By Peter Crail
Iran’s formal response to the P5+1 expressing a willingness to discuss its nuclear program helps pave the way for the first such meeting in over a year.
The two sides should now work to begin sustained negotiations aimed at ensuring that Iran meets its nonproliferation obligations. Another P5+1 round with Iran is a good start, but by itself will not likely produce a long-term deal that resolves the key issues.
Resolving the nuclear issue will require sufficient pressure and inducements to convince Iran’s current and future leaders they stand to gain more from forgoing nuclear weapons than from any decision to build them.
A near-term goal should be to test Iran’s claim that it would be willing to stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent if it received fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor. A stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium would allow Iran to shorten its time frame to produce weapons; Washington should not forgo any opportunities to reduce that risk.
The most critical objectives of the dialogue will be to secure more intrusive access by the IAEA to all of Iran’s nuclear-related activities and to convince Tehran to finally address the agency’s questions about its weapons-related work. Iran stands to benefit from providing such cooperation, including by receiving assistance for a dedicated peaceful nuclear energy program.
A permanent uranium-enrichment halt would be beneficial and very welcome, but it is not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, and should not become a condition for further talks. A permanent halt to Iranian enrichment is also not realistic given the strong support for enrichment across the political spectrum in Iran. Limiting enrichment levels to normal reactor fuel grade and tying enrichment amounts to the actual needs of Iran’s nuclear power plants could provide an acceptable compromise that would still achieve U.S. nonproliferation goals.