Unless a new approach is pursued, chances that current negotiations between France, Germany, Great Britain (EU3) and Iran will soon see a breakthrough are slim. In May, after Iran again threatened to resume enrichment activities, the EU3 pledged to present Iran a detailed offer by the end of July or early August 2005. While recent developments of the past month are likely to complicate the bilateral negotiations, the seemingly entrenched positions of both parties are the main factor obstructing a successful resolution regarding the Iranian nuclear program.

The EU3 have engaged Iran in talks since December 2004, after Iran broke its earlier agreement of October 2003 to suspend enrichment activities. Negotiations have since proceeded at a slow pace, nonetheless withstanding pressure from the United States who has urged for Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council for its alleged nuclear weapons program. Iran claims its program serves peaceful purposes only. While the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not found Iran in non-compliance with its safeguards agreement, neither has it verified the country’s compliance. The EU3 strategy to offer Iran economic incentives in turn for “objective assurances” of the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program has thus far remained unfruitful, even after the United States agreed to support Iran’s entry into the World Trade Organization in March 2005.

Iran has a history of deceiving the international community about its nuclear activities, which greatly undermines the confidence building process of the ongoing negotiations. Most recently, on June 16, 2005, the IAEA announced Iran’s failure to disclose comprehensive information regarding its plutonium activities. Iran had earlier stated that its plutonium experiments ended in 1993. But the IAEA verified that reprocessing experiments took place in 1995 and 1998. Reprocessing separates plutonium which can be used to make nuclear weapons. The IAEA started its investigations into the Iranian nuclear program in 2002 and has since revealed a number of breaches that make Iranian nuclear intentions questionable.

The election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as Iran’s new President will most likely complicate the EU3-Iranian negotiations. At his first press conference after the elections, Ahmadinejad stated that “We will continue negotiations with the Europeans with the aim of safeguarding our national interests and emphasizing the right of the Iranian nation to use peaceful nuclear energy.” While this seems to indicate a continuation of Iran’s current policy, Ahmadinejad also said he will take on a tougher negotiation position. A top Irani nuclear official recently asserted: “Taking into account the personality of the new president, I think the negotiations will be more difficult.” On July 13, 2005, Ahmadinejad, who will take office in early August, announced a new direction for Iranian foreign policy. Reorganizing the current nuclear negotiation team might be part of this new policy measure. The instant resumption of enrichment activities would certainly lead to an impasse with the EU3.

Conflicting information about the resignation of the Secretary of Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Hassan Rowhani, might be connected to Iran’s change in government. Currently, Rowhani, a moderate supporting President Mohammad Khatami’s policy of reform, is the chief negotiator in the talks with the EU3. The Iranian news agency Irna announced on July 6, 2005 that Rowhani sent his letter of resignation to Khatami, but AP reported he denied this move. Rowhani’s resignation would trigger a change in leadership in the Iranian negotiation team that could adversely affect the outcome of the talks. Named as a possible successor to Rowhani, Ali Larijani, the representative of the Supreme Leader on the Supreme National Security Council, stated in March 2005: “ The continuation of talks up until now was meant for confidence building. However, I believe that the issue of confidence building in Iran’s nuclear dossier is a two-edged sword. If the Europeans consider it to be one-sided and as Iran’s debt to the West, then the negotiations will not be negotiations at all but a dictated text meant to humiliate the nation, and naturally the Iranians would be obliged to show that their national pride is not less than Europe’s or the United States.”

First and foremost, Iran wants to maintain its capability to enrich uranium and separate plutonium for peaceful purposes, a right it claims according to Article IV of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). An Iranian proposal in April 2005 – which the EU3 rejected – stated the government’s intention to test 3,000 centrifuges at Natanz. In addition to pursuing its inalienable right under the NPT, Iran recognizes the national prestige that comes with mastering the fuel cycle and proclaims its desire to belong to the “exclusive club of technologically advanced states.” The Iranian government has also repeatedly made the link between the nuclear fuel cycle and national sovereignty to independently meet its energy needs in the long-term.

The current position-based nature of the talks will continue to impede negotiations between the two parties. Iran’s current position is that it will not give up its capabilities to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, reiterated as recently as July 12, 2005. The EU3 on the other hand have repeatedly stated that this position is an unacceptable one in the long-run. On July 5, 2005, the French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy stated: “Our ultimate objective is to ensure that there is a suspension of the enrichment and reprocessing of hazardous nuclear material. I think it’s absolutely necessary to state that the Europeans will never accept the resumption of the Iranian military nuclear activities.” Iran has demonstrated some flexibility towards limiting its enrichment capabilities, but the EU3 is unlikely to amend its position, given the lack of transparency of Iranian nuclear activities and ongoing IAEA efforts to verify Iran’s status of safeguards compliance.

To create favorable conditions for a successful outcome both parties must move beyond their entrenched positions, which are in complete opposition to each other. To solve the crisis in the long-term, the EU3 must open up the negotiations forum to discussions about both parties’ long-term interests. Talks about broader security issues, including Iran’s national security concerns, will help both parties move away from their current fixed positions and bring more options for a solution to the table. The Unites States should also become involved in the negotiation process in order to grant significant recognition to the regional security debate, especially given the US role in Iraq and the need for greater regional stability supported actively by the US through negative security assurances. At a security conference in February 2005, Gholami Khoshroo, the Deputy Minister for International and legal Affairs, stated: “We believe that it is imperative to use the opportunity created by the removal of a great menace to our region’s security to replace mistrust and arms race with confidence building and transparency, and to establish an indigenously-based and internationally guaranteed regional security arrangement under the UN auspices to spare our region from further bloodshed.”

An explicit EU3 and US recognition of legitimate demands for regional stability and security would serve the long term interests of both the EU and the United States. Even if the negotiations cannot satisfy all interests brought to the table, the likelihood of progress with an interest-based approach is higher than if the parties continue to confront each other with fixed positions.

*Anna Langenbach is the 2005 Wally T. Drew Intern in the Washington DC office of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Langenbach is a graduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies where she specializes in nonproliferation studies.