September 2006 Monthly Forecast

Posted 31 August 2006
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MIDDLE EAST

Iran

Expected Council Action
The report from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 31 August assessing Iran’s compliance with resolution 1696 will provide a focus for the informal contacts which have already begun among the P5 plus Germany (P5 plus 1) on how to respond to the 22 August Iranian counter-proposals.

Intense and high profile interaction between the P5 plus 1 are expected. But formal decisions by the full Council seem unlikely in September. Indeed it seems possible that the issue may not come back to the Council at all. If the P5 plus 1 can reach agreement on an approach for negotiations leading to a diplomatic solution, it is probable that this would not involve a role for the Council. On the other hand, if discussions between the P5 plus 1 breakdown and there is no agreement on sanctions, the P3 may choose to keep the issue out of the Council if vetoes are inevitable. One situation in which further Council action might be expected, is if the P5 plus 1 agree on one last Council resolution responding to the Iranian proposals and setting a final deadline for Iran.

In September, therefore, Council meetings on this subject may be limited to P5 informal briefings to the elected ten. The major action is likely to involve high-level meetings among the P5 in capitals and on the margins of the General Assembly to discuss whether to move to the adoption of measures under article 41 of the UN Charter (as threatened under resolution 1696) or to modify the strategy to get negotiations for a diplomatic solution started.

Key Recent Developments
On 31 July the Council imposed a binding obligation on Iran to comply with IAEA decisions regarding its uranium enrichment activities. It also endorsed the long-term arrangement offered in June by the P5 plus 1 which would allow cooperation with Iran and establish confidence in the peaceful nature of its nuclear energy programme. The resolution also requested the Director General of the IAEA to submit a report by 31 August on Iranian compliance with the resolution and expressed the Council’s intention to “adopt appropriate measures under article 41 of Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations” in case of non-compliance.

On 22 August, Iran presented a 21-page response to the P5 plus 1 package of incentives. Iran requested that the document remain confidential and at press time, the contents were still being “studied” by the P5 plus 1. It seems that it may contain some positive elements including specific Iranian proposals to resume negotiations on its nuclear programme. But, as foreshadowed in our August Forecast, it seems Iran is not prepared to accept the precondition that it should suspend uranium enrichment activities. In public, Iranian officials reiterated their rejection of suspension as a precondition. But it is unclear whether the confidential document left open the possibility that during the course of negotiations Iran might consider suspension or some other satisfactory alternative.

Since 22 August, P5 plus 1 reactions have been cautious and low-key. The US and Germany stated that the Iranian proposal was not satisfactory because it did not envisage a suspension of uranium enrichment and remained vague on transparency issues. But the US acknowledged that Iran considered its response as a serious offer. France reiterated its readiness to negotiate with Iran, but said that the return to negotiations was linked to uranium enrichment suspension. China urged further negotiation and Russia asked for a thorough examination of this proposal and said it was premature to talk of sanctions.

Options
The Council again faces the now familiar situation on this issue with the real discussion taking place outside the UN structures. Among the options which the P5 could bring back to the Council are:

  • a “last chance” resolution responding affirmatively to the positive elements of the Iranian response but setting a final deadline for suspension or some alternative giving equivalent confidence that the enrichment would be capped during the negotiation phase;
  • rejecting the Iranian response and deciding that Iran’s nuclear activities constitute a threat to international peace and security and imposing diplomatic and economic sanctions;
  • endorsement of some compromise arrangement under which diplomatic negotiations are commenced; and
  • stalling Council action in September and perhaps longer.

Key Issues
The main issue is whether the Iranian response now represents the end of the road in terms of a diplomatic solution and that resorting to coercive actions, such as sanctions, is now inevitable. Resolution 1696 stated that sanctions would be the next step in the event of a negative response by Iran. There are clearly negative aspects to Iran’s response but some P5 members are already pointing to positive elements including Iran’s willingness to resume negotiations.

A second issue, therefore, is whether a window of opportunity for negotiation still exists. In this regard, the issue is whether in the negotiating process Iran would accept limits on its nuclear programme which would establish international confidence that the programme is exclusively civilian and not military. It may be that this cannot be tested until negotiations are actually entered into. The question then becomes whether the preconditions can be adjusted a little in order to permit commencement of negotiations. A strictly verified cap on the number of centrifuges at existing levels and other operational limits and controls during negotiations is a possible example of a framework which might permit both sides to say that their essential requests had been met.

On the other hand, if the US, the UK and France decide that it is really the end of the road, the issue will be to convince Russia and China that sanctions are necessary. In that event, lengthy discussions throughout September-and probably longer-are likely to follow.

Another issue which may weigh in the minds of all involved is the impact on the nuclear issue of recent events in the Middle East and what elements of that situation to factor into decisions regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.

Council Dynamics
Russia and China are clearly reluctant to immediately move forward with sanctions. The position of the US, UK and France is less clear.

The ten elected members remain outside the loop. Some of them seem less comfortable with this situation than others. The three EU members Greece, Denmark and Slovakia seem more or less satisfied with the input they receive from France, Germany and the UK via EU coordination. Several other members, however, have expressed more frustration.

Underlying Problems
Iran is reported to be building more advanced P2 centrifuges that could speed up the production of nuclear fuel. In addition, Iran has inaugurated a new heavy water nuclear plant.

Iran has also stepped up military exercises and launches of missiles to introduce a new defensive doctrine.

Some observers have identified a possible link between the Iranian nuclear issue and the Lebanese conflict.

  • First, Iran’s confrontation with the West on its nuclear programme may have influenced Hezbollah’s decision to initiate a crisis in Lebanon through the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers (at the time the Security Council was considering resolution 1696).
  • Second, Iran’s potential for destabilisation in the Middle East through its link with the Hezbollah, as well as with Iraqi and other Shia, has become more transparent. On the other hand, if there were a successful resolution to the current nuclear issues with Iran, given its influence in the region, this could also play a stabilising role.
  • Third, the Lebanese war raised the stakes and risks of Iran’s acquiring nuclear weapons given its alleged support to Hezbollah and its vow to destroy Israel if attacked.

Most Recent Documents

 Security Council Resolution
  • S/RES/1696 (31 July 2006)  demanded that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, requested a report from the IAEA by 31 August and expressed its intention to adopt measures under article 41 of the UN charter in case of Iranian non-compliance.
 Security Council Presidential Statement
 Latest IAEA Board Resolution
Latest IAEA Reports
Selected Letters
  • S/2006/521 (13 July 2006) was a letter from France to the President of the Council enclosing the proposals of the P5+1 for a comprehensive long-term arrangement with Iran.
  • S/2006/305 (31 May 2006) was a letter from the League of Arab States to the Secretary-General enclosing a statement issued by Arab leaders on the question of making the Middle East region into a zone free of WMDs.
 Other

 

For Historical Background, Other Relevant Facts and Useful Additional Sources, please refer to our February 2006 Forecast.

 

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