuclear policy needs practicality

Chief Correspondent

We should take two unequivocal things from the Iranian president’s press conference on Tuesday on the nuclear issue: engagement and urgency – and the West appears inclined to agree.

Here is the man who for years was a key negotiator at the endless nuclear talks with the West.

Here is the man who made a huge concession to the West in offering to suspend nuclear enrichment in 2005. In return for that the Americans under Bush simply threw everything back in his face. Hassan Rouhani was cast into political wilderness and the Ahmadinejad Pantomime became possible.

Here’s what Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, told the BBC this week: “I’m absolutely convinced that we can do business with Dr Rouhani, because we did do business with Dr Rouhani, and had it not been for major problems within the US administration under President Bush, we could have actually settled the whole Iran nuclear dossier back in 2005, and we probably wouldn’t have had President Ahmadinejad as a consequence of the failure as well.”

So now you see why President Rouhani talked speed and urgency this week. Like Jack Straw he believes the EU3 (France, Germany, UK) were pretty much on board for a deal eight years back (eight Ahmadinejad presidential years back).

Bush blinded

Mr Straw’s view was that the US and Bush scuppered things. Dr Rouhani’s current view is that the US remains blinded by what he term’s Israel’s “warmongering” agenda.

With hindsight, that offer [from Iran] should have been snapped up – Peter Jenkins, British negotiator

Well perhaps. Certainly President Obama has a major opportunity to face down a House hellbent on imposing further oil sanctions on Iran as if the election of Hassan Rouhani had simply not happened.

So in a way, we are back in 2005 now without Bush and the neo-con fundamentalists. The key issue still remains nuclear enrichment. Iran (and many others) say that is allowed under the non- proliferation treaty (NPT). Iran says she won’t be treated as a second class member by anyone attempting a ban again.

The basic problem is that the NPT gives countries the right to nuclear power. Common power processes require enriched uranium. But enriched uranium can be used for bombs as well as charging your tablet.

Achilles heel of the NPT

Yup – the poor old NPT thus has one hell of an Achilles heel because it wants to be nice and stop nasty simultaneously (rarely easy in life). Pre-revolutionary Iran signed up to the treaty way back in 1970 – unlike the suspected and actual nuclear powers of Israel and Pakistan, geographically close to Iran, who have never signed.

So you get why inspections under the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) become vital. If, and it remains a very big if, Dr Rouhani delivers on his buzzword ‘transparency’ and allows free international inspection of enrichment, it’s hard to see what the obstacle really is (beyond the Israeli lobby in the US of course which is hardly a detail).

We know enrichment remains the stumbling block – but whose stumbling block? We know it is the US obsession over this that created the past impasse.

Why? Because European negotiators have said so several times. Take Peter Jenkins, Britain’s ambassador to the IAEA at the time who took part in the talks. In the Daily Telegraph last year, he said: “With hindsight, that offer [from Iran] should have been snapped up.

“It wasn’t, because our objective was to put a stop to all enrichment in Iran. That has remained the West’s aim ever since, despite countless Iranian reminders that they are unwilling to be treated as a second-class party to the NPT.” (‘The Deal the West Could Strike With Iran’, 23 January 2012).

But it’s now 2013. The Bushmen are gone. Ahmadinejad ousted by a massive 72 per cent turnout at the polls.

A ‘right’ to nuclear power

And here’s the current US Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking in 2009 to the Financial Times about Iran’s right to enrich under the NPT:”They have a right to peaceful nuclear power and to enrichment in that purpose.”

He went further, saying the Bush administration’s obsession with not allowing Iranian enrichment was: “bombastic diplomacy” which “wasted energy” and “hardened the lines”.

Thus, as Jack Straw put it, it got the world absolutely nowhere at all. In fact it set things back. Rather than defend US and Israeli interests it ushered in the era of Holocaust denial and wiping Israel from the map etc under the Ahmadinejad years.

Leaving aside the notion that Ahmadinejad was just what US/Israel desired, we’re now in 2013 with subtle, tested, quieter men now running Iran plc not just the nuclear talks.

Plan B?

So what is the West’s Plan B – now we all can see that refusing the Rouhani Deal got us (and him) nothing but eight years of yah-boo politics and Iran refusing to allow full inspection?

It’s thus far been a lose-lose game for the West, which must now shape up against the President telling the world on Tuesday: “We are following a win-win policy.”

For Iranians, enrichment isn’t politics – it’s an article of faith, it’s part of the national psyche. Telling people here they can’t do it is futile. Plainly the only game in town is how it will happen and how to ensure it is for power and medicine and not bombs.

That’s where the new president has to step up and make good on all this talk of ‘engagement’ and ‘transparency’. Trust would be great but so would a lifelong timeshare in Nirvana – it ain’t gonna happen.

This is a president who tells other countries not to interfere in Syria whilst his proxy army – Hezbollah – is fighting there daily.

So forget trust. It’s reality, practicality and proper, intrusive inspection that the Iranians have to concede.

The West’s concession is obvious: we blew it in 2005, let’s get it right now with the man who’s tried already to deliver.