Is the “P6” Now Ready for Prime Time in Geneva?

Marc Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s November 17, 2013 op-ed in The Huffington Post.

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November 10 will not go down as a stellar day for U.S. diplomacy. The premature faux hoopla over the scuttled first-stage nuclear agreement with Iran yielded little more than a legacy of miscues and a dozen eggs on Uncle Sam’s face. Inadequate consultation with its allies, and overly eager to bring home the bacon, the U.S. received a failing grade for not doing its homework before showing up for its crucial Iran test. Rule 1 in foreign policy: never have your secretary of state hightail to a negotiation unless the diplomatic soufflé is ready to come out of the oven so he/she can take credit for the diplomatic delicacy.

“Geneva 1” was poorly stage-managed by senior American diplomats. Just as well. Had the U.S. had its way it would have resulted in an indefensible interim agreement wotj Iran. Secretary Kerry neglected to abide by his own edict that he would rather not have a deal at all than enter into a bad deal. The French, merci, held Mr. Kerry to his admonition.

What, then, was objectionable in the “Geneva 1” framework that doomed this so-called interim “bad deal?” After all, Iran apparently was prepared to accept the following conditions:

  • A six month freeze on its uranium enrichment and a pledge not to enrich its existing uranium stockpile beyond 3.5% which is all that is needed to fuel civilian nuclear reactors.
  • Iran’s stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium would be placed under an unspecified monitoring regime pending its reconversion into harmless oxide.
  • Iran promised not to load its partially-built plutonium reactor at Arak with heavy water fuel and advanced centrifuges.

In return, the P6 agreed to grant Iran partial sanctions relief including the unfreezing of foreign exchange reserves, and lifting some sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

Was this such a “bad deal?” Depends who you ask?

Israel considers any partial lifting of sanctions an irreversible mistake and a victory for the mullahs without any requirement for Iran to verifiably end once and for all its illegal nuclear enrichment program.

More importantly, France — the “canary in the coal mine” earned for having endured the most extensive and painful negotiation with Iran during the failed 2003-2004 talks on its nuclear program — objected to “Geneva 1” since it:

1. Accorded Iran de facto right to enrich more unverifiable uranium and plutonium.

2. Did not compel Iran to ship any of its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium — one easy percentage step away from bomb-making capacity and absolutely illegal under its NPT obligations — to another country for neutralization.

3. Permitted Iran to continue its construction of the super-secret, and largely IAEA inaccessible, Arak heavy water plutonium reactor.

4. Ignored Iran’s refusal to sign on to the NPT “Additional Protocols” which would open Iran’s nuclear program to intrusive IAEA inspections.

Had France’s reasonable objections been incorporated into a P6 proposal, would Iran have signed on? No one knows for sure. But the fact that there was no deal when the French tabled their proposals is a bad omen for a “good” Geneva 2″ accord because Iran seemed prepared to sign on to the “pre-French” draft agreement, but not a deal that incorporated France’s recommendations.

John Kerry had better have his ducks better lined up this time to prevent a fatal car wreck.

Notwithstanding objections of America’s Middle East allies, I believe it is better to have a “good” interim deal than no deal at all with Iran. But for a “Geneva 2” accord to represent a reasonable deal on its merits it will need to include the following additional terms:

1. Iran will need to sign onto the “Additional Protocol” to the Non-Proliferation Treaty which permits the IAEA to undertake “short notice” inspections and imposes additional reporting requirements. For example, IAEA inspectors have been barred by Iran from inspecting the Arak reactor site since August, 2011.

2. All of Iran’s uranium that it has enriched to 20% must be immediately neutralized under international supervision OUTSIDE of Iran.

3. Construction on the Arak plutonium reactor must immediately cease and mothballed under IAEA verification before any fuel is load into it since IAEA experts predict that if it became operational it could produce up to 10KG of weapons-grade plutonium every year – enough for 2 bombs.

But Iran will likely object to these essential amendments to “Geneva 1.” Why? Because it continues to peddle the same old snake oil that its nuclear program is purely peaceful in nature.

If it were as peaceful as Tehran claims Iran would not need any enriched uranium beyond 3.5%, it would agree to the “Additional Protocol,” and it would not be barring IAEA inspectors unfettered access to the Arak plutonium enrichment plant.

So how is the P6 squaring this circle so that “Geneva 2” could, perhaps yield a “good” interim agreement?

  • On Iran’s demand that it have the “right” to enrich uranium (not so under the NPT), the P6 is going to fudge it by camouflaging a non-existent right into diplomatic mumbo-jumbo that Tehran can take home.
  • On the NPT “Additional Protocol” the P6 may extract a “pledge” from Iran to sign on to it if and when a permanent agreement is negotiated.
  • On Arak, the P6 may extract from Iran a partially verifiable commitment to “freeze” all construction work for six months pending negotiation of a comprehensive agreement.
  • On converting Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium, the P6 may cook up a bi-monthly trade whereby specific percentages of this highly enriched uranium are placed under IAEA control in some neutral country in exchange for more sanctions reductions as each package of enriched uranium is exported.

Is that enough to pass the “good deal” smell test? The devil will be in the details. But let there be no mistake about it. If “Geneva 2” fails to improve upon “Geneva 1” by addressing France’s objections, then we really are on a fool’s errand.

This week, while diplomats scrambled, Iran agreed to grant the IAEA more regular inspection rights to significant parts of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. BUT Iran refused to grant the IAEA access to a large military site known as Parchin where Iran is suspected by the IAEA of high explosive testing (pre-cursor to a nuclear test), and regular access to the Arak reactor. And given Arak’s importance to any “Geneva 2” agreement, what does this portend?

In a few days we shall learn whether the P6 countries returned to Geneva more united than 10 days ago by requiring Iran to accept more IAEA verification, neutralization of its stockpile of 3.5% uranium and unfettered access to Arak, Parchin, Fodor and other secret nuclear sites that Iran has barred the IAEA from completely inspecting.

The U.S. has committed to turning a new page with Iran and it has offered Iran what it desperately needs: relief from sanctions in exchange for reversing a nuclear weapons program that Iran asserts is a figment of our imagination despite incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. If Iran balks at a “good” Geneva 2 deal, well, then don’t blame Congress, Israel, France or the Persian Gulf states. Rather, blame the Supreme Leader for unfairly wanting his yellow cake and eating it, too.

If Iran balks and walks from a “good” agreement the U.S. worked hard into extra innings to construct it’s time to face the cold and cruel reality that Iran’s nuclear program is anything but peaceful.

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