Iran, Israel-Palestine, and the Middle East:
How the U.S. and Europe Can Cooperate to Promote Security
Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering
Senior Vice President, Boeing
Former United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
During my long years of service, I was privileged to spend more than eight of them in the Middle East. Subsequently, in the Department of State, I devoted another four years to analyzing, absorbing, and advocating policy solutions to Middle Eastern problems. I want to talk to you now about this particularly important region.
PREVENTING NUCLEAR WEAPON DEVELOPMENT
For the United States, the Middle East offers serious challenges and opportunities. U.S.-Iranian relations have been in the doldrums since the revolution created the new regime in 1978 and the new regime imprisoned our diplomats for 444 days. All nations of the world, including the U.S. and especially our European friends and allies, are now deeply concerned by what appears to be an inexorable move by Iran toward the development of nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. This issue is even more important if we understand that proliferation by Iran will not only threaten the region but drive other regional states to move in the same direction.
This issue remains the highest-priority activity in the region and certainly with Iran for the United States and Europe. Since the fall of 2004, the United States and key European negotiators with Iran—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—have achieved a significant degree of mutual understanding and cooperation. Currently the effort is to get Iran to commit itself not to enrich uranium nor to reprocess spent fuel to separate plutonium, both of which can provide the key material for nuclear weapons.
There is also very strong interest, based on the country’s past, in getting Iran to accept the highest and most stringent standards for international inspection, to prevent the creation of clandestine programs. Russia, a traditional source of technology and support for Iran’s civil nuclear-power program, has joined this effort. The Russians are insisting, correctly, that they should help Iran only under condition that Iran accept fresh fuel for civil nuclear power reactors from Russia and that Russia take back the irradiated spent fuel. These are real contributions to non-proliferation.
Though the process is difficult, it does seem to me that sooner rather than later the United States will have to join more publicly and permanently with the “European Three.” They are offering Iran additional advantages including WTO membership supported by the United States. They are also saying that they are committed to Security Council consideration if Iran fails to continue to comply with its Non-proliferation Treaty obligations. The United States has always been a strong supporter of tough sanctions on Iran if progress is not made.
That support should lend itself to the creation of a sanctions regime, whose sanctions, in my humble opinion, as difficult as it might be in this day of high petroleum prices, should include an embargo on Iran’s export of hydrocarbons. It is only through such a combination of generous and stringent measures, of carrots and sticks, that progress can be achieved.
ADDITIONAL STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN
Other steps can be taken to help achieve progress:
- If Iran is expected to give up enrichment and reprocessing, it might well be helpful for the other major nuclear powers to consider a moratorium on those actions as well. Currently we have sufficient material for our weapons programs and surplus fuel for our civil power program. And a moratorium on enrichment and reprocessing by the major nuclear powers would be an important contribution to bringing Iran along.
- Such a step, however, would need to be hedged by a willingness on the part of the countries with significant amounts of nuclear fuel to assure that the rest of the world’s civil power programs would be provided for. This step might also include as a last resort fuel through the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has offered some ideas in this direction.
- Another significant contribution to stability in the region might well be for the world’s major nuclear powers jointly to commit themselves to guaranteeing security to any state in the region threatened by another nuclear state, whether or not Iran goes nuclear. The guarantee would apply to Iran only if Iran agrees to take the necessary steps to assure against its own development of nuclear weapons.
THE NEED FOR U.S.–IRANIAN INTERACTION
The time has come, I believe, for the United States and Iran to more deeply engage themselves in resolving their continuing bilateral problems and to support and assure further progress in non-proliferation. If Iran is willing to take the steps needed, it might well be a good idea for the United States to consider again reiterating its support for the 1979 Algiers Accords, part of which was assuring Iran about regime change.