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					                                 Roundtable Discussion
                                    October 5 2006

                             RAPPORTEUR’S REPORT

The Century Foundation and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation convened a luncheon
roundtable on “International Responses to Iran’s Nuclear Program” with Thomas
Pickering, former US ambassador to the United Nations and Under-Secretary of State,
moderating. Panelists included:
       Volker Perthes, Director of the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (German
       Institute for International and Security Affairs), Berlin
       Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke
       University and author of Sanctions against Iran: Key Issues, a white paper
       commissioned by The Century Foundation.
       Rush Holt, Member of the US House of Representatives representing New
       Jersey’s 12th (discussant).

Presentations were followed by a discussion that touched on Iran’s political landscape
and internal dynamics, the US and EU roles in resolving the dispute, and ways past the
current impasse. Though the presentations were “on the record,” the discussion was under
Chatham House Rule.


Thomas Pickering, Moderator
Thomas Pickering set the stage for the discussion by emphasizing the importance of the
non-proliferation regime, saying that the peace and security of the world depends upon
the success of the United Nations in this area with Iran and North Korea being the
organization’s current “principal preoccupations.” Pickering praised the June 6, 2006 EU-
US proposal to Iran and said that the international community needs to undertake a “full-
frontal effort to deal with Iran.”

He suggested four “carrot baskets” and four “stick baskets” that might constitute such an
effort. Pickering’s basket of incentives includes the international community providing
Iran with all it requires for a peaceful nuclear energy plan but in place of domestic
enrichment of uranium establishing an international fuel consortium that would become
the international standard, with the IAEA as the “repository of last resort.” Along with
these carrots, Iran would need to agree to inspections more similar to UNSCOM, the UN
Special Commission charged with inspecting Iraqi chemical and biological weapons
capabilities starting in 1991, than the Additional Protocol. The other three “carrot
baskets” are 2) the “US-Iran basket”, in which regime change would be put on the table
only to assure that there was an agreement on the nuclear issues; 3) the “regional basket”
in which the Permanent 5 give a security guarantee to any non-nuclear state in the region;

and 4) the “anti-sanction basket” by which the opportunity to remove existing sanctions
on Iran is left open.

The “stick baskets”, which would be utilized in the event that negotiations fail, contains
sanctions of increasing severity starting with “smart sanctions” targeting elites and
progressing to “selective sanctions” similar to the current US unilateral sanctions on Iran.
If these did not work, they would increase to broader sanctions on trade, and finally to the
problematic sanctions: on oil and gas. Such a complement of carrots and sticks, Pickering
asserted, might have the chance to achieve a solution to the nuclear issue and bring Iran
fully within the tent of the international community.

Volker Perthes
Volker Perthes began his presentation by drawing attention to a statement by Javier
Solana, the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy and
lead negotiator with Iran, that the most important crisis is one of confidence, in which
neither side trusts the other. Perthes believes negotiations with Iran hinge upon building
an international consensus on nuclear weapons, the preparedness of the United States to
convey that its objective is policy (not regime) change, and the internal processes in Iran.

Perthes argued that this final variable has been too-often ignored, and there is a need for
“higher enrichment analysis” of the Iranian political landscape. Perthes finds that most
Iranian decision-makers fall into three general categories: “Globalizers”, “Realists”, and
“Islamo-Nationalists”. The “Globalizers” are most interested in economic and technical
progress and are in favor of the Iranian nuclear program. The “Realists”, centered in the
Supreme National Security Council, would like to have as many options as possible,
including nuclear weapons, in carrying out foreign policy but are willing to bargain if
necessary. The “Islamo-Nationalists”, the most problematic group (among whom
President Ahmadinejad is the most prominent), favor acquisition of nuclear capability
and see the current moment, while the U.S. is weakened by ongoing wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, as an opportunity for Iran to assert its power. Perthes does not believe
Ayatollah Khamenei falls into any of these groups, but rather functions as a consensus-

The challenge of the US and EU negotiators is to find a mix of incentives and
disincentives that target the common interests of all three groups, namely 1)
economic and social progress, 2) international prestige, and 3) the security of the state
and the Islamic regime. The EU, says Perthes, can deliver 1) and 2), but the US is
necessary for 3).

Perthes argued that Iran rejected the Russian offer in January 2006 because it was not
seen as enough of a “joint-venture” and because Iranians favor European technology over
Russian. Since then, the EU proposal delivered to Iran on June 6, 2006 was the first that
the Iranian regime took seriously--a sign of progress, according to Perthes. But the EU
remains wary of any compromise in which it is “seen to give in”. In order to avoid losing
face the EU needs to pursue more creative negotiation tactics such as holding “talks about
talks” that acknowledge Iran’s technological achievement but seek an agreement that Iran

will only use a light-water reactor. Perthes suggested that the EU-US could offer Iran
participation in a joint-venture based on the model of URENCO, a multi-national
European energy company, which could enrich nuclear materials for Iran in Europe.
Perthes also recommended that a regional security forum should take place at which the
US makes clear that regime change is not among its intentions.

The key in any negotiation package is to create inducements and, perhaps through
sanctions, raise the costs of noncompliance. Perthes was skeptical, however, that
sanctions can be effective, observing that measures such as travel bans on officials would
provide little disincentive to “Islamo-Nationalist” elites, since travel bans only harm
those who would like to travel and barring Iran from the WTO only penalizes those in
favor of Iran’s greater international integration. According to Perthes, the best chance of
opening a productive negotiation would be a “double-suspension,” whereby Iran
suspends its uranium enrichment and the US and EU agree not to seek any further action
by the Security Council.

Bruce Jentleson
Bruce Jentleson prefaced his presentation by noting that sanctions are “never a strategy”
but rather “part of a strategy”. Perhaps the most successful recent use of sanctions--
Libya’s relinquishment of Lockerbie suspects, moving to full WMD disarmament and
cessation of terror funding--was achieved through a combination of US, EU, and UN
sanctions along with a willingness to engage in direct negotiations and a combination of
carrots and sticks. Of particular importance were security assurance that took regime
change off the table.

Jentleson then analyzed the options available to the international regime should it decide
to sanction Iran, asserting that, on balance, imposing sanctions would be better than
failing to do so because successful sanctions would strengthen the United Nations and
build confidence in the reliability of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The question
then becomes, under what conditions should sanctions be imposed?

Jentleson laid out three characteristics of successful sanctions. First, the purpose of the
sanctions is not only to negatively impact the Iranian economy but also to send a strong
message of the political will of the international community to the Iranian regime.
Second, sanctions should be aimed at policy change; they are, in any event, typically
unsuccessful at regime changes. Jentleson echoed Perthes’ insistence that the United
States needs to “establish up-front” that regime change is not its agenda. Third, there
must be a “reciprocity of incentives and disincentives,” as in the June 6th EU proposal.
Jentleson believes that sanctions and negotiations should occur “simultaneously, not

Jentleson cautioned, however, that sanctions may not work for a number of reasons. First,
the Security Council is likely to agree only to the most limited sanctions, which would
not send a message of resolute political will. The Security Council, he suggested, should
start with limited sanctions but indicate that more restrictive measures will be imposed if
Iran blocks progress in negotiations. Second, the success of sanctions depends on the

internal dynamics of Iran, about which there are varying analyses. A major point of
consensus, though, is that military action or other efforts at regime change would set off a
rallying effect around both the regime and the nuclear weapons program. In sum, if a
nuclear-armed Iran can be avoided at all, UN sanctions will need to be part of the

Rush Holt, Discussant
Rush Holt related the current status of the Washington debate on Iran’s nuclear program,
which he allowed was fairly “unproductive”. During a recent floor debate in the House of
Representatives on a five-year extension of sanctions on Iran there was no interest in
beginning talks with Tehran. Though the debate purported to be about carrots and sticks,
“it is very hard to find any carrots in the bill” that was adopted. Holt observed that a
nuclear-armed Iran is unthinkable to many in Congress, though most representatives have
a simplistic view of what might be done to prevent such an outcome. Many seem to
subscribe to Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer’s view that though the
costs of a military attack on Iran would undoubtedly be high, the cost of inaction is still
higher. A number of Members have shown frustration that the US is “outsourcing” the
Iran nuclear issue to Europe, resulting in ever-more fruitless talks when the situation
necessitates action.


Iranian political landscape
A number of discussants supported Perthes’ claim that in order for negotiations to be
productive, there needs to be a better understanding of Iran’s internal dynamics. A
diplomat from one of the key negotiating countries advocated patience in dealing with the
“extremely complicated internal situation in Iran” saying that diplomacy is the only good
option and that the international community needs to give Iran more time.

A diplomat from the region observed that Iran’s foremost concern has long been to be
recognized as a major power in the Middle East and it is up to the United Nations
Security Council to grant such recognition. The participant observed that Iran is able to
use a “bazaar” negotiation style of exhausting the opposition because the current situation
in the Middle East favors Iran. With Iraq no longer a threat, Iran feels emboldened to
assert itself as a regional power: The US is badly weakened and on the defensive in the
region, and a military attack would destabilize the region beyond any country’s control.
The international community has no option but to try to exhaust the Iranian regime.
Participants from the region emphasized the need for a comprehensive strategy for
dealing with Iran, beyond the nuclear issue. This strategy should involve reconciling the
inconsistency between the international community’s responses to nuclear programs in
Iran, Israel, and North Korea, which many believe is a result of religious/ethnic

Another participant from a largely Muslim country warned that Iran is an “ancient and
rational entity” that must be engaged and that it will prove a grave mistake to avoid talks
on the grounds that Iran’s leadership is “irrational.”

US and EU role
While participants agreed with the panelists that US direct engagement is essential to the
success of any negotiated solution to the Iran nuclear issue, many believed that the US
not been as productive a participant in negotiations as is necessary. The US conditions for
engagement are a stumbling block that US and EU negotiators need to creatively
circumnavigate. But some participants suggested that the United States would rather
reprise its “go-it-alone” strategy and is only humoring European negotiation efforts until
a military attack becomes feasible. One participant suggested that Israel, as the likely first
target of reprisal to a US attack on Iran, may be uniquely able to convince the American
administration not to launch a military assault.

A participant from an EU state noted that the EU3 has delivered three proposals to Iran
and has “demonstrated maximum flexibility”. “Iran is extremely reactive to pressure” and
the U.S. and EU negotiators need to continue to exert such pressure, with sanctions a last
resort. Even as a last resort, sanctions should be “gradual and reversible,” the participant
said. The importance of the United Nations, the United States, and European Union
speaking in a strong, unified voice was emphasized.

The way forward
Participants were in agreement that the United States needs to engage Iran and seek good-
faith negotiations. Many were reluctant to advocate sanctions at this stage, but all agreed
that military action against Iran would be a most grave mistake. If negotiations stall and
Iran continues developing its nuclear capability, most participants agreed that some
limited sanctions may be necessary, but there was a great deal of skepticism that
sanctions would lead to progress in resolving the nuclear issue. For better or worse,
participants said there is a great deal of commonality between Iran and the United States
– commonality that one day could lead to a less toxic relationship. The first step, though,
will be a genuine effort on the part of both Iran and the United States to begin discussions
and to compromise.

Bruce Jentleson’s paper will be available on-line shortly. The first paper in the series,
The End of the “Summer of Diplomacy” by Sam Gardiner is available here. For
paper copies of either paper please contact The Century Foundation at


Emerson J. Sykes
The Century Foundation