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Iran Misses Another Opportunity in Moscow Talks

The United States Should Continue Using the Right Tools at the Right Time on Iran’s Nuclear Program

SOURCE: AP/Alexander Nemenov

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, center, takes part in the talks on the controversial Iranian nuclear program in Moscow earlier this week.

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This is the fourth in a six-part series explaining why the United States should continue to pursue an integrated strategy of diplomacy and tough economic sanctions to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. It builds on the recent Center for American Progress report, “Strengthening America’s Options on Iran.” Each piece in the series looks at reasons why diplomacy is an effective approach to achieving this end.

This week we look at the state of play after the round of diplomacy in Moscow earlier this week.

Iran has thus far failed to grasp multiple opportunities to defuse the crisis and answer questions surrounding its nuclear program. In three rounds of talks in Istanbul, Baghdad, and most recently Moscow, Tehran’s negotiators have come with an empty briefcase, hoping perhaps to receive relief from international sanctions in exchange for less-than-full disclosure of Iran’s nuclear activities. Diplomacy has a critical role to play in resolving the Iranian nuclear question, but so far the P5+1 negotiators from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia—plus Germany have yet to convince the Iranian government to make good on its international obligations.

The parties agreed to further meetings between technical experts next month, but the positions of Iran and the P5+1 remain far apart. Iran has shown itself unwilling to respond clearly to the concerns of the international consensus that President Barack Obama built to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. Iran continues to insist on international recognition of its right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to enrich uranium, but the treaty is actually ambiguous in regard to this right. It guarantees signatories the right to peaceful nuclear energy, but because Iran has failed to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency with regard to the possible military dimensions of its program, it remains out of compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran’s unwillingness to compromise during the talks comes at a steep price. The Moscow talks were the final ones scheduled before the United States starts to impose financial penalties on countries that do not significantly reduce their imports of Iranian crude oil and the European Union begins to enforce an embargo on all oil shipments from Iran. These sanctions go into effect this summer, and they are a key component in a broad array of policy tools aimed at convincing Iran’s leaders to come clean regarding the opaque or questionable aspects of their country’s nuclear program.

But sanctions are just one tool at the disposal of the United States and its partners to persuade Iran to meet its international obligations vis-à-vis its nuclear program. The Obama administration and like-minded governments will, of course, need to find a balance between diplomacy, sanctions, and other kinds of tools that are being or could be deployed against Iran.

Ultimately, America’s critical interest in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon are more likely to be achieved by working within the international community’s framework of isolating Iran with sanctions and pushing for a diplomatic solution while acknowledging that force remains a live possibility. The long-term goal of this effort, of course, is an Iran with a peaceful nuclear power program under the full monitoring of the International Atomic Energy Agency and with no Iranian nuclear weapons. Moving forward, maintaining and building an international consensus on the next steps is essential for enhancing the legitimacy and credibility of the actions taken on Iran.

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