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Engagement Without Preconditions Needed in Wake of Iran Report

Posted by Kevin Grady Reynolds on June 3, 2008

With a new international watch dog report out on the nation, tension heightens between Iran and the international community pointing to the immediate need for a new policy of engagement...one without preconditions. In 2003, Iran provoked international outcry with the exposure of a clandestine nuclear program. While the United States dismissed a chance to negotiate with Iran over this issue, the EU-3 (France, Germany and the United Kingdom) decided on a policy of engagement. By bringing a package of incentives to the negotiating table, the EU-3 convinced Iran to suspend its program and enhance cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) until agreement was found. However, with the election in August 2005 of the staunchly conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran froze negotiations and restarted its nuclear enrichment program. In June 2006, the EU-3 was joined by the United States, Russia and China (becoming the P5+1) in an effort to persuade Iran to suspend work and return to the negotiating table.

On May 26, the IAEA released an "unusually blunt and detailed" report on Iran's nuclear activities. The Report stated that Iran was uncooperative and more transparency was needed. The condemning report elicited concern from many P5+1 officials (permanent members of the United Nations Security Council + Germany). For example, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "The major question on my mind today is: how are the Iranians going to answer the quite serious charges of non-cooperation?" Further, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani said that there were "signs of a possible military dimension" to Iran's nuclear efforts. In addition, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband strongly advised Iran to address the IAEA's concerns, saying that, "Iran needs to provide answers immediately, and come clean about its past activities. There is no justification for further delay"; while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that if Iran does not make the effort to provide reasonable answers to the IAEA, "the alternative would then be an increase of international pressure, also through the U.N. Security Council."

Faced with the negative backlash, Iran's response was disappointing at best. Iran's mission to the United Nations rejected the findings of the Report stating that through cooperation with the Agency inspectors, Iran had proved its program to be strictly peaceful in nature (a nuclear energy program, not a weapons program). Iran said that its IAEA cooperation "undoubtedly eliminated the most basic pretexts and allegations" that its program was for weapon production. The newly elected speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, also spoke out against the IAEA's condemnation saying, "Parliament will not allow that such deceptions are made and if [the UN] continue[s] along this path, the new parliament will intervene in the case and set a new line for cooperation with the IAEA." Iran made a similar threat to weaken cooperation with the Agency when its case was first sent to the United Nations and subsequently carried it out.

The international community faces a difficult situation as tensions rise, but there are some steps that can be taken to decrease this pressure. First of all, it is essential to keep IAEA inspectors in Iran. Inspections in Iraq in the 1990s dismantled most of its weapons program. Furthermore, the international community continually receives information if the IAEA stays in Iran. The threat of a military attack will not decrease tension, nor ensure continued IAEA cooperation. In fact, if a policy of military action is implemented, Iran's leaders will have a stronger argument for deterrence and the need for a nuclear weapon. The 1981 Israeli bombing of the Iraqi reactor at Osiraq is evidence that an attack on the nation's nuclear facilities could intensify Iran's efforts to go nuclear. After the 1981 bombings, Iraq doubled its efforts and funding to build the bomb. An intensified policy of engagement would decrease tension and keep Iran cooperating with the IAEA. Preconditions of suspension that have been insisted on for some time need not hinder cooperation from taking place and must be eliminated, since Iran has clearly stated that it will not negotiate under these conditions. If the P5+1 wants Iranian concessions, they must engage the nation without preconditions in order to discover first hand just what Iran needs in respect to incentives. With such a policy, tensions will decrease, as will the chance of another war in the Middle East.

Kevin Reynolds is a program associate for security programs at Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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