Guest post by Alex Bollfrass
Below is a summary of remarks made on 2/24 at Princeton University by Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005.
Hossein Mousavian, Iran’s lead negotiator from 2003 to 2005, presented his vision for a resolution to the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program. In his first public statement since his 2007 arrest, Ambassador Mousavian laid out a plan for political and diplomatic engagement with Iran.
The ex-negotiator described a space for mutual agreement that would respect the US redline of Iranian nuclear weapons and Iran’s non-negotiable right to uranium enrichment.
Without straying far from the official Iranian position, he argued for direct bilateral and comprehensive negotiations between Iran and the United States, while recommending the continued pursuit of P5+1 negotiations. The proper institutional setting, in his view, is the IAEA. The UN Security Council’s involvement and its punitive resolutions should be ended.
Mousavian emphasized that any solution would require the international recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment. Iran would also need the provision of security assurances not only from the United States, but regional countries, as well…
Inside Iranian decision-making
In his rhetorical warm-up, he hypothesized that if the shah had remained in power, Iran would today have an arsenal of nuclear weapons. In his view, the West “owes a debt of gratitude to the Islamic Republic” for its restraint on the nuclear front over the past 30 years.
He mourned the lost opportunity for an agreement during President Khatamei’s presidency, which the former negotiator blamed on the Bush administration’s hard line and the West’s misreading of Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment as a sign that it could be pushed to surrender its right to enrichments.
Mousavian identified Ayatollah Khomenei as the ultimate decision-maker on Iranian national security questions, and as having driven the harder line in Iran’s confrontation with the international community upon Ahmedinejad’s election. In a glimpse into the mode of operation in Iran’s government, the ambassador confessed that he had only learned of the Qom uranium enrichment when President Obama revealed it in September 2009 at the G8 meeting in Pittsburgh.
In a review of the P5+1’s options, he described the counterproductive effects of military strikes for the entire region. Sanctions have also failed to prevent Iran from developing missile and nuclear technology, while serving the interests of Iranian hardliners. He also argued that the sabotage of Iran’s nuclear facility and assassination of nuclear scientists only raised distrust among Iranians and strengthening the arguments for the development of a nuclear deterrent.
Only diplomacy, in his view, holds promise for a resolution. However, so far the Obama and Ahmedinejad administrations diplomatic attempts have yielded no results because neither has proposed a comprehensive solution.
Mousavian argued that the US should engage Iran directly beyond the nuclear issue and build trust through cooperation on Afghanistan. He saw the UN Security Council’s involvement as counterproductive, in particular its use of sanctions, and as an obstacle to resolution. Therefore, the Iranian issue should be taken off the Security Council’s agenda and placed within the IAEA.
The NPT would serve as the basic framework to guarantee Iran’s right to enrichment and Iran’s fatwa against nuclear weapons should be taken as an assurance. However, he underlined that Iran would accept no inspections or restrictions that went beyond what is required of other NPT signatories.
Under Mousavian’s plan, there would be two steps of the regional component of engagement. The first would be engagement with the Persian Gulf states. This framework would later be expanded to the broader Middle East in an effort to establish an OSCE-type regional organization. In a veiled reference to Israel’s nuclear weapon, Mousavian called for the elimination of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as part of this regional integration.
In response to a question about Iran’s insistence on uranium enrichment despite its lack of reactors that could put this fuel to use, Mousavian cited Western and Russian abrogation of past agreements for the provision of nuclear technology and fuel.
Persona non grata in Iran
Following Ahmedinejad’s election in 2005, Mousavian was removed from his position on Iran’s negotiating team with the P5+1 and the IAEA. Two years later, the Iranian government arrested Mousavian on espionage charges. Despite most charges having been dropped, he received a commuted sentence and barred from serving in the diplomatic corps. Mousavian then left the country for the West.
He has been a fellow at Princeton University’s Program on Science and Global Security for a year and a half. In poor standing with the Iranian regime, he would likely face arrest if he returned.
Alex Bollfrass is the NoH Senior New Jersey correspondent and a graduate student at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs.