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As part of the Carnegie Conference on Non-Proliferation, Russian Alexia Arbatov from the Carnegie Moscow Center, Neil Crompton from the British Embassy in Washington, and Bruno Tertrais from the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique sat down with Barbara Slavin from USA Today and Glenn Gessler from the Washington Post to discuss the efforts to persuade Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear enrichment. Their main differences centered on whether UN sanctions had been effective and whether anything short of the threat of force or a serious hit to the Iranian oil economy will force Iran to stop its program. More in-depth coverage of their presentations after the jump.
Crompton, offering “London’s perspective,” began by stressing how critical this issue is to his government, saying that no less than the credibility of the NPT and multilateral institutions in general and the stability of the Middle East rests on solving this problem. He made the point that there are three things that we should keep in mind when setting a strategy for Iran.

  • Iran desires international credibility and will go to amazing lengths to get it.
  • Iran has a pluralistic government and a relatively open society with different power centers. We have an opportunity to create pressure from beneath. He listed a string of constituencies to consider, including President Ahmadinejad, the broader political spectrum (specifically Rafsanjani), the Revolutionary Guard, the clerics, parliament, the street, and the technocrats.
  • Iran needs things we have, like technology and investment dollars.

The general UK assessment is that Iran acts according to political, not security, motivations, and that there have been signs in the last few months that sanctions are making a difference. According to Crompton, Security Council Resolution 1737 was a shock to Iran, who thought veto-wielding members Russia and China would protect them. And, economic pressures are beginning to kick in. President Ahmadenijad, who was elected on “bread and butter” issues, is feeling the pressure most acutely because “the street” is suffering from the rise in inflation and high unemployment. These pressures are coming from three directions–general economic mismanagement by the government, increased nervousness felt by foreign companies who are slowing investment, and the Security Council sanctions.

Arbatov, not representing the Russian government but also saying that they wouldn’t him in jail for his statements, took a different line, offering the following points.

  • Iranian capacity shouldn’t be exaggerated or underestimated. We need to rely fully on the IAEA assessment
  • Because there are various groups jockeying for power in the Iranian elite, it is futile to try to guess Iranian intentions, and those intentions are likely to change over time.
  • A united front by the Perm 5 is of the utmost importance, and watered down sanctions simply illuminate our differences.
  • There are three principal goals in this process: 1) restoring the IAEA safeguards, 2) stopping uranium enrichment, and 3) stopping the plutonium program. There is no way to achieve all three. Iran will continue with its program unless we directly threaten force or shut down their oil industry, neither of which we are willing to do. The Iranians see America negotiating with North Korea even though they have already tested a weapon (a point that Tertrais later seconded). Given those truths, we should focus on strengthening the IAEA safeguards.
  • We need to treat the Iranian program as an arms conrol issue and realize that we will need to compromise. We need to decide what level of compliance we will accept under IAEA safeguards.
  • Given the third and fourth points, the US needs to do more to come to common ground with Russia. U.S. positions on Ukraine and Georgia and the missile shield are not helpful. He also suggested, somewhat strangely in the view of this blogger, that Iran is bolstered by U.S. work to build a missile shield because they view it as a concession that our non-proliferation efforts might not work.

Tertrais offered a brief statement, saying that France is committed to UN sanctions. He suggested that President Chirac never really believed in the power of sanctions and said so publicly but that President Sarkozy does. The only question now is whether to go “broader or deeper.” France seems to want to make the resolutions as broad as possible. He also suggested that Iran was motivated by “political and prestige” considerations, not its security needs.

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