As the West scrambles to assess Iran's historic Geneva pact, signed with the P5+1 countries last Sunday, reactions have predictably ranged from the vehemently critical to the enthusiastically supportive. The organization Ploughshares has occupied that latter share of the spectrum, with its president, Joseph Cirincione, enthusiastically embracing the Interim agreement. The Ploughshares Fund is a publically-supported foundation that, since 1981 has advocated global security through the elimination of nuclear weapons. ” It has emphasised reducing both “tensions between Iran, its neighbors, and the West” and “incentives for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.” Joel Rubin, its Director of Policy and Government Affairs, spoke to IranWire.
Some critics of this deal say, in effect, that the P5+1 negotiators gave Iran an economic lifeline and left their program intact. How would you respond?
This is a first-step agreement towards a comprehensive solution regarding Iran’s nuclear program, and the first line of the joint plan of action is that the goal of the negotiations is to reach a mutually-agreed, long-term solution that would ensure that Iran’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful. I think that’s the context one has to use to understand what they’ve accomplished, which is to stop and roll back the most dangerous elements of Iran’s nuclear program—which makes us safer—and implement the most rigorous inspections that Iran has ever faced. These will be ongoing and daily. In addition to that, they’ve basically demonstrated to the international community that there is a window here to seal a final deal with Iran that prevents it from getting the bomb, and verifiably so. That’s the frame.
Those critics who don’t even want to take a first step toward getting there, one has to ask what their recommended first step would be, and it’s not clear to me that they would do anything different, if they want a diplomatic arrangement to resolve this, because we’ve heard for a number of years that the biggest concerns are the enrichment, and this agreement deals with enrichment, it deals with the 20 per cent-enriched fuel, and it doesn’t deal with all of it, but that’s part of the comprehensive negotiations that are now underway, and they won’t be negotiating while Iran is enriching that more dangerous material, so that this is the kind of context that provides an opportunity for negotiations to address the concerns about Iran’s program.
Did you feel that there were any points that P5+1 negotiators could have pressed that they failed to press?
All of the issues are in the agreement, so the question of whether or not everything is resolved completely, well, clearly, the negotiators know that they have work to do. But all of the issues that have been in the public realm, and in the debate about enrichment—centrifuges, inspections, Arak, sanctions from the other side of the equation—all of this is included in there.
Now, the UN Security Council Resolutions [still have] to be addressed, there will have to be additional discussions about the possible military dimensions of the program, which Iran is currently engaged in discussing with the IAEA, and they’re going to have another meeting on December 11th. They just had an agreement with the IAEA to go further. The IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano—who has been a very tough critic of Iran’s activities—supports this agreement. Many of the issues that people are worried about are clearly not resolved, but they are in the discussions, being focused on. So that’s the task, and the test, for the negotiations going forward.
How much pressure does this deal place on the IAEA?
This is a real exciting moment, I’m sure, for the IAEA. I’ve never worked there, I don’t know people who work there, so I’m just giving conjecture, but the IAEA clearly is the central node for verifying this agreement, and for being on point for future verification, and this is what they do. It’s just like the [Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons], with Syria’s chemical weapons.
These multilateral organizations are crucial because they give confidence to the international community about what countries are doing and are not doing in their nuclear, chemical, biological programs. The IAEA, by having an agreement with Iran, by being tasked to be in daily monitoring, is a very important player, and is trusted across the board, so it’s a good player to have in the middle of this.
Will this deal benefit reformists or hardliners in Iran?
I think it benefits the United States, the international community, the negotiators in Iran, and the Iranian people. It’s a win-win. It doesn’t make everybody on all sides happy with all aspects, but this does strengthen the negotiators from Iran, who came in on a mandate to do exactly this, and when they returned, thy were greeted with cheers. That gives them political backing to continue the process and go further, which is what we should want, because we want a negotiated outcome to this issue.
What are the best and worst-case scenarios over the coming months?
What we have to make sure when talks take place that the negotiations are conducted in an atmosphere of support. The negotiations will be hard enough in and of themselves, so it’s crucial to give the negotiators the time and space that they’ve created, through this first step, to get a comprehensive agreement. Interventions that get in the way of negotiations, that could violate and blow up and undermine the negotiation process, would not be in anyone’s security interests.
What does this deal mean for non-proliferation more broadly?
It would be a significant statement by the international community if its efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons were realized through the use of diplomacy, and not the use of force. It would also provide an opportunity for those countries that possess nuclear arsenals to re-calibrate and re-think the types and scale and scope of the nuclear arsenals that they have. It would discourage those who are thinking about proliferation from actually proliferating because the focus and activism and activity by the international community through diplomacy demonstrates that [it] has deep concerns about proliferation. This does provide an opportunity to demonstrate that collective will can prevent the world’s most dangerous weapons from getting into new hands.