UN Security Council resolutions that Iran must stop 'all' enrichment activities are outmoded, unrealistic, and hurt the Iran talks. A new resolution should promise to lift sanctions if the parties reach a reasonable agreement on Iran's nuclear program.
The latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and “P5+1” international negotiators ended earlier this month with no more than an agreement to resume negotiations at a later date. As usual, pundits on both sides offered their assessments about why the talks did not succeed.
But one factor – UN Security Council resolutions that Iran “suspend all enrichment-related activities” – may play more of a role in fruitless negotiations than most commentators realize.
Since 2006, when the Security Council first made that demand, it has repeated it in three subsequent resolutions, the latest being Resolution 1929, adopted in June 2010. But the demand to cease all uranium enrichment is overly restrictive, essentially denying Iran the ability to develop even peaceful nuclear power. For the negotiation process, this restrictiveness poses several problems.
First, the resolutions are out of touch with the realities on the ground in Iran – namely, enrichment taking place that is not at bomb grade (at least not yet). They are also out of date, neglecting all the developments and understandings that both sides have achieved throughout various rounds of negotiations since 2006.
Today, after years of multilateral negotiations, most negotiating countries seem to have adopted a more pragmatic and practical approach and no longer truly expect a full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities. Nonetheless, the shadow of the Security Council’s unrealistic and outdated request still looms over the talks.
Second, because of the Security Council’s radical stance on enrichment, world powers cannot legally offer Iran any meaningful relief on international sanctions in exchange for fair and reasonable concessions from Tehran. In the present climate, agreeing to anything short of a full suspension of Iran’s nuclear activities would breach UN resolutions, and that would set a bad precedent and dent the credibility of the UN collective security regime.