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So what happened? Rouhani visits Turkey

Henri Barkey

Why did President Rouhani visit Turkey?
          On June 9-10, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his first visit to Turkey since his election a year ago. It was the first by an Iranian leader to Turkey in 18 years. By contrast, many senior Turks, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, had visited Iran multiple times.
 
      Accompanied by a gaggle of businessmen, the trip had all the earmarks of a commercial mission. Turks and Iranians often say that they want to substantially increase the volume of trade. Turkey buys large quantities of oil and gas from Iran, but its export markets for other goods have been constrained, often by political considerations. President Rouhani seemed to want to encourage Turkish businessmen to engage with Iran.
 
      Turks also wanted to renegotiate the price of gas imports from Iran. Turks have long complained that the cost of Iranian gas is far too high given market conditions. Despite long periods of negotiations between the respective energy ministers, however, no deal was reached.
 
How did events in Iraq impact their discussions?
           The sweep of Mosul by jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria happened on the second day of Rouhani’s visit. The magnitude of the loss must have shocked both countries. Jihadist victories do not help either country. Turkey may suffer from a blowback effect, while Iran’s main allies are at risk from an ever-expanding jihadist force now equipped with some of the best armaments in the world.
 
           The fact that Syria and Iraq have now become one theater of war may force both countries to look for alternatives. Both countries tough their assets in Iraq: Iran particularly with the Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and Turkey in Iraqi Kurdistan. But their ability to dictate events on the ground is limited.
 
How important was Syria to talks between the Iranian and Turkish leadership? The two countries have differed deeply, with Turkey demanding President Bashar Assad’s ouster and Iran providing Damascus with pivotal diplomatic and military assistance.
 
            Syria was the elephant in the room during Rouhani’s visit. Its conflict is perceived to have existential importance for both countries. Along with Russia, Iran been one of two key lifelines for Assad’s minority regime. Assad would not have remained in power without Iran and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia that played a vital role in critical battles with the Syrian insurgents. The Iranians are probably more confident about the regime in Damascus than they have ever been. Hezbollah’s help has been quite decisive at times, and Assad has just “won” reelection.
 
            Turkey, on the other hand, has backed the fractured Syrian opposition. Erdogan’s most important foreign policy objective has been the fall of the Assad regime, and Assad’s resilience has turned into an embarrassment for the Turkish prime minister.
 
      Yet the Turks and the Iranians have managed to agree to disagree on Syria; they have not allowed the Syrian conflict and their differences to mar their relations, which is quite surprising given the stakes. But Iran needs Turkey for its gas exports, and for Turkey Iran is the only alternative to Russian gas. Turkey’s economy has an insatiable appetite for energy, which has convinced the Erdogan administration to make deals it would have never contemplated before.
 
 
           The Turks have been quite supportive of the Iranian nuclear cause. All in all, despite the Syria difference, the Iranians must feel better about their relations with the Erdogan government than one that would have been dominated by Turkey’s traditional secular elites.
 
Henri J. Barkey is chairman of Lehigh University’s international relations department and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.
 
Click here for Barkey's chapter on Iran-Turkey relations.
 

Photo credits: President.ir

 

Event- Nuclear Flashpoints: US-Iran Tensions Over Timetables and Terms

           A final deal with Iran will have to sort out a dizzying array of timetables and disparate interpretation of terms. Among them: How many years will an agreement last? Iran prefers a few; the U.S. is thinking decades. Breakout time - how long it'd take to produce enough nuclear fuel for a bomb - is now estimated to be two months; how long will a deal defer it? When will Tehran have to take what action - and in what steps or phases? And when will the U.S. have to act - and how? As the last round of talks proved, Iran and the world's six major powers have deep differences on these basic questions and more. The following are the main points from a panel discussion led by former National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

 
Stephen J. HadleyModerator and Lead Discussant
Former National Security Adviser (2005 - 2009), Chairman of the Board, USIP
 
  • A nuclear agreement will only mark the beginning of a decades-long process of implementation. Keeping that process on track will be a huge challenge.
  • Both the U.S. and Iranian sides face enormous political challenges selling a deal at home. In Washington, issues of Congressional versus presidential prerogatives and separation of powers will be raised.
  • The Obama administration will only be able to sell a deal based on enforcement and deterrence measures. It will also have to provide reassurances to regional allies that Washington is not consenting to Iranian hegemony as long as Tehran does not have nuclear weapons.
 
Jon Wolfsthal 
Deputy Director, Center for Nonproliferation Studies
 
  • A nuclear deal must be able to outlast both the Obama and Rouhani administrations. Several years will be needed to regain confidence on both sides.
  • A step-by-step plan is being pursued because a one-step or “front-loaded” deal would not be viable or sustainable. But major sanctions relief up-front would build incentives for Iranian compliance.
• An Iran deal is about linking uranium enrichment and sanctions relief to milestones —and Iran coming clean on past activities.
• Placing permanent restrictions on Iran is not an option because Iran wants to eventually be treated as any other member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
• Iran wants to end its international isolation, which may give the United States leverage.
• A key difference between Iran and North Korea is that some parts of Iranian society want to engage with the outside world and are open to relations with the United States.
• Possible pitfalls to a deal include allegations of secret facilities and ongoing weapons research.
• New imposition of non-nuclear sanctions could impact the negotiating or implementation of a deal.
• The two sides seem unlikely to negotiate a deal by July 20. That is not necessarily a bad thing. But the limits of political trust will be tested if a deal is not reached after a six-month extension.
 
Daryl Kimball
Executive Director, Arms Control Association
 
  • Since 2007, U.S. intelligence has concluded that Iran has the capacity to produce nuclear weapons--if it chooses to do so. Tehran’s acquired nuclear knowledge cannot be easily destroyed.
  • A deal would not be built on trust, but on verification. The United States, for example, does not trust Russia but is able to work with it on issues of common concern.
  • A viable deal would establish verifiable limits on Iran’s program that will substantially increase the time it would take Tehran to build nuclear weapons. A comprehensive deal will also decrease the time necessary to detect and disrupt a breakout attempt.
  • A comprehensive deal would roll back Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity, block a plutonium path to a bomb and enhance the U.N. inspections regime
• Producing enough enriched uranium would be a key hurdle to Iran building a bomb. But it also would need to design and construct a nuclear device, integrate a warhead into a delivery system, and possibly conduct several explosive tests.
• Iran would need two to three months to produce one bomb’s worth of weapons-grade uranium with its current stockpile and operating centrifuges.
• Possible options for capping Iran’s enrichment capacity include banning enrichment beyond the five percent level indefinitely and limiting the size of Iran’s stockpile to near zero indefinitely. Also, enrichment at the Fordow facility could be halted.
• Rouhani may find it politically impossible to admit Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past.
 
Robert Litwak
Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations, and Director, International Security Studies, Wilson Center
 
  • For Iran, the nuclear issue is a proxy for a broader debate about Tehran’s relationship with the outside world.
  • For the United States, the nuclear issue is a surrogate for how Washington should deal with rogue or outlier states generally.
  • Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seems concerned that the nuclear issue is a slippery slope and that a deal could lead to more demands on other issues, such as human rights.
  • Iran does not necessarily have realistic expectations of the United States. Tehran has not revealed what it would be willing to give up for sanctions relief.
• Obama’s two-track strategy of pressure and engagement has sharpened the choice for Iran. The alternatives to a deal are not good for either side.
• Iran will need to weigh the domestic political cost and possible risk of regime legitimacy against the economic benefits of sanctions relief.
• Sanctions relief could be phased in, beginning with presidential waivers and later through congressional action.
• Even if Iran complies on the nuclear issue, other issues will remain, such as human rights violations and state sponsorship of terrorism. Disentangling the sanctions will be difficult.
• Iran does not currently perceive an existential threat that necessitates nuclear weapons for protection.
 
           To assess this period of pivotal diplomacy, an unprecedented coalition of eight Washington think tanks and organizations is hosting three discussions to coincide with the last three rounds of talks. Click here for a rundown of the first event on the disparate issues to be resolved and the many formulations for potential solutions.
 

           The coalition includes the U.S. Institute of Peace, RAND, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the Arms Control Association, the Center for a New American Security, the Stimson Center, the Partnership for a Secure America, and the Ploughshares Fund.

Click here for a factsheet on US-Iran tensions over timetables and terms.

 

Rouhani Visits Turkey to Boost Ties

           On June 9, Hassan Rouhani became the first Iranian president to officially visit Turkey in 18 years. The primary goal of the trip was to boost economic ties with Ankara. Rouhani was accompanied by a high profile 90-member trade delegation led by Iranian Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Mines Chairman Gholam-Hossein Shafei. Iranian ministers of foreign affairs, oil, finance and economy, interior, culture, telecommunications, and transport and urban development also went to Turkey, which is seeking a discount on natural gas imports from Iran. The two sides failed to agree on a price during the two-day visit. But the two countries signed 10 cooperation agreements on issues including tourism, joint ventures and customs cooperation.   


          Rouhani also discussed the growing threat of extremism in the region and the Syrian crisis. Relations between Ankara and Tehran have long been defined by competition and mutual suspicion. But the Syrian issue has particular strained relations since 2011. Turkey has taken the lead in supporting the Syrian opposition while Iran has remained a stalwart ally of the Assad regime. But Rouhani and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, agreed that instability “is in no one’s interest” and said they would cooperate on combating extremism and sectarianism. The following are excerpted remarks by Rouhani and Turkish leaders.
 
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
          “Iran calls for a Middle East without any nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction.
          “Iran and Turkey, the two important countries in the region, are determined to fight against extremism and terrorism. The fight against violence, extremism, sectarian conflicts and terrorism is Iran's major objective.
          “There is instability in our region and this situation is in no one's interest. Iran and Turkey are determined to increase their cooperation to establish safety and stability in the region.”
          June 9, 2014 in press conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul
 
            “We have decided to improve relations in gas, oil and electricity, even though there are some snags.
            “Everybody acknowledges both Turkey and Iran’s geopolitical importance. When these two countries come together, a link between the Gulf of Oman, the Black Sea and to the Mediterranean will be possible. In other words, connecting the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. That’s why relations between these two important countries are not only significant for Turkey and Iran but also for the development of entire region.
           “The price of the natural gas has multiple parameters and is fixed through a special formula. It’s not an easy thing. Everybody is focused only on the price, but there are other issues as well.
            “Violence and extremism rooted in our region are against the interests of all countries. The terrorist groups that have emerged in Syria and those – mainly Western countries - who have supported or tolerated them have already regretted that. Those who did not regret until today, will regret it tomorrow. The fight against terror is the duty of us all. It’s an obligation for the security and stability of our region.”
           June 9, 2014 in a joint press conference Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
 
           “Targeting $30 billion of annual trade balance requires increased activity of the private sector. Today the Turkish economy is moving in the right direction by ceding economic affairs to the private sector and Iran's private sector should also feel responsible and step onto the scene of action in a proper way.
           “Turkey is a bridge connecting to the West and Europe, while Iran is a bridge to the Far East; we should use these two countries as a bridge for regional development. A stable and developed Turkey makes us Iranians proud.”
           June 10, 2014 in a meeting with the Turkey-Iran Business Council
 
Turkish President Abdullah Gul
           “Our relations are not just about two countries. They are important for the region and the whole world.
           Turkey “strongly supported a deal that will help remove all the sanctions. We don’t want any country in our region to possess nuclear weapons. We maintain our desire for a Middle East cleared of weapons of mass destruction.”
           June 9, 2014 in a press conference with President Rouhani
 
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
           “I hope we will reach a deal so that we can provide more Iranian gas to Turkish consumers. I hope our ministers will close the deal fast.
           “Of course, we are looking ways how to provide cheaper gas to our people’s consumption and to produce cheaper electricity.”
           June 9, 2014 in a press conference with President Rouhani

 

Nuclear Timelines: U.S. Perspective

            The following factsheet outlines the U.S.-Iran tensions over timelines and terms of a final nuclear agreement.

1) How long will a deal last?
 
      The United States, along with the other five major powers, is looking for a deal measured in years, even decades, that will limit or curtail Iran’s current program and ensure its “break-out” time is a year or more. A long-term deal would also provide space for confidence-building and improving relations that might alter Tehran’s strategic calculus about the need for a bomb. 
 
      Iran wants a short-term deal that a) does not appear to compromise or intrude on its sovereignty, b) lifts sanctions related to nuclear issues as soon as possible and c) does not severely limit its capacity to enrich uranium, which it says would jeopardize its ability to provide “practical needs” for civil nuclear energy.
 
2) What are the possible phases of a deal—and over what kind of time periods?
 
      The U.S. is considering a deal that plays out in several action-for-action stages, modeled on the six-month Joint Plan of Action. The interim deal is sequentially releasing funds (eventually totaling up to $7 billion) as Iran limits its capabilities, including “down-blending” and converting its medium-enriched uranium stockpiles. All of these actions, however, have been reversible. The U.S. wants any new deal to include actions that are either irreversible or harder to reverse—and that last many years. It will likely seek to remove sanctions slowly in order to maintain leverage in later phases of the deal.
 
            Iran is likely to agree to a phased deal, but it is seeking the removal of sanctions at an early stage and the lifting of any limits on uranium enrichment much sooner than the six major powers want.
 
3) What are the goals in changing the breakout time for Iran to develop enough fissile material for nuclear weapons?  
 
          The U.S. estimates the “breakout” time—or the time to enrich enough uranium to fuel a bomb—is about two months. Actually building and fielding a bomb requires additional steps and time. But once Iran has enough fissile material, it could “weaponize” at smaller sites less detectable or vulnerable to airstrikes. So the U.S. wants new technical limits and safeguards to lengthen breakout time to a year or more.
 
            Iran has so far rejected proposals for lengthening breakout time. Tehran argues that its acceptance of more extensive international inspections and monitoring should provide sufficient confidence that its program is peaceful.

4) How long might new international monitoring last?
 
     The U.S. is pushing for more international inspections monitoring under terms of the Additional Protocol, which allows expanded access to information and inspections of undeclared sites. If ratified by Iran, the Additional Protocol would be unlimited in duration. The U.S. is thought to be seeking additional monitoring beyond the Additional Protocol that would last many years.
 
 
            Iran will likely agree to implement the Additional Protocol but will resist further intrusive measures that go beyond the practices applied to other signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
 
5) How long might it take the International Atomic Energy Agency to finish investigating Iran’s possible military dimensions (PMD), a diplomatic process separate from the Vienna talks? And how might that process impact the broader deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers?
 
      The U.S. and the IAEA want guarantees that Iran will finally answer long-standing questions about its activities with possible military dimensions (PMD) in the past. Iran’s failure to provide answers about its activities before 2003 has triggered a series of ever-tightening sanctions since 2006. The U.S. is likely to push for a provision in the comprehensive agreement that mandates Iranian cooperation to complete the PMD investigation by 2015.
 
      Iran has begun to provide some answers to the IAEA. But the investigation is now expected to extend beyond the July 20 deadline of the Vienna talks.
 
 
 
 
6) What is the timeline between detection of possible violations and response? 
 
            The U.S. believes the current IAEA inspections regime would likely detect any Iranian attempt to produce highly enriched uranium at its declared sites within days. The issue is instead how fast U.S. intelligence could determine if Iran did work at new secret facilities. The U.S. wants more extensive inspections of undeclared sites to detect and deter a possible “sneak-out” scenario.
            Technically, the U.S. could act militarily within days if deemed necessary. But depending on the violation, the U.S. also might want more time to take diplomatic actions at the U.N. or other diplomatic arenas to impose costs for any violations, which could slow a response.
 
           Iran claims it has no secret sites and no intention of building a bomb.
 
7) What are the possible timelines for sanctions relief under the deal?
 
     The U.S. president can use his authority to reduce some sanctions imposed by executive order and/or he can invoke legislative waivers on current sanctions legislation. These could be done fairly swiftly, in days or weeks. But Congress has to vote to remove sanctions that it imposed by law, which could be a lengthy, complicated and highly political process requiring many months. Sanctions relief could be sequenced to allow the president to issue initial waivers and other measures, leaving congressional legislation for a later stage.
 
      Iran has made clear it wants international and U.S.-imposed sanctions removed as soon as possible. President Hassan Rouhani needs to demonstrate that his policy of engagement can deliver sanctions relief, renewed foreign investment, and help improve Iran’s economy.
 
Photo credits: Amano and Zarif by Mueller / MSC [CC-BY-3.0-de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Nuclear Timelines: Iran's Perspective

            In a new report, a quasi-official Iranian website has published its own timeline of how long it would take to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb -- the so-called breakout time. It claims Tehran would need at least 18 months to produce enough enriched uranium for one bomb. But that timeline differs drastically from the U.S. estimate. Secretary of State John Kerry has claimed that Iran only needs two months to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapon.
           The report comes as Iran is holding bilateral meetings with the world's six major powers before another round of nuclear talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a link to it on June 11.


           The report claims Iran would need more than seven years to produce one bomb’s worth of plutonium.The United States, however, has estimated that Tehran would only need 6 months to produce enough plutonium for a bomb. The following is an excerpt from the press release with a link to the full text.

 
How Long Would an Iranian ‘Breakout’ Really Take?
 
            In the report, the authors posit that with its current uranium enrichment capabilities, estimated at between 6860 and 10800 Separative Work Units (SWU), it would take Iran optimistically a minimum of 36 months and pessimistically more than 42 months to ‘break out’.
 
 
           The authors argue that it would take between 12 to 18 months to complete the first step of the uranium route, which is to produce enough high enriched uranium (HEU) for a single bomb. However, they underscore that “the prerequisite of the processes outlined as involved in high enriched uranium (HEU) production is a reconfiguration of cascade piping and other auxiliary equipment.” This, they say, would take a minimum of 6 months. The report states that as the IAEA is present in Iran, conducting announced and unannounced inspections, and has daily access to Iran’s enrichment facilities, “it can provide early warning to the international community at the very beginning of the reconfiguration of cascades.
 
           Thus, the mere production of enough fissile material for a single bomb is estimated at 18-24 months, in sharp contrast to US Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion in April that this process would take 2 months.
 
           The report, “How long would an Iranian ‘breakout’ really take?”, further argues that the subsequent step towards a bomb, which is the construction of a unit able to produce pure uranium metal, would take at least an additional 12 months. Following the latter, the authors argue that the metal would then have to be shaped, a process which “itself takes an additional 6 months and cannot be carried out in parallel with the conversion.” They thus argue that steps 2 and 3 would take a combined 18 months, at least half of which must be carried out after the production of enough fissile material for a bomb.
 
           The report does not account for the time needed to design a warhead system, stating that “Iran has no experience in this field, and thus has no experience of the complicated relevant mechanisms and technology.
 
           The report also provides a scientific review of the steps involved should Iran hypothetically adopt the plutonium route towards a bomb. The time needed to hypothetically develop a plutonium bomb is estimated at a minimum of 90 months, or 7.5 years.
 
 
           The authors point out that there is no significant amount of plutonium in Iran, and tie proliferation allegations to the commissioning of the Arak Heavy Water (IR-40) reactor, which is planned for 2015. They point out that “even after commissioning, the reactor must work for at least two years to produce the required fissile material.
 
           The authors further posit that plutonium would then need to be extracted from the irradiated fuel and purified to nuclear weapon grade. They underscore that Iran has no “hot cell”, which is needed for plutonium extraction and further processes. The time required for construction of such a facility is estimated at a minimum of 4 to 5 years, while the commissioning and operation would require another 1 to 2 years. The report states that “Iran has repeatedly said that it has no plan to engage in such activities.” Indeed, any Iranian attempt to engage in such activity will be detected by the IAEA, which is engaged in robust inspections in Arak.
 
           The authors further argue that the material “would then need to go through metallurgical processes, as with uranium metal, but with major differences”, estimating that this step would take a minimum of 6 months. Lastly, the report argues that the time and technology requirements for development of a uranium warhead are also valid for a plutonium device, and “will add to the hypothetical time of breakout with plutonium.”
 
Click here for the full report.
 

 

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