There is an old saying that you don't negotiate with your friends; you negotiate with your enemies. It is very unfortunate that the United States and Iran are enemies, but they are and have been since 1979. As such, it is imperative that we negotiate with them. Former Vice President Dick Cheney famously said that we "don't negotiate with evil, we defeat it." Such statements are political slogans, not useful strategies to resolve differences between nations.
There are a number of issues that could derail the nuclear negotiations with Iran. These include, but are not limited to: Iran's support of the Houthis in Yemen essentially overthrowing a U.S. supported government; the 47 Republican senators in the United States trying to undermine President Obama; hardliners in Iran, the U.S. and Israel trying to derail negotiations; Israel's opposition to the deal that is being pursued by the Obama administration; the difference of opinion on several issues within the P5+1; Iran's reluctance to sign a framework agreement on paper; and now Iran's apparent change of heart in sending nuclear material to Russia for conversion into fuel rods. It is a wonder that negotiations have not failed.
Why Have Negotiations Not Failed?
There are several reasons. First and foremost, the U.S. and Iran realize that there is a lot at stake. The Iranians realize that they have a lot to gain. The U.S. realizes it has a lot to lose. With a GDP nearly $1 trillion, Iran is the 18 largest economy in the world; commercial interests the world over also want to see a deal. Iran has the world's fourth largest natural gas production and is the third largest exporter of crude oil.
President Obama has seemingly put negotiations with Iran ahead of Israeli's and Saudi Arabia's comfort levels. Why? The reason is that failure now would be a major setback to both countries. Iran wants sanctions lifted. The U.S. and others want Iran's nuclear program curtailed from about 20,000 centrifuges to 6,000, and a reduction of enriched Uranium from 8000kg to about 1000kg, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
It also helps that Iran's president Rouhani is also the former nuclear negotiator. And Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif is someone who was educated with a BA, MA and PhD from U.S. universities. Understanding the point of view of the U.S. is something that Iran has going for it, and it is something that the West desperately needs to have as well.
What if Negotiations Fail?
Without a deal, Iran could very well continue to produce and stock enriched uranium; the timeline to breakout to producing a nuclear bomb, something that Iran has steadfastly insisted it has no plans to do, could be just a few short months; and fewer if any IAEA inspections.
The Obama administration believes that failure will leave the world less safe. Furthermore, failure at the current negotiations would not open the way for ten years of trust. The lack of trust is one of the biggest impediments to sustained diplomatic relations.
What if Negotiations Succeed?
With a deal, a framework would be in place to discuss how Iran would not continue to produce and stock enriched uranium; the timeline to breakout to producing a nuclear bomb, something that Iran has steadfastly insisted it has no plans to do, could be a year or more; IAEA inspections and enforcement of the Additional Protocol. And Iran pursues a peaceful nuclear power program, which is their right under the NPT.
If negotiations succeed, Benjamin Netanyahu would have the world believe that the worst possible outcome will happen. Iran would have 190,000 centrifuges in ten years. Inspections would be hindered. Iran would become more aggressive. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East would ensue. Israeli and the world would be less safe. Some might call this fear mongering; others prudence.
One thing for certain is that for nearly 20 years Benjamin Netanyahu has been proposing doomsday scenarios concerning Iran. Maybe Iran will produce weapons; maybe it won't. Iran has signed the NPT and adopted the Additional Protocol. If fully complied with this the NPT and Additional Protocol almost guarantees transparency and that Iran will not produce nuclear weapons.
However, the burden of proof is not on Iran to show that it is not pursuing a program. The burden of proof is on us to show that Iran is in fact producing nuclear weapons, intends to do so, or would want to have a capacity to do so. Iran says that their program is strictly for peaceful energy purposes. So far no one has proven that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program.
If someone keeps saying that it is going to rain, eventually it will rain. But that is because rain is a certainty. Nuclear breakout is not a certainty. A history of other many other nations that gave up their nuclear weapons program show that an Iranian nuclear weapons program is not a certainty.
PAUL HEROUX is a state representative from Massachusetts who previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.