If Iran agrees to cap its uranium enrichment activities, there is reason to be skeptical it will honor such an agreement. Its president, Hassan Rouhani, promised temporary freezes in the program before only to buy time.
In Geneva, Switzerland last week, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany reportedly proposed that Iran suspend its nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. A similar proposal was made in February.
A deal didn’t materialize. Diplomats who were involved in the process anonymously accused the French of scuttling the accord by demanding tougher concessions from the Iranians at the last minute.
Given how Iran has previously behaved in these talks, that wouldn’t seem altogether unreasonable.
In a speech delivered before his country’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution some years ago, Rouhani boasted that as top nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005, he deliberately stalled negotiations to allow Iran’s nuclear efforts to continue. “In fact, by creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan,” he said — which now hosts a facility that converts yellowcake into nuclear fuel.
The goal, Rouhani added at the time, was to eventually present other powers with a fait accompli. “If one day we are able to complete the fuel cycle and the world sees that it has no choice — that we do possess the technology — then the situation will be different,” he predicted.
When he was accused of suspending the program in a television interview last May, Rouhani again argued that “necessary opportunities” were created to ensure that it could continue. “The day I handed over the nuclear file, we had 1,700 or so centrifuges ready,” he said. “The day I received the nuclear file we had 150.” During one of his first news conferences as president, Rouhani said the days of suspending enrichment were “behind us.”
Yet he was prepared to halt an expansion in Iran’s enrichment activities if other powers agreed to relax some of the sanctions that have crippled its economy?
Perhaps Rouhani is sincere, this time. But don’t blame the French for doubting it.