Kayhan Barzegar , an Iranian scholar and foreign policy analyst currently at the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, recently published an op ed, “A Middle Way, Best Solution to the Nuclear Crisis”, in Iran Review. It deserves the widest possible notice. Barzegar offers an extremely insightful analysis of Iranian perspectives on the Baradei proposal for refueling the Tehran Research Reactor, going well beyond the “Iran has rejected a very reasonable proposal” and “Iran can’t make up its mind” boilerplate that passes for analysis in most Western commentary on the issue.
We strongly agree with Barzegar’s point that Iranian reactions to the Baradei proposal are inevitably colored by the ongoing insistence of the United States, Britain, and France (along with Israel) on “zero enrichment” as the only acceptable outcome from nuclear negotiations with Tehran. While some Western hardliners express concern that the Baradei proposal implicitly accepts the reality of enrichment in Iran—thereby undermining “zero enrichment” as a Western negotiating position—many Iranian elites worry the proposal would set a precedent that any enriched uranium produced in the Islamic Republic should be sent abroad. From this latter perspective, acceptance of the Baradei proposal as originally advanced would put Iran on a “slippery slope” to zero enrichment in nuclear negotiations with the P-5+1.
This certainly helps to explain Iran’s counter-proposal, advanced by Foreign Minister Mottaki last week, that Iranian low-enriched uranium (LEU) would need to be swapped for new fuel up front, inside Iran. France—in the person of Foreign Minister Kouchner—has already declared Mottaki’s counter-proposal an effective rejection of the Baradei plan. But that result will only confirm Iranian suspicions that the United States and its partners were all along out to leverage Iran toward zero enrichment. And it could give Tehran an “excuse” to enrich some portion of its LEU stockpile to 20 percent—hardly a great moment in Western nonproliferation policy.
We wish all our readers a Happy Thanksgiving. We will take Thursday off, but will be back after the holiday with, among other items, our promised analysis of Israeli views on proposals for a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett