Tuesday, June 20, 2006

European Diplomacy and the Conflict Over Iran's Nuclear Program

By Marco Overhaus

Last updated: June 16, 2006

Overview 1. Iran's Nuclear Program: Test Case for European Ambitions
2. Has Europe Failed?
3. Obstacles to European Diplomacy
4. The Way Ahead: Options for a Peaceful Solution to the Conflict


Iran's Nuclear Program: Test Case for European Ambitions

--The dispute over Iran's nuclear program has become the first instance since the end of the Cold War in which European states have jointly played a political and diplomatic leadership role in a security-related issue with potentially worldwide implications. Iran in fact turned out to be the next big issue after the Iraq war to challenge the unity of the world community. What is more, the conflict has implications that go far beyond the Causa Iran as it touches upon some crucial questions on the future of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT, see Glossary) and the international regime built around it, as well as upon the overall political relationships within the Greater Middle East.1

Since October 2003, France, Great Britain and Germany, have established themselves as an actor to speak for the EU as a whole in an effort to reconcile the demands of European multilateralism with the requirements of timely and effective external action.2

The so-called "EU-3" [see Glossary] have subsequently unfolded considerable diplomatic activities to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and to convince Tehran to forego uranium conversion and enrichment [see Glossary] as well as the reprocessing of plutonium. These processes form the core of the conflict because they can either lead to the production of fuel for civilian nuclear reactors - Tehran claims that this is the sole purpose of its activities - or material to produce nuclear weapons (which is what the United States and many other countries suspect).

Until 2005, the EU-3 largely relied on economic incentives to influence Iranian behaviour. Even though two agreements could be reached with Tehran in 2003 and 2004 to exchange improved political and economic relations with the EU for a temporary "suspension" of the contested nuclear activities, these efforts could ultimately not solve the conflict as Iran later resumed its uranium conversion and enrichment efforts while the EU-3 reacted with the suspension of negotiations (see the chronological overview in this dossier).3 This outcome raises a few crucial questions which this analysis wishes to address (yet not to answer exhaustively):

Have European efforts been a failure? And what would be fair criteria to assess success and failure in the first place?
If European efforts should be seen at least partially as a failure, what have been the main impediments to a more successful outcome?
Against this background: Can the diplomacy of three leading member states of the EU, acting on behalf of the Union as a whole, serve as a model case for making its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) more effective in the future?
What does the assessment of factors and developments so far tell us about the prospects of a European contribution to a peaceful resolution of the conflict over Iran's nuclear program?

As this conflict has functional and geographic ramifications far beyond Iran, the answer to these questions will be of crucial importance not only for the future of the NPT and the broader political context in the Middle East but also for the credibility of the EU's aspirations to be (or to become) a global actor in political and security affairs. It will also show how well Europe and America can work together on such a crucial issue after the intra-European and transatlantic rifts before and during the war against Iraq. At this point it seems that Germany already is a diplomatic winner of the game. Although it failed to obtain a seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Berlin is now participating on equal terms with the nuclear powers in the newly created "P5 Plus 1" format (including the permanent members US, France, Great Britain, China and Russia) to negotiate a joint strategy towards Iran. In that sense Iran poses a credibility test for German ambitions as well.


Has Europe Failed?

To say that the efforts of Europe, represented by France, Germany and Great Britain, have failed or where at least partly successful depends on the perspective and of course on the expectations of the observer. Basically, there are two different perspectives. The one is more introvert and process-oriented while the other is more extrovert and result-oriented.

The introvert perspective mainly focuses on the question of the EU's "actorness" - which in fact has been the focus of much academic research on the CSFP. Bretherton and Vogler have identified six prerequisites of defining an international actor in general terms and the EU as a global actor more specifically:

Shared commitments to a set of overarching values and principles.
The ability to identify policy priorities and to formulate coherent policies
The ability to effectively negotiate with other actors in the international system
The availability of, and capacity to utilize, policy instruments.
Domestic legitimation of decision processes, and priorities, relating to external policy
External perceptions and expectations by third parties that the EU actually is an international/global actor.4

If measured against these criteria, the efforts of the EU-3 have been quite successful. Member states of the EU formulated common values and principles concerning Iran, and the non-proliferation problem more generally, in a range of public documents and statements (see below as well as the compilation of documents in this dossier). Quite contrary to the developments leading up to the American war against Iraq in 2003, the member states of the EU this time managed to avoid open divisions and broadly accepted the leadership role of the EU-3. The trio's legitimacy to speak for the EU as a whole was further enhanced when the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana, was formally included in the diplomatic efforts in autumn 2004. Clearly, this unity can be seen as a direct lesson from the traumatic Iraq experience. With this constellation, the EU-3 have engaged in serious negotiations with Tehran and were able to conclude two political agreements in 2003 and 2004, using the - primarily economic - policy instruments and incentives at its disposal. (If these instruments will be sufficient to reach a sustainable deal is another matter, however). Moreover, the persistent efforts by France, Great Britain and Germany have also helped to de-legitimize Iran's uranium enrichment activities internationally and to win more time while keeping the US government within the multilateral framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

It is obvious that the discussion of the European Union's actorness in the context of Iran is more than just an academic exercise. Ever since the Union expanded from originally six to then 12, 15 and now 25 member states, policy makers have pondered how to make the decision-making process in foreign policy more flexible and effective through concepts such as "variable geometry", "structured or enhanced co-operation" or avant garde groups. The performance of the EU-3 in dealing with Iran offers some insights into the opportunities and limitations of these concepts.

From the extrovert perspective what matters is not the diplomatic process per se but the actual outcome. In this respect, the assessment of European diplomatic efforts will have to be mixed, especially when measured against the EU's own ambitions and goals. In late 2002 and in 2003, European Union started to formulate its own strategy to deal with proliferation concerns regarding nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The "European Security Strategy" (ESS) and more specifically the "EU Strategy Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction" - both published at the end of 2003 - were the first formulations of the EU's claim to become a non-proliferation actor in its own right. The strategy paper on WMD (ES-WMD) succinctly states: "Our objective is to prevent, deter, halt, and, where possible, eliminate proliferation concerns worldwide." The emphasis was put on multilateral, co-operative approaches to strengthen the compliance, verification and enforcement of extant international regimes (such as the NPT). The use of economic or military coercion to eliminate proliferation threats is included only as an instrument of last resort. Clearly, the Causa Iran has become a crucial test case for this distinctly European strategy and the concept of "effective multilateralism" enshrined in both strategy papers.

After more than two and a half years of intensive diplomatic efforts, the three European lead-nations were still unable to strike a comprehensive diplomatic deal in order to "prevent, deter, halt, and (…) eliminate" the proliferation concern emanating from Iran, however. To be sure, European efforts have delayed sensitive Iranian nuclear activities for some time and have also helped to reveal information on these activities as well. However, the proliferation risk from Iran as seen in Washington, Brussels, Vienna and some other parts of the world still exists to the same degree as when European diplomacy was initiated. In June 2006, the international negotiations received a new impetus when the EU-3 as well as the United States, Russia and China could agree on another package offer for Iran, raising both the incentives and the potential "sticks" for the country. These developments are encouraging by themselves even though it is still unclear if they will ultimately lead to a long-term solution to the diplomatic conflict. In order to assess the prospects for a peaceful solution it is useful to first look at those obstacles which, from the European perspective, have inhibited a diplomatic breakthrough until now. On this basis, the latest developments in June 2006 will then be assessed in the concluding section of this text. The question is whether they will display the same pattern of diplomatic deadlock as before or help to overcome the previous obstacles. Three of them stand out.


Obstacles to European Diplomacy

Firstly, even though the conflict over Iran's nuclear program is between the majority of the international community and Iran, its main protagonists are Washington and Tehran. This is why France, Germany and Great Britain have always seen themselves as intermediaries rather than as problem solvers themselves. While the Europeans could contribute economic incentive the ultimate sticks and carrots - also seen from the Iranian side - were held by Washington. From 2003 to 2005 Washington more or less accepted the European efforts without supporting them pro-actively. This changed somewhat in March 2005, when the US-Administration modified its course after President George W. Bush's visit to Europe. Washington declared its willingness to allow for exports of spare parts for Iran's aging fleet of civilian aircraft and to take a more flexible position concerning Tehran's quest to become a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Iranian government has put the conflict over its nuclear program into a broader context, however. Some of its demands are simply intractable in the foreseeable future, especially the issue of Israel's (as well as Pakistan's and India's) stockpile of nuclear weapons. Others seem more accessible to a long-term solution even though the United States and the other nuclear powers so far refuse to deal with them. They concern the (implicit or explicit) demand for new disarmament initiatives by the Nuclear-Weapons States (NWS) as well as positive and negative security assurances for Tehran. Whether or not these demands reflect genuine concerns or are merely a pretext to fend off Western demands, it is obvious that the European Union and its member states cannot offer sufficient carrots and sticks by themselves. In some aspects, the EU is internally divided - especially on nuclear disarmament by the NWS - in other aspects it simply does not have the capabilities.5 Consequently, the EU-3 have always depended on the goodwill of both sides simultaneously which has not been forthcoming so far. This leads us to the second factor.

So far, the preferences of Washington and of Tehran have been entirely incompatible. The Bush Administration has made it clear that it expects Iran to permanently terminate its enrichment and reprocessing activities. It does so on the understanding that Tehran has forfeited its rights to conduct peaceful nuclear activities because it cheated on its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for more than two decades. In 2004, President Bush went even further when he suggested that uranium enrichment should be barred to all countries not yet possessing the technology and know-how to do so now. By contrast, the Iranian leadership has always insisted on its "inalienable right" to engage in civilian nuclear activities according to Article IV of the NPT. Even moderate Iranians share this view but they seem willing to consider a "suspension" of enrichment on a voluntary basis. The most far-reaching concession from the Iranian side to date was the General Framework of March 2005 which offered a "phased program for enriching uranium" under strict IAEA inspections on Iranian territory (see the chronological overview in this dossier).

The Europeans (led by the EU-3) have adopted an intermediary position, demanding a long-term or infinite "suspension" of the contested activities as a basis for negotiations. In this terminology, suspension so far has been presented as a voluntary confidence-building measure, not as a legal obligation. This entails the possibility that Iran might resume them at a later date when political conditions have changed, something the negotiators of the EU-3 have in fact never ruled out.6 Until very recently, this middle course did not coax Washington or Tehran to modify their positions significantly, however. Despite all the public display of transatlantic unity towards Iran, there continues to exist a fundamental difference between the European and the American approaches. Most EU member states have preferred a strategy of engagement with Tehran. Germany has always been a clear advocate of such an approach. The former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stressed this when he declared in 2005 that "[w]e must overcome Iran's massive isolation. For Iran will only abandon its nuclear ambitions for good if not only its economic but also its legitimate security interests are safeguarded."7 The new government of Angela Merkel has not changed this policy. By contrast, high-ranking U.S. officials have long stressed that isolation, not dialogue and engagement, is the preferred choice of American policy.8 Washington has even refused to negotiate directly with Tehran on any of the relevant issues (with the exception of the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq). At the time of this dossier being finalized in mid-June 2006, there are signs of diplomatic changes, however. After intense negotiations among the "P5 + 1", Washington has finally declared its willingness to talk to Tehran directly. Moreover, there are signs that the Bush Administration might in fact acknowledge Iran's right to engage in peaceful nuclear activities as long as it "suspends" uranium enrichment. Such a convergence of positions among the P5 and Germany might in fact remove one obstacle that has hindered a diplomatic solution until now.

The third and final factor which has inhibited the EU-3 efforts towards a diplomatic solution to the conflict over Iran's nuclear program, is the domestic context of Iranian politics. The evolution of this context has not been very helpful to European efforts (nor to diplomatic efforts more generally). Since the hard-liner Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad was elected to the Iranian presidency in June 2005, the negotiations with the EU-3 and later between the IAEA and the P5+1 have become more complicated. Although Ahmadi-Nejad is not the highest formal authority in the realm of foreign and security policy, he has complicated international negotiations with his remarks on Israel and his disdain for the UN Security Council. Since Ahmadi-Nejad's assumption of office, the Iranian leadership exchanged its top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani for the more hardline Ali Larijani as well as some 40 other top-diplomats, including ambassadors to Britain, France, and Germany. Political actors with a more hawkish attitude towards the nuclear dispute and relations with the United States might still feel emboldened by the ongoing Iraq embroilment of Washington and historically high oil and gas prices.


The Way Ahead: Options for a Peaceful Solution to the Conflict

What follows from the above assessment for the prospects of a negotiated solution and for a constructive European input into this process? Obviously, European diplomats have already learned some lessons from the past. Most crucially they have learned the lesson from Iraq that Western and international unity is a high value in itself and a precondition for the eventual resolution of the conflict. Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier have spent much energy and political capital to bring the infoFrmal "contact group" (P5 + 1) together and have also secured a prominent seat for Germany at the table. Europeans have also learned the lesson that the role of an intermediary for the EU-3 cannot substitute for direct talks between Washington and Tehran (a point which both Merkel and Steinmeier made during their visits to the US).

At the beginning of June 2006, the P5 + 1 agreed on a package deal for Iran which reflects many of these lessons from two and a half years of previous diplomatic negotiations. It is also a compromise between the "doves" and "hawks" of these six countries as it includes both more incentives for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities and more concrete prospects for non-military sanctions should Iran decline to do so. This diplomatic offer is different from previous ones as it might open the way for direct talks between Washington and Tehran. Moreover, it is built on a consensus which not only includes the EU-3 and the US but also Russia and China.9 The initial response by Iran has been positive (in the sense that it pledged to "analyze" the offer thoroughly) and there seems to be a general sense of optimism among international negotiators.

The challenge now for European and international diplomacy is to sustain the momentum of negotiations and the consensus of the six powers. The EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana, has already indicated that the latest offer would only be the beginning of negotiations. Europe needs to continue to display flexibility and creativity in the course of future negotiations. With the United States still bogged down in Iraq and with oil prices reaching new heights it is unlikely that the conflict over Iran's nuclear program will escalate to an open crisis or even a military confrontation in the short run. Yet, as the case of Iraq has shown, time is not necessarily working in favour of a peaceful solution when progress on the diplomatic front is not forthcoming.

Negotiations in the past two and a half years have shown that there is still room for compromise as possible offers and counteroffers have not been fully exhausted. Proposals that have been tabled earlier still have the potential to be developed further and could be linked to rising incentives as well as rising sticks. The so-called "Russian proposal" - the idea to enrich uranium for Iran outside the country under the auspices of a Russian-Iranian consortium (see Glossary)- has been the proposition closest to a mutually acceptable long-term solution. It has the potential to be developed further, for instance by including China and European partners into a multinational enrichment scheme on Russian territory. The Europeans could bring in their experience for multinational nuclear activities from the URENCO framework (see Glossary).

It might also be that - as a fallback position - the Europeans and the international community more generally have to stop considering the infinite suspension of all uranium enrichment activities in Iran as a sacrosanct principle, focusing more on the strengthening of the IAEA inspection regime in Iran instead. In a recent study on the topic, the prestigious International Crisis Group has proposed the option of "delayed limited enrichment". This would combine a phased and limited enrichment in Iran - the limitation basically concerning the quality and number of gas centrifuges to be used as well as the places for enrichment - with a very tough and intrusive inspections regime that would include the ratification of the Additional Protocol (see Glossary) or even further verification measures. According to diplomatic sources, cited in newspaper articles, the June 2006 package deal does in fact display some flexibility on the issue of (limited) uranium enrichment on Iranian soil in the middle and long-run.

Finally, negotiations could be brought forward by including some of the wider issues, already mentioned above, which concern the overall political relationship between Washington and Tehran, the regional security architecture in the Greater Middle East, the Western concerns about Iran's alleged support for terrorist groups and wider issues of the NPT regime, such as nuclear disarmament. Of course, there is always the risk of overburdening the negotiation agenda and some of the broader issues may seem intractable at the moment. Yet, new efforts to at least initiate a political dialogue on them might help to create a more benign context for the negotiations. This would also be fully in line with the European approach laid out in the European Strategy Against the Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction which explicitly assumes a broader regional und functional perspective when it states that the "best solution to the problem of proliferation of WMD is that countries should no longer feel they need them."

The principal argument of this analysis was that European diplomacy in the conflict over Iran's nuclear program has been quite successful when seen from an introvert, process-oriented perspective. From an extrovert perspective with a focus on actual outcomes the assessment is more mixed, however. Three factors have inhibited European diplomatic efforts so far: 1.) The lack of sufficient economic/political incentives and sticks in European hands, 2.) incompatible preferences among the US, Iran and the EU-3 and 3.) the hardening of domestic politics in Iran. Recent developments suggest that at least the second obstacle seems to be eroding as Washington is modifying its previous hard-line position.

1 In essence, this weakness concerns the inherent contradiction of the NPT of supporting cooperation and technology transfer in the civilian use of nuclear energy while trying to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and related technology which in many cases is "dual-use" (usable for civilian and military purposes).
2 In November 2004, the EU-3 were reinforced by the EU's High-Representative for Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana.
3 The Tehran Declaration was published after a joint visit of the German, French and British foreign ministers to the Iranian capital in October 2003. One year later, the accord was made more explicit and concrete with the "Paris Agreement" of November 2004. In both cases, the EU-3 essentially offered enhanced trade and other economic cooperation with the EU, support for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and a dialogue on security-related and other political topics in exchange for the suspension of Iran's activities in uranium conversion, enrichment and reprocessing of used fuel.
4 Bretherton, Charlotte and Vogler, John (1999): Actors and Actorness in Global Politics. Locating the European Union, In: Same authors, The European Union as a Global Actor. Routledge: London and New York, p. 38 and 43. In her MA thesis Ruth Linden has explicitly used a similar scheme by Jupille and Caporaso to analyse the evolution and actual performance of the EU-3 as a European actor in the negotiations over Iran's nuclear program. See Linden, Ruth (2006): Die Initiative der EU-3 im Iran. Ein Testfall für die europäische Sicherheitspolitik nach der Irak-Krise? Unpublished M.A. Thesis at the Chair for Foreign Policy and International Relations at the University of Trier. The four criteria of actorness she analyzes are: a.) recognition by third parties, b.) authority to negotiate on behalf of a specific entity, c.) autonomy, referring to its institutional independence and distinctiveness, and d.) cohesion.
5 See Overhaus, Marco/ Maull, Hanns W./ Harnisch, Sebastian (Eds.)(2005): The EU's Emerging Role in Nuclear Non-Proliferation Policy - Trends and Prospects in the Context of the NPT-Review Conference 2005. In: Foreign Policy in Dialogue, Vol 6, No. 17, available at: http//www.deutsche-aussenpolitik.de [accessed on May 17, 2006].
6 International Crisis Group (2006): Iran: Is There a Way out of the Nuclear Impasse? Middle East Report No. 51. The authors base their statement on interviews conducted with EU-3 officials.
7 Speech by Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the 41st Munich Conference on Security Policy. Available at: http://www.securityconference.de [accessed on May 23, 2006]
8 For instance, Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in May that isolation, not engagement, was the only acceptable approach towards Tehran. The New York Times (Online Edition)(May 2, 2006): "U.S. and Europa draft U.N. Resolution on Iran". More recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the US refused to offer security guarantees to Iran, because Iran appears to be the "central banker of terrorism and a force for instability in the region". Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (May 23, 2006), "Rice: Für Iran keine Sicherheitsgarantien".
9 As of June 12, 2006, the details of the package offer have not yet been made public. According to press reports, the offer includes nuclear cooperation, the delivery of technology and elements of light-water reactors as well as guaranteed access to nuclear fuel. Moreover, the package includes the eventual lifting of some US-imposed economic sanctions (such as on spare parts for civilian airsplanes). In return, Iran is demanded to completely "suspend" uranium enrichment for the duration of talks. In case of non-agreement, the package includes specific economic and political sanctions which have not been specified in public so far [for further information see the Press Review in this dossier].
source: http://www.deutsche-aussenpolitik.de
posted by ali ghannadi-irannuk


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