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November 8, 2010 |  10 comments |  Print  Atlantic Memos  

Memo 27

Engaging Tehran with Concrete Reciprocity

Memo 27: The only way to overcome the deadlock on Iran’s nuclear program is to engage constructively with the existing regime. Progress will only be made when both sides admit their past failures and engage in genuine ‘concrete reciprocity’.

Atlantic-community.org's Policy Workshop Competition 2010, sponsored by the U.S. Mission to Germany, challenged students with one of the toughest questions in international relations: "What could a successful strategy for the transatlantic partners to overcome the deadlock on Iran's nuclear program look like?"

The six best submissions were published and intensely debated with more than 130 comments. The incisive, yet constructive debate led to the emergence of two very different strategies.

This is the Memo from the 'Negotiators', Felix Haass, Sascha Lohmann, Alexander Pyka and Tobias Sauer, all of whom argue for greater engagement with the Iranian government. Concurrently, we are publishing the Memo written by the 'Hawks', Niklas Anzinger and Felix Seidler, who advocate isolation of the regime and support for opposition groups.

 

Engaging Tehran with Concrete Reciprocity

INTRODUCTION

The conflict about Iran's nuclear program cannot be understood without taking into account the historical context in which it is situated. Against the backdrop of a highly traumatized relationship with the United States, Iranian leaders are preoccupied with the fight for international legitimacy and recognition as an independent and equal partner to the West. Any strategy aimed at effectively influencing the cost-benefit analysis of the Iranian leadership needs to focus on Iran's quest for sovereignty, modernity and control over energy resources. In this regard, the West has a lot to offer for Iran.

As a matter of fact, destroying nuclear infrastructure or containing a nuclear Iran would not address the fundamental challenge with which the West is confronted: How to integrate Iran as a regional power without causing war. Iran's current capabilities do not pose an imminent threat to the West and its allies. Moreover, the US has convinced Israel that an Iranian nuclear breakout capability, the ability to assemble a nuclear weapon in a very short amount of time, will not materialize in the near future. Thus, there is no need to press forward with policies that would encourage the specter of war.

We cannot choose the regime in Tehran. At the same time, we must not abandon Iran, as other countries like China will quickly fill in the void left by the Europeans which further decreases the West's leverage for successful negotiations. Therefore, we need a flexible and effective strategy that takes the reality we face seriously and promotes progress regardless of the domestic conditions we face.

The following policy recommendations are based on the analysis presented above. In order to escape the strategic limitations for the transatlantic partners that would automatically come with a regime change policy, military action or containment have to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, we prefer an approach of concrete reciprocity, based on incentives applied in three phases and focused on international law that institutionalizes progress by locking in both sides. In making intelligent use of the coercive measures that are already in place, such an approach would initiate a dynamic in the direction of gradual but steadfast progress by spilling over from minor to major issues.

 

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS

Iran desires a host of things only the West can offer. These leverages have to be identified and used as incentives instead of further alienating a country that has already begun to look for other sources of recognition. Thus, the intelligent use and implementation of these incentives within a framework of concrete reciprocity will address Iran's demand for recognition. Notwithstanding, the US and especially the EU have to remain firm on decided policies - sanctions should be relaxed only within the framework of concrete reciprocity, not in case of short-term domestic or economic advantages.

Additionally, incentives need also to be communicated by using measures of public diplomacy. Directed at Iranian civil society, these measures do not function as actual incentives for the Iranian leadership, but rather to strengthen the West's legitimacy against accusations of applying double-standards or hypocrisy when dealing with the regime. At the same time, it deprives any given leadership of using the West as an enemy stereotype with the much needed side-effect of directly assuring the Iranian population that their concerns matter.

1. Application of a Strategy Based on Concrete Reciprocity

Phase 1: Short-term cooperation

Step 1

In order to legitimately criticize Iran's illicit enrichment activities regarding highly enriched uranium (HEU), the West has to acknowledge Iran's inalienable right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy as a signatory state of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and must manifest its commitment to the non-proliferation regime.

US/EU

  • Formal and unequivocal recognition of Iran's right to nuclear energy under Art. IV  para 1 NPT under current state of law
  • Offer to provide medical isotopes for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) and technical support for the Bushehr reactor and other Light Water Reactor projects
  • Additionally, full and legally guaranteed access to needed amounts of low enriched uranium (LEU), for a reasonable price, under transparent rules and regulations
  • Ratification of New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START)

Iran

  • Full compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and current legal obligations (safeguard-agreements, model INFCIRC/153)

Step 2

In order to fully erode Iran's argument that unilateral uranium enrichment is necessary for the full realization of its right to civil usage of nuclear technology, a reliable alternative has to be offered. The central element of the reciprocal strategy would hence be an inalienable right to comprehensively use uranium from a multilateral facility on Iranian soil in exchange for the legally binding surrender of Iran's rights to unilaterally develop the complete nuclear fuel cycle (Art. IV para 1 NPT). This arrangement could serve as a benchmark for others in the long run.

US/EU

  • Lifting the respective UN sanctions that prohibit Iran from undertaking nuclear and enrichment related activities
  • Multilateralization of the full nuclear fuel cycle under strict supervision of the international community using the existing uranium enrichment facilities in Qom and Natanz
  • Lifting sanctions on civil goods (aviation etc.)
  • Concrete proposals for trade promotion (especially in sectors not dominated by state-owned enterprises)

Iran

  • Legal commitment by Iran not to unilaterally seek to enrich uranium or build a unilateral enrichment facility (factual assurance that Iran will not take advantage of its rights under Art. IV para 1 NPT)
  • Ratification of the additional protocol (INFCIRC/540), acceptance of strict surveillance and verification by international weapons inspectors without restrictions
  • No further enrichment above 20 percent
  • Full transparency: Tehran must allow verification of the origins of its nuclear technology

Step 3

In order to solidify dialogue and trust from the preceding steps, economic cooperation has to be gradually expanded.

US/EU

  • Guaranteeing investments in refinement technologies and the development of renewable energies (which would ease pressure to rely mainly on nuclear energy) as well as offering subsidies to imports and exports
  • Making foreign aid available to Iran
  • World Trade Organization (WTO) accession
  • Lowering tariffs for non-nuclear goods to directly engage with the Iranian bazaaris (merchants and traders)

Iran

  • Develop a national energy plan focused on the exploitation of domestic energy  resources in correspondence with the given support as described above

Phase 2: Mid-term cooperation

In order to further establish trust-building, the respective security demands on each side have to be addressed effectively. Therefore, cooperation has to be expanded beyond a nuclear deal and focus more on technical and security issues.

Step 1

In order to show Iran and skeptical Western audiences that political and technical cooperation with Tehran is possible, Iran and the West have to work together on non-nuclear issues.

US/EU

  • Cooperation on issues such as drug-trafficking, refugees, and smuggling in Afghanistan as well as violent extremism in Iraq
  • Assistance/cooperation in construction work technology (protection from earthquake risks)
  • Gradual unfreezing of Iranian assets by the US government
  • Gradual lifting of unilateral US economic sanctions

Iran

  • Cooperation on issues such as drug-trafficking, refugees, and smuggling in Afghanistan as well as Sunni extremism in Iraq
  • Re-examining the case of all political prisoners in light of Iran's legal commitments under the UN-Conventions on human rights

Step 2

As part of a sustainable security strategy, the transatlantic partners should also be aware of how Iran is going to perceive NATO's new strategic concept and the West's general behavior towards nuclear non-proliferation in general. Indicating a stronger commitment to nuclear non-proliferation and avoiding the application of double-standards will result in positive side-effects

US/EU

  • Comprehensive security guarantee regarding non-intervention in Iranian affairs
  • Stop US support for radical domestic opposition groups
  • Work towards stronger nuclear disarmament in NATO and push for a no-first use policy in NATO's new strategic concept
  • Adjust US Nuclear Doctrine in order to preclude a first strike against Iran

Iran

  • Comprehensive security guarantee for Israel: halt financial and logistical support for militant actions by proxies in Lebanon and Gaza

Phase 3: Long-term cooperation

In order to peacefully integrate Iran into the regional security architecture, the political and economic achievements made in the previous two phases have to be stabilized and must be locked in institutionally.

US/EU

  • Increase diplomatic efforts to include India, Pakistan, and Israel in the global non-proliferation regime and work towards the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the adoption of a Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT)
  • Establishment of a regional security organization, dedicated to institutionalizing regional security. Also, this institution could serve as a negotiating platform to create a Nuclear Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East in the future.
  • Acknowledgment of misbehavior in the past

Iran

  • Reestablish full diplomatic relations with the US; acknowledgment of misbehavior in the past

2. Empowering Iranian Civil Society

Although engaging Iran within a framework of concrete reciprocity is certain to build trust between Iran and the West, additional confidence building measures have to be employed independently of the actual results of the step-by-step approach. Since it is going to be tough to work with the current Iranian regime on these issues, religious and academic exchanges should be expanded. As this is more complicated with the United States, this is where Europe, and most notably Germany, has to take the lead.

2.1 Foster academic and religious exchange

The ERASMUS and ERASMUS Mundus programs could be used as starting points for designing similar programs for the Middle East and especially for Iran. Therefore: Simplify visa regulations for Iranian students; provide stipends and fellowships for Iranian students and scholars; promote exchanges on faculty level.

A sound cultural relationship also rests on religious exchange. Religious leaders of the Jewish minority in Iran should also be included in inter-religious talks as they can provide valuable views from inside Iran and put the anti-Semitic rhetoric of the Iranian regime into perspective.

CONCLUSION

There is no viable alternative to the approach outlined above. Further isolating Tehran will not significantly influence the cost-benefit-analysis of the Iranian leadership. In fact, Iran has lived under international isolation for a long time and would rather turn to other countries such as China than give in to pressure from the West. A military strike would inflict even more harm on the population, destabilize the whole region and finally erode any prospects for a sustainable solution.

In contrast, a strategy of concrete reciprocity will make the respective stakeholders accountable for their actions as further escalating the conflict would come with high domestic costs on both sides. Hence, not taking the proposed steps at any stage of the process would need to be justified. As a consequence, it will strengthen constructive voices that are so much needed for a sustainable solution.

Moreover, this account takes into consideration domestic constraints which such a strategy would face on both sides, especially on the part of a skeptical Congress in the US and the conservative-nationalist political elite in Iran. In doing so, this strategy will produce visible effects and movements on both sides because leaders in Washington and Tehran will be able to save face by pointing to the other sides' concessions and in doing so, gain legitimacy for their further engagement in the negotiation process.

To make peaceful progress inevitable, the West has to immediately engage Iran with a strategy of concrete reciprocity.

 

Felix Haass is a student of Peace Research and International Politics at the University of Tübingen. You can view his op-ed entitled, 'Practical Incentives Instead of Punitive Measures' here.

Sascha Lohmann is a student of Political Science at the Free University Berlin. You can view his op-ed entitled, 'Mutual Trust Building is Required Between the West and Iran' here.

Alexander Pyka is a student at Bucerius Law School, Hamburg. You can view his op-ed entitled, 'Political Concessions Prevent Nuclear Weapons' here.

Tobias Sauer is a student of political science, history, and cultural anthropology at the University of Trier. You can view his op-ed entitled, 'Carrots Not Sticks: Political Concessions are the Way Forward with Iran' here.

 

For more information about the competition, please see here.

 
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Comments
Erica  Mukherjee

November 29, 2010

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While the author's comments are detailed and inclusive, they operate in a paradigm in which the US/EU has something to offer Iran that it actually wants. So many of the carrots that are dangled in the short-term seem to either be something that Iran doesn't want or something that it already has.

For instance, it is difficult to conceive that Ahmadinejad's regime would be willing to fully comply with IAEA regulations just because the US/EU recognized Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology as a signatory of the NPT. Even with the other three carrots, such as the ratification of START by the US Congress (only a distant hope at this juncture), it appears that Iran would have to back down from its essential position in order to simply get recognition from the international community. This recognition does not appear to be something it wants, at least judging from its past actions.

Further carrots, such as lifting of consumer sanctions and increased trade with bazaaris also do not seem very enticing to Iran either, especially since China and Russia are ignoring the sanctions and many European and American companies have found loopholes as well.

On principle I believe that engagement and cooperation are the way to go. However, in this particular situation, I find it hard to believe that the current Iranian regime is at all interested in engaging with the West. This doesn't mean that we should stop trying; we only need to look east to North Korea to see what happens to a completely isolated nuclear power. Perhaps engagement and openness without expectations or a time table would be the best way to approach this behemoth task.
 
jacqueline  gorham

November 29, 2010

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I agree with much of Erica's comments above. As I read the outline, I thought the plan seemed perfectly logical and reasonable, but kept wondering how Iran was going to be enticed into going along with it. It seems to me that Iran is currently operating as it wishes and there are no incentives that will cause it to reconsider its position. What incentive could possibly push Iran into giving up some of its independence? I cannot think of an answer to that question. It is obvious, but without Iran's cooperation, the plan outlined above is not a workable solution.
 
Diana  Lau

November 30, 2010

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This is a detailed and ambitious outline and agreeing with the statements above, I'm not sure Iran will be willing to agree with the conditions of this document.

I am skeptical that Ahmadinejad would be willing to cooperate with the West even if there was something that would be mutually beneficial. Making an informal and personal judgment, I believe Ahmadinejad would be sure to show that he has autonomy and leverage without negotiating or dealing with the western countries.

Although I agree with the above statement, that we shouldn't give up trying to work with the Iranian regime, I think we will have abide by the timetable of the Ahmadinejad govenment and wait until they are ready to work with us; pressuring or hovering over the government will only drive cooperation and negotiation further away.
 
Jennifer Nicole Prystupa

November 30, 2010

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I agree with Erica's assessment. In lieu of the recent Wikileaks release that identifies Iran as a recipient of NKorean missiles, I honestly think that along with diplomatic efforts (overtly with the Swiss and possibly covertly directly), the US should also subtly isolate Iran by reengaging in six-party talks with NKorea. This might be one way to choke off their supply of 1) weapons 2) support of other rogue regimes that are a serious threat to American and EU security and regional interests.

And let us remember who exactly is running Iran - it's the clerical establishment, not Ahmadinejad, and though the former conservative mayor of Tehran has become a prominent figure in his own right, he relies on the backing of the ayatollahs. For anything to really change, a new revolution needs to happen from the inside by the young population that so bravely rose up against the regime in the past election. But many outside of the major cities are in favor of the status quo and did vote for Ahmadinejad on the basis of election promises (like all politicians!). Opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi was a reformist candidate, but he was not against the clerical establishment as a system of governance; he just wanted to reform it. So to make a long story short, it's going to be a hard-fought road for Iran to change for the sake of US/EU relations.

P.S. NKorea is run by a personality cult crying out for the world to recognize its legitimacy, which is another chapter in it of itself...

 
Tobias Heinrich Siegfried Sauer

November 30, 2010

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Good morning Erica, Jacqueline, Diana and Jennifer and thank you very much for your comments - it is very interesting to get some feedback from the U.S.!

I think, we are all aware of the difficulties to get a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear programme. So what can be done? Basically, there are three options: We (the U.S. and Europe) could accept a nuclear armed Iran, try to negotiate an agreement with Tehran or we could try to prevent nuclear arms in Iran's hands by the use of force. The first and the third option seem to be too dangerous: the first because it could destoy the worldwide nuclear order and might provoke at least an arms race if not war in the Middle East; the last because it would probably start a devasting war. So we have to find a way to make progress in negotiations with Tehran before one of the other options becomes inevitable. So far, at least since 2005, Iran was acting and the west was reacting. We should change that and take the lead again.

How could that work? The first problem is a deep feeling of mistrust on both sides. Iran was lying and hiding its secreat nuclear programme for decades while the west was keeping very silent when for example Iraq under Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in the 1980s with Weapons of Mass Destruction (chemical weapons) and the west was often interfering in Iranian domestic issues, for example to avoid a nationalization of Iran's petrol industry. So what we need is an atmosphere of trust and progress, which will be hard to achieve. But some statements from EU/U.S. which just take reality into account might help.

A side effect of these initial carrots (for example the clear acknowledgement of Iran's rights under the NPT) might be that they are not as easily presented to the Iranian public as threats, and therefore it is harder to create a "rally-around-the-flag-effect" for the Iranian leadership.

I would also like to explain a second point. I think, too many analysts in the West are concerned about the "Ahmadinejad-Show". While it is true that he is the President and therefore has some influence, we should not overestimate his position and stop doing a comprehensive exegesis of all his statements and gestures. They are often ment to impress a domestic audience. In my opinion, that is a very interesting point: Ahmadinejad points to the domestic audience. We should do that as well. Some of the carrots presented in our Memo are not very interesting to Ahmadinejad or the government or the state-owned enterprises. But Iran is not a monolithic bloc, there are factions and interest groups which are very much in favour of open trade and (relatively) good relations to the outside, the Bazaaris are but one example of such groups. These interest groups might exert some pressure on Ahmadinejad, but also (and more importantly) on the Supreme Leader. So incentives should also be communicated as clearly and openly as possible to the Iranian public.

We could discuss the exact order of incentives or the details of each step of this proposed concrete reciprocity. But in general I think that an approach of concrete reciprocity is the the best card in a bad hand. It is the only way forward and the best option given the alternatives.
 
E  Jervis

November 30, 2010

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A well thought out plan. Unfortunately, as other posters have said, I don’t think Iran would be willing to cooperate either. America’s standing in the region has eroded due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while Iran has steadily become a regional superpower. At this point, I think the ball is Iran’s court. I also could not imagine Iran halting financial and logistical support for Hezbollah and Palestinian militants in Gaza and the West Bank as suggested in Step 2 of Phase 2. I could only see this type of guarantee to Israel being possible after the installation of a new regime with a much different mindset than the current one.

 
Omar  Juarez-Medina

November 30, 2010

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I am very skeptical of engaging with Iran in this manner. The current administration in Tehran would have very little incentive to follow the steps provided. They are only gaining in power and want to secure their own bargaining chip (Nukes). The fact is, as has been stated, the U.S. influence is declining in the region and will remain this way as long as the wars continue. I have worked around the Persian Gulf and the U.S. is still unpopular on the so called "Arab Street".
 
Tobias Heinrich Siegfried Sauer

December 1, 2010

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Hey,

thanks again for your comments.

You raised two issues to which I would like to react to briefly.

The first: Is Iran gaining power and becoming a "regional superpower". I am not so sure that Iran is in fact gaining power. What is power? If we understand power as "control over outcomes" I don't see where exactly Iran is gaining influence. Power as such is not a very concrete term - and "regional superpower" sounds glorious. But what does it mean, exactly? In fact, at the same time as Iran is believed to develop nuclear weapons, other states in the region are leaning (even) more heavily towards Washigton. That might well counteract any perceived gains in power on Tehran's side.

It is interesting to notice that many American debaters think about the Iranian nuclear weapons as offenive weapons, used to increase Iran's power. Instead I think Iran wants them to immunize itself against threats from outside, for example from regime change policies. This would be a much more concrete and "useful" reason (in Tehran's eyes) to reach out to nuclear weapons. As the Cold War has shown, nuclear weapons are in essence defensive weapons, not offensive ones. That is also true for nuclear weapons in other parts of the world, for example in India, Pakistan, and Israel.

So what we have here is an American (and European) public, that perceives Iran as aggressive and an Iranian audience that perceives the U.S. as aggressive (that's also the main reason why the American reputation on Arab streets is so low). So even your statements show how much trust-building measures are needed to get negotiations going. To do that, Iran and the U.S. (and Europe as well!) have to go first small steps without knowing if the other wil follow. That's the difficult task of trust-building after decades od mis-trust.

A second point: You are also concentrating very much on the Iranian regime. While it is true that a government is more visibile than the population, we should not mix up visibility with importance. If we only look at Presidents Bush or Obama, for example, our analysis of American foreign policy would necessarily fail to be conclusive, as we have to look into Congress as well and have to take lobby groups and public opinion into account. If you ever analyse German foreign policy, looking only at Chancellor Merkel is not sufficient to explanin the whole story. But that's what we do when we look only at President Ahmadinejad. Instead, we should collect some information about the Iranian public: Who has got influence? Who is part of the regime's power base? Who is potentially influential and thus far has remained silent? I'm sure, the west has more allies than it thinks. The Bazaari are just one example. In July, for example, they conducted a strike and many shops have been closed in Tehran and many other cities to protest against the regime's policy. These groups are interested in good relations to the outside world, as they want to do business. If we could offer better business opportunities, they might wield influence on the regime. If the nuclear programme is the only thing that stands between them and a more trusted U.S. and EU that offer opportunities, it is possible that they will react negatively to a nuclear programme that does not help anyone but does cost a lot of money (thereby causing raising taxes) and hinder good deals abroad.

While in fact I think the west's options are limited, I would reject the pessimism I was reading in some of your comments. We can do more than we think, and doing nothing might be one of the worst options available.

Tobias
 
E  Jervis

December 2, 2010

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Hello Tobias,

Thanks for responding. I think the fact that the current regime can cause the incredible unease in the region and influence foreign policies before they have even created one nuclear weapon demonstrates their power. Iran has also been able to influence and aid the Shia in Iraq and with the U.S. ending combat operations there they may have an opportunity to exert even more influence. In Lebanon they wield their power via Hezbollah. They have also been successful with forging strong ties outside of the region in Latin America with Venezuela and Nicaragua. Supposedly they are part of a new plan to help create a “Nicaraguan Canal” to try to rival that of Panama.

I agree with you that Iran would seek nuclear weapons for purposes of defense. I believe that being sandwiched between two countries where the U.S. is conducting wars has only made Iran more eager for nuclear capability.

I also agree with your second point. Collecting info about who could be potential allies (such as the Bazaari) in the Iranian public would definitely be a smart thing to do. I am not sure about this, and you probably know more, but isn’t part of the problem that the Iranian regime keeps expanding control over much of the public and the economy through the Islamic Revolutionary Guards? I was reading that the current regime has been awarding the IRG’s private sector arm with billions in government contracts for infrastructure projects.

Doing nothing would be one of the worst options.

 
Niklas  Anzinger

December 4, 2010

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Edward, I think your assessment is contradictous. As you pointed out, Iran has a foreign agenda with massive military influence. Their power sources are outside destabilizing the whole region. This is not a defensive aim if you look at the activities of Hamas and Hezbollah.

So, getting a nuclear bomb means stabilizing Iran´s agenda which is directed outwards. An approach stating that Iran´s aims are defensive can not explain their outward activities. Some disputants pointed it out, that Iran attempted assassinations in Europa and Latin America. Its activities are reaching Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

This is not a question of a "lack of trust" - this is an ideologically motivated commitment against the Israel and the West in general. The regime´s Islamist rhetoric concerning "wiping Israel of the map" and waging war against the "crusaders" perfectly correspond with their activities.
 

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