ROME – The only thing to lament about the agreement reached by Iran and the P5+1 (the UN Security Council’s five permanent members – China, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States – plus Germany) in Vienna this month is that it was not signed and sealed a decade ago. In the years that it has taken for diplomatic sanity to prevail, the Middle East has endured myriad avoidable tensions and lost opportunities for security cooperation.
From 2003 to 2006, Iran made clear to anyone willing to listen that it would agree to all the key elements of the recent deal, including measures to block uranium and plutonium pathways to a bomb and obtrusive monitoring mechanisms to ensure ample advance notice of a likely breakout. All it needed in return – beyond, of course, the lifting of sanctions as implementation proceeded – was formal recognition of its “right to enrich” uranium.
In discussions with the European Union in 2003-2004, Iran voluntarily froze its then-minimal enrichment program, pending negotiation of a full accord. Iran also declared its willingness to apply the “additional protocol,” allowing for much more far-reaching and stringent monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency than is called for under standard arrangements.
Those commitments ended in 2005, owing to the continued insistence by the EU, backed by the US, that Iran abandon uranium enrichment entirely. This stance disregarded the “inalienable right,” clearly acknowledged in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (as much as one might wish otherwise, in an ideal world), of NPT parties to engage in all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle as part of a peaceful nuclear energy program.