The international community has not had much success trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For years, it was split on how much pressure to apply, and Tehran deftly exploited that division.
Obama took office, the major powers have imposed increasingly strong sanctions
aimed at Iran’s banks and oil trade. It is crucial to maintain that cohesion as
a second round of negotiations opens this week in Baghdad.
The initial talks in Istanbul last month were encouraging
enough for both sides to agree to meet again. This time, Iran will have to
offer concrete proposals to address core concerns. It could move significantly
toward a solution by suspending all its uranium enrichment activities, which
the United Nations Security Council first demanded in 2006. At a minimum, it
needs to stop enriching to 20 percent purity (well beyond the 5 percent needed
for civilian nuclear programs and a few steps from bomb grade) and to close its
Fordo nuclear facility. If Iran does that, the United States and its allies —
Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — are expected to offer to take the
stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country, fabricate it into
fuel rods for Tehran’s medical research reactor and help with safety upgrades
to Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
What the Iranians really want, however, is an end to the
sanctions, which are wreaking havoc on the economy. They may show just enough
flexibility to encourage Russia and China to push to ease punishments
prematurely. Tehran has played that game many times before, while plowing ahead
with its nuclear program.
If Iran makes credible gestures, sanctions should be
eased, but not significantly until it takes irreversible steps to roll back its
nuclear activities. The international community must make that clear before the
Iranians start making promises.