Iran's So-Called Intransigence

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My Atlantic colleague Jeffrey Goldberg, in a post titled "On Iranian Intransigence," quotes a recent piece in which Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations wrote:

Iranians came into these negotiations with some rather extraordinary demands, particularly [that] their right to uranium enrichment be officially recognized--which is impossible, given the fact that the enrichment stands in violation of Security Council resolutions and the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governor's injunctions.

Takeyh's formulation is potentially misleading. It's true that enrichment "stands in violation of Security Council resolutions" in the sense that those resolutions call on Iran to suspend enrichment. But the word "suspend" was chosen carefully. The idea is that enrichment might resume once the international community is satisfied that any future enrichment won't be for military purposes (something that could be established through a new, more intrusive system of monitoring and inspection). So acknowledging Iran's right to enrich uranium for demonstrably peaceful purposes would be consistent with all existing Security Council resolutions.

Indeed, Hillary Clinton, testifying before Congress, said last year that Iran's "right" to enrich--yes, she used that word--could be acknowledged once sufficiently intrusive verification measures were in place.

Here's an interesting scenario: Suppose that in the most recent round of negotiations, in Moscow, America and its negotiating partners had said to Iran essentially what Hillary Clinton said: Yes, we can in principle recognize an Iranian right to enrich uranium for peaceful use (which, by the way, is permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and in fact is done by some Treaty members), but that recognition will have to await the establishment of a mechanism that can more confidently verify the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program. Would Iran have responded favorably?

There's no telling because, so far as I know, we didn't say this. Indeed, we showed a general absence of creativity and flexibility. In particular, we didn't offer to even delay the imposition of any of the sanctions scheduled to hit in July-- not even in exchange for substantial concessions from Iran.

It may well be that if we had done either of these things--signaled flexibility on sanctions or on the right to enrich--Iran would still have refused to play ball. Maybe at that point it would have been fair to call Iran "intransigent." But I don't think that's fair now, because (unless more went on in Moscow than has been reported) we haven't yet given Iran the intransigence test.

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Robert Wright is the author of, most recently, the New York Times bestseller The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic. More

Wright is also a fellow at the New America Foundation and editor in chief of Bloggingheads.tv. His other books include Nonzero, which was named a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2000 and included on Fortune magazine's list of the top 75 business books of all-time. Wright's best-selling book The Moral Animal was selected as one of the ten best books of 1994 by The New York Times Book Review.Wright has contributed to The Atlantic for more than 20 years. He has also contributed to a number of the country's other leading magazines and newspapers, including: The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Time, and Slate, and the op-ed pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Financial Times. He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and his books have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

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