The P5+1+1?

By Kelsey Davenport

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and Iranian President Ahmadinejad.
Photo Credit: FARS

With no new high-level talks between the P5+1 and Iran on the calendar, it may be time to consider alternative diplomatic means for engaging with Tehran on its contentious nuclear program. On Friday an interesting case was made for pursuing a “P5+1+1” strategy, which would include Turkey with the original six parties (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) currently negotiating with Iran.

Mustafa Kibaroglu, a professor of international relations at Okan University in Istanbul, made a case for including Turkey in the talks, and not just as a host, but a full political partner. After a summer of lower-level technical meetings and phone calls that have so far failed to move the negotiations forward, Kibaroglu’s ideas are worth consideration. Speaking at a September 7th Woodrow Wilson Center event, Kibaroglu said that Ankara’s geopolitical interests, security concerns, and past experience negotiating with Tehran on this issue make the case for Turkey to be added as another “+1” to the P+1 team.

Turkey’s past efforts aimed at resolving international concerns directed at Iran’s nuclear program is worth recalling. To recap, in the spring of 2010, Turkey, working with Brazil, carried out a diplomatic initiative that brokered a deal with Iran that intended to revive the October 2009 uranium swap arrangement that would have mitigated some of the international concerns about the country’s nuclear program. The Tehran Declaration, signed by the presidents of Iran, Brazil and Turkey, called for the transfer of 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium from Iran to Turkey. This material would be “swapped” for 120 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium in the form of fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor. The fuel plates were to have been provided by the IAEA, France, Russia, and the United States. The agreement also recalled the right of all nuclear Non-Proliferation member countries, including Iran, to pursue enrichment for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The fuel swap fell through, however, because France, Russia, and the United States expressed concerns that the deal did not address important issues, like Iran’s ongoing enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, the halting of which remains a priority for the six parties.

Despite the failure of the Tehran Declaration, Turkey’s experience negotiating with Iran lends strength to Kibaroglu’s argument for Turkey’s inclusion. Ankara demonstrated it can work with Tehran. Additionally, in June 2010 Turkey was one of two countries that voted against UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed sanctions on Iran for failing to comply with early resolutions regarding its nuclear program. Given the animosity spurred on by the current sanctions, Iran may be more willing to work with Turkey than the members of the P5+1.

In addition, Kibaroglu reminds us that Israel is not the only Middle Eastern country that would be threatened by Iran obtaining nuclear weapons and that other regional perspectives on the security environment need to be considered. According to him, a nuclear armed Iran would be the “game changer” that affects the relationship between the two countries and tips the balance of power in Iran’s favor.

While Turkish inclusion in the P5+1 may not be the creative solution that revives the negotiations with Iran, Kibaroglu’s recommendations serve as an important reminder that there is no “one size fits all” formula for diplomatic negotiations. If the current P5+1 track does not achieve a breakthrough, it does not mean that negotiations have failed. Rather, that it is time for diplomats to get creative and consider alternative options, such as exploiting the good offices of new parties, to find a solution to the Iranian nuclear question.

Bill Keller put it well in his September 10 New York Times op-ed “Nuclear Mullahs” when he wrote “[w]hat statesmen do when faced with bad options is create new ones.” The United States needs to apply this type of thinking both to how it approaches the process of negotiations and the end game that Washington is willing to accept in regards to Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

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