François Nicoullaud's diplomatic career (1964 to 2005) brought him to New York, Chile, Berlin, Bombay, and finally to Budapest and Tehran as French ambassador. In the French Foreign Ministry he was in charge of cultural development as well as non-proliferation issues.
*What the U.S. Can Give*
A possible first gesture from the U.S. side could be to reinstate the waivers allowing the sale to Iran of commercial passenger aircraft, as provided by article 22 of the JCPOA. Negotiations between Iranian companies and Boeing as well as Airbus did start after the conclusion of the Vienna arrangement. They were interrupted, however, by Washington’s withdrawal. They provided for the acquisition of more than 200 planes divided equally between Boeing and Airbus. The completion of this deal would be highly beneficial to Iran, due to the precarious state of its fleet, but also to Boeing, which is going through a difficult period owing to the recent crashes of its 737 Max airliners, and to the U.S. economy at large. The prospect of creating thousands of jobs in the American aircraft industry would be a positive signal in an election year. Last but not least, it would also benefit the European economy.
Another possible American gesture would be to reintroduce some waivers for Iranian oil’s main clients. This would reduce tensions on the oil international market and improve Washington’s relations with its traditional friends: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan among others, not to mention Europe. And again, reasonable gasoline prices at U.S. gas pumps in an election year would be welcome. A third possible gesture would be to ease the restrictions imposed on the Iranian banking sector, provided, of course, that Iran finally brings its legislation into conformity with international norms against the financing of terrorism.
*What Iran Can Give*
How could Iran reciprocate such a bounty of gestures? The adoption of anti-terrorism international norms currently feeds a bitter internal debate in Iran. But the prospect of an attractive package could lead to a favourable decision by the supreme leader and thus settle the matter. However, this would not be enough by far, to satisfy the Trump administration. Another important Iranian gesture would be needed to tip the scales.
Like Edgar Allan Poe’s purloined letter, it’s hidden in plain sight. As long as Iran is committed by the JCPOA provisions not to exceed a stockpile of 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU), it has absolutely no interest in spinning the 5,000 or so centrifuges authorized by the same JCPOA. Their potential output goes far beyond this limit: 1,500 centrifuges would amply suffice to produce a couple of hundred kilograms of LEU per year. And again, the real challenge for Iran is not to run a large number of outdated centrifuges (the present IR1 model dates back from the early 1970s), but rather to produce and operate efficient, up-to-date centrifuges when the JCPOA ends. There would be therefore no drawback for Iran in announcing a voluntary switch-off of about two-thirds of its presently active centrifuges. All of this would take place under the supervision of the International Agency for Atomic Energy, in return for Washington’s own commitments—and for as long as it keeps its commitments.
Such reciprocal gestures would constitute the main elements of a fair deal that both parties could celebrate. Donald Trump could claim to obtain much more than Barack Obama did in curbing Iran’s nuclear activities without giving more than what was already contained in the JCPOA. Hassan Rouhani could moderate some of the most disruptive American sanctions while preserving the legitimacy and future development of the Iranian nuclear program. The combining of all these elements into a successful venture is the job of the diplomats, which plays on the strengths of the Europeans. With some luck and hard work, they could be proud of having helped defuse one of this era’s most serious crises.
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