Hossein Mousavian in ACT

I wanted to call readers’ attention to what I think is a very important and insightful article by Hossein Mousavian in the current issue of Arms Control Today.  Mousavian is currently a Research Scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, but from 1997 to 2005 he was the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council, and from 2003-2005 he was spokesman for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the EU.  Basically, he was intimately involved on the inside of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy with the West up through 2005.

In this ACT article, Mousavian gives a narrative of the history of Iran-West nuclear diplomacy from 2002 up to the present, from the Iranian perspective.  This is a perspective that we in the West just dont get to hear very often, and here it’s being recounted by someone who was an insider on the process for many years on the Iranian side.

You can find the full text of the article here: http://www.armscontrol.org/2012_07-08/The_Iranian_Nuclear_Dispute_Origins_and_Current_Options 

I can’t recommend this article highly enough. I think Mousavian’s thesis, that the history of Iran’s nuclear program – going back more than 50 years - “suggests that the West is inadvertently pushing Iran toward nuclear weapons,” is laid out quite clearly and persuasively in the article.  I was personally struck in reading the narrative Mousavian lays out, at how essentially reasonable Iran’s diplomatic positions since 2003 appear to have been.  I knew alot of this information already of course, but Mousavian puts it in a narrative that allows you to see how, over and over, Iran has been willing to negotiate and compromise on so many of the points of concern the West has had.  And I was just as struck by how intransigent and unreasonable the U.S. led diplomatic positions of the West have been, in essentially refusing to budge off of the just patently unreasonable and unnecessary (and in my view illegal) demand that Iran give up entirely its enrichment program.  Again, I knew alot of this already, but the narrative really brings it out. 

Now, I know this is a former government official speaking, and just like with any other current or former government official of any state, one must be mindful of the likelihood of selective fact presentation and spin. But even with that caveat, I really encourage people to read the article in its entirety. Just for a taster, here are a few quotes that stood out to me in their significance. 

Here’s one about positions in 2003:

 In 2003, shortly after Iran mastered enrichment technology, its nuclear case came under the spotlight of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the IAEA Board of Governors issued its first resolution on Iran’s nuclear program. To find a solution to the Iranian nuclear issue, the EU countries of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the EU-3) began diplomatic negotiations with Iran. During those negotiations, which lasted until 2005, I served as the spokesperson for the Iranian nuclear negotiating team.

Iran submitted different proposals, which included a declaration to (1) cap enrichment at the 5 percent level; (2) export all low-enriched uranium (LEU) or fabricate it into fuel rods; (3) commit to an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement and to Code 3.1 of the subsidiary arrangements to the agreement, which would provide the maximum level of transparency; and (4) allow the IAEA to make snap inspections of undeclared facilities. This offer was intended to address the West’s concerns regarding the nature of Iran’s nuclear program by ensuring that no enriched uranium would be diverted to a nuclear weapons program. It also would have facilitated the recognition of Iran’s right to enrichment under the NPT. In exchange for these Iranian commitments, the Iranian nuclear file at the IAEA would be normalized, and Iran would have broader political, economic, and security cooperation with the European Union. Furthermore, Iran was interested in securing fuel for the research reactor in Tehran and was ready to ship its enriched uranium to another country for fabrication into fuel rods.

Iran’s overtures to its negotiating partners for a mutually acceptable deal failed, primarily because the United States was not on board and held the position that there should not be even one centrifuge within Iran. In a meeting I had at the time with French Ambassador to Iran François Nicoullaud, he told me, “For the U.S., the enrichment in Iran is a red line which the EU cannot cross.”

Denying Iran its right to enrichment and blocking efforts to have fuel rods provided for the Tehran reactor sent clear signals to Tehran that the West was not interested in solving the nuclear issue. Rather, the West wanted to compel Iran to forgo its enrichment program completely.

Here Mousavian gives a really insightful, and kind of poignant, retrospective summary:

Not only has the West pushed Iran to seek self-sufficiency, but at every juncture, it has tried to deprive Iran of its inalienable right to enrichment. This has simply propelled Iran to proceed full throttle toward mastering nuclear technology. The Iranians never intended to go this far and would have been content with the West or another country supplying their fuel. The irony is that the progress of Iran’s nuclear program is the product of Western efforts to pressure and isolate Iran while refusing to recognize Iran’s rights.

And here he gives a current analysis, and a disturbing view of a possible future:

 Any further opportunity to reach a deal will fail if the West does not recognize that the approach it has taken so far will yield only further progress in Iran’s nuclear program and that there is little left that the West can make subject to sanctions. If this trend continues, therefore, the prospects will be gloomy for all parties. Iran will be forced to choose between resisting Western pressures and abandoning its long-held goal of pursuing peaceful nuclear energy. It is unlikely to do the latter, even in the face of a military strike. The West is limiting its options, leaving only the option of military intervention. This cycle has brought the countries to the brink of war, due to the West’s mistaken belief that pressure, sanctions, isolation, and threats would bring Iran to its knees. On the contrary, these policies have led only to the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program.

The West now appears prepared to take an eighth counterproductive step by imposing devastating sanctions or launching a military strike. If that happened, Iran would be likely to withdraw from the NPT and pursue nuclear weapons.

Mousavian concludes with a proposal for a negotiated diplomatic solution. I found one element of this proposal particularly novel and interesting - and potentially workable:

 To satisfy the concerns of the West regarding Iran’s 20 percent stockpile, a mutually acceptable solution for the long term would entail “a zero stockpile.” Under this approach, a joint committee of the P5+1 and Iran would quantify the domestic needs of Iran for use of 20 percent enriched uranium, and any quantity beyond that amount would be sold in the international market or immediately converted back to an enrichment level of 3.5 percent. This would ensure that Iran does not possess excess 20 percent enriched uranium forever, satisfying the international concerns that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons. It would be a face-saving solution for all parties as it would recognize Iran’s right to enrichment and would help to negate concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.

That makes alot of sense to me.

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3 Comments on “Hossein Mousavian in ACT”

  1. Pierre-Emmanuel Dupont says:

    Dear Dan,
    Very interesting post.
    Mousavian has recently published a 612-pp. book on the topic, which is available at http://www.brookings.edu/research/books/2012/theiraniannuclearcrisis

    I was wondering whether similar accounts from negotiators of the ‘other side’ exist.

    • Dan Joyner says:

      Thanks Pierre,
      Yes I saw Mousavian’s book. Would love to read it. I’d be interested in accounts from the other side too, but I doubt they exist. Writing by former government officials in the West has to be approved by their government, and I really doubt they would want a memoir about such sensitive and still ongoing negotiations coming out.

  2. [...] Ignatius today. In it, he reports on a conversation he had with Hossain Mousavian, about whom I posted earlier. In this conversation, Mousavian reportedly made an intriguing suggestion for a diplomatic [...]


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