Carnegie wants U.S. to offer Iran nuke deal

Thursday, May 15, 2003

The United States has been urged to offer Iran a deal that would provide aid to Teheran's nuclear civilian program in exchange for its commitment not to build atomic bombs.

The offer, which is reminiscent of a similar deal reached with North Korea during the Clinton administration, was detailed in a report that warned the Bush administration that Iran would not capitulate to U.S. pressure to end its nuclear program.

The report warned that an Iranian-U.S. nuclear crisis could erupt as early as June when the International Atomic Energy Agency reports its findings from the inspection of two Iranian nuclear facilities.

The report comes amid U.S. efforts to stop Russian supplies of material and expertise for the Bushehr nuclear reactor program. The first reactor unit in Bushehr is expected to become operational in 2004, Middle East Newsline reported.

U.S. officials assess that Iran could achieve nuclear weapons capability during the following year.

The report by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace called on the administration to offer Iran a guaranteed supply of low-enriched uranium fuel in exchange for a series of Iranian commitments. They include the return of the spent fuel to the supplier country and the dismantling of Iranian fuel-cycle facilities.

"The international community would have to live with the remote possibility that Iran could break its commitments and divert spent-fuel from the Bushehr power reactor[s] into a crash bomb-making program," the report, authored by Carnegie vice president George Perkovich, said. "The deal is the best that can be obtained realistically. It will not be easy to achieve."

The report, entitled "Dealing With Iran's Nuclear Challenge," warned that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is inevitable unless the United States changes the rules of engagement with Teheran. Perkovich said the abandonment of economic sanctions and an offer for the continuation of Iran's civilian nuclear program would mark a bold innovation in U.S. policy.

He said a similar deal was proposed by Robert Einhorn, a senior State Department official during the Clinton administration and responsible for U.S. efforts to stop Russian aid to Iran's missile and nuclear programs.

Under the proposed offer, Iran could obtain an international commitment for nuclear supplies in exchange for a series of Iranian declarations regarding its nuclear program. The report listed an Iranian requirement to return spent nuclear fuel to the supplier country, the reaffirmation of Teheran's commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, an agreement not to build and operate uranium enrichment or plutonium separation facilities. Another condition was that Iran would dismantle its fuel-cycle facilities.

"In Iran, with its active and relatively open political process, the most tenable optimistic outcome would be a decision to focus the nuclear program on producing electricity in reactors at Bushehr while forgoing indigenous uranium enrichment and plutonium separation capabilities," the report said. "It is too politically naive to expect Iran to give up in one swoop its nuclear bomb-making and power programs."

The Carnegie center, which contains leading members of the U.S. arms control community, said the administration appears uncertain why Iran wants nuclear weapons. The report said Iran appears motivated by four threats -- Iraq, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

"As long as Iran denies intentions actually to acquire nuclear weapons, policy-makers there have political flexibility to stop short of such acquisition," the report said. "The U.S. and the international community should want to maintain and even expand this flexibility, not reduce it."

The center urges the administration to launch a dialogue with Iran on its security threat. The report suggests that a nuclear Iran would not attack either Israel or the United States. Perkovich said the arsenals controlled by Jerusalem and Washington are far too formidable for Iran's weapons of mass destruction and missile systems.

The Carnegie center envisioned an Israeli counterstrike based on its submarine-based nuclear arsenal. The reference appeared to be that of Israel's three Dolphin-class diesel submarines from Germany, said to be capable of firing nuclear warheads.

"Israel's invulnerable submarine-based nuclear arsenal could then be launched to destroy Iran's major cities or scores of more focused targets, even if Iran managed to wipe out most of the Israeli population," the report said. "Incidentally, such a nuclear exchange would kill many Palestinians, whose rights and interests Iran says it is defending. Possible exchanges with the U.S. would be even more lopsided."

The report urged the administration to encourage Iran, Gulf Cooperation Council and a post-Saddam Iraq to form and explore confidence-building measures that would increase security in the region. He said such a working group would probably have to begin on an unofficial level and sketch confidence-building and security measures that governments could later finalize.

In addition, the Carnegie center said the United States would have to increase its credibility with the Islamic republic. Perkovich said the most important step involves U.S. pressure on Israel for a settlement with the Palestinians and the elimination of its nuclear arsenal as part of a WMD-free Middle East.

The report warned that the United States must be prepared to relay its offer before June, when the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to determine whether Teheran has launched efforts to build a nuclear weapons infrastructure by testing its centrifuge systems. At that point, Perkovich said, a crisis could erupt between the United States and Teheran that will include the United Nations Security Council.

"The U.S. should make some of the positive unilateral gestures suggested in this paper before a nuclear crisis erupts," Perkovich writes. "Otherwise, when the crisis erupts almost all Iranians will see it as part of a pre-determined war plan by the U.S. Iranian nationalism that will take hold at that point. This would reduce the chances of the capitulation the U.S. seeks and make it much more difficult for leaders of any stripe to negotiate a way out."

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