Does 'Negotiating' Really Hinder Iran's Nuclear Program?

President Obama in his election campaigns in 2008 kept insisting that the only way to control rogue states was through direct “negotiation.”  After seven years, despite a lack of progress, he still advocates the use of diplomatic rhetoric.  During the first year of his presidency, in February 2009, the Islamic Republic (I.R.) of Iran announced that it successfully launched its first satellite.  The news provoked international concerns that this might be the beginning of long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads by the I.R.  In April of 2009, the American administration declared that the U.S. and the rest of the 5+1 countries would directly enter into “negotiations” with the I.R.  Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of the I.R., informed the IAEA that the I.R. had established a new uranium enrichment center underground in Fordo Mountain about 120 km south of capital Tehran.

In order to continue the “negotiation” and prevent military action against the I.R., the U.N. in June 2006 formed the so-called 5+1, including five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.  However, the I.R. did not recognize this new arrangement and again refused to cooperate.  Therefore, 5+1 announced its first resolution (No. 1696) that the I.R. either stop all its atomic activities within a month or face U.N. sanctions.  This was the beginning of the U.N. Security Council’s formal engagement in I.R. atomic affairs.  In March 2007, the Security Council passed another resolution (No. 1737) that transfer of arms, military equipment, and any nuclear or missile technology to the I.R. must cease.  

However, these years are highlighted by the convergence of the U.S. and the EU, which certainly made the sanctions on the I.R. more consistent and effective.  When Barack Obama was later elected president, there was a time of major divergence and disagreement between the White House and the U.S. Congress about foreign issues, including the I.R.’s very serious nuclear crisis.  Thus far, the I.R. had ignored all resolutions that had been passed by the U.N. Security Council regarding dismantling of its uranium enrichment, discontinuing all activities in various atomic installations, and the closing down of heavy water processing in Arak and fissile uranium processing in Natanz and the underground facilities in Fordo.  Furthermore, the I.R. refused to permit the U.N. inspectors to enter Iran to visit these installations.  The I.R.’s overall response was negative and occasionally insulting, as the former president of the I.R. formally and publicly referred to the U.N.’s resolutions as pieces of overturned paper and trash. 

Therefore, a period of unsuccessful “negotiations” between 5+1 and I.R. continued until Turkey and Brazil in 2010 proposed to I.R. a “fuel swap deal.”  Under this deal, 5+1 and the I.R. in early 2011 opened a few negotiation sessions in Istanbul, Turkey that abruptly ended with no favorable outcome, with which Catherine Ashton, chief of EU foreign policy, expressed disappointment.  Shortly thereafter, Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of Russia, announced a new approach to solving the I.R. nuclear problem.  He proposed a “Step by Step” policy to reduce sanctions against the I.R. while the I.R. gradually reduced its nuclear activities to minimize tension and gain the trust of the international community. 

Since the start of 2012, the second term of Obama’s presidency, the EU’s member-countries joined the ongoing U.S. sanctions on the I.R. energy sectors.  Iran’s oil exports dropped from 2.5 million barrels per day to about one million bpd, and as a result, I.R. oil sales plummeted millions of dollars daily, increasing unemployment, decreasing the value of Iranian currency, and spiking inflation in Iran.

During the year of 2012 and the beginning of 2013, various conferences and “negotiations” aimed at settling the mistrust and dispute among 5+1, the IAEA, and the I.R. in various locations, including Istanbul (Turkey), Baghdad (Iraq), Moscow (Russia), and Almaty (Kazakhstan), took place and produced nothing but disappointment.  In August 2013, a new president, Hassan Rouhani, took office in Iran and immediately announced that the I.R. was ready for serious talk and negotiation with good intentions and full transparency.  This sweet message, although with no guaranteed action and goodwill, impressed a few in the U.N. General Assembly in September of 2013.  The foreign ministers of six negotiating countries, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, expressed hope and welcomed the deceptively positive atmosphere.  Even the U.S. president bought the show and contacted the president of the I.R. via phone.

Anxiously, “negotiations” continued in Geneva (Switzerland) and later in Vienna (Austria).  Finally, in late 2013, the concept of “Agreement for Joint Action Plan” was introduced and started in January 20, 2014, to be implemented for six months.  The agreement demanded for the I.R. to stop the 20% level of uranium enrichment, to neutralize or dilute immediately all 20% enriched uranium that the regime has stored, to suspend the heavy water reactor activities in Arak, and finally to allow the IAEA’s agents to visit the atomic facilities in Iran as they wish.

In February (Vienna1), March (Vienna2), April (Vienna3), and June (Vienna4) of 2014, “negotiations” in the context of the Joint Action Plan continued, with no comprehensive agreements.  However, in the final talks on July 2, 2014, it was decided that after a hiatus, negotiations would start again for a duration of four months, to end on November 24, 2014.  Again, no agreement was made.  The last and most important meeting in Vienna before reaching the Nov. 24 deadline was a session attended by John Kerry, representing the U.S.; Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the EU; and Javad Zarif, the I.R.’s chief negotiator.  The meeting ended after six hours of extensive talks with no solution for the key disputed issues.  All parties agreed to extend the negotiations until June 30, 2015.

According to the 2013 transparency agreement between Tehran and the IAEA, the I.R. was obligated to answer the questions put forth by the IAEA regarding I.R. nuclear activities.  For this purpose, the secretary general of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, arrived in Tehran before the target date of August 25, 2014.  The I.R. president welcomed him by saying that the I.R.’s missile capability is not under any circumstances negotiable.  The I.R. has never provided any answers regarding any atomic explosion test or the manufacturing of any kind of nuclear warheads or ballistic missiles.  And to this date, all questions regarding these issues remain unanswered by the I.R.

On August 29, 2014, the U.S. Treasury Department announced the establishment of a new set of sanctions on the I.R.  The new sanctions cover 25 individuals and companies that circumvented the current sanctions, including the I.R.’s missile programs, and supported international terrorism.

Furthermore, for the first time, the U.S. has formally linked human rights issues with Iran’s ongoing atomic activities and has imposed new sanctions for the I.R.’s human rights abuses and censorship.  David Cohen, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, announced on December 30, 2014 that sanctions have been imposed on a number of individuals and a few Iranian entities for supporting I.R. officials’ human rights abuses inside the country.

Mansour Kashfi, Ph.D. is the president of Kashex International Petroleum Consulting and is a college professor in Dallas, TX.  He is also author of more than 100 articles and books about petroleum industry worldwide.

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