Jeffrey LewisBest Option in a Bad Situation

Calling it “the best option in a bad situation,” Geoff Forden and John Thomson have another paper out recommending a multinational nuclear arrangement to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program:

Iran would lease all its enrichment-related equipment and facilities to the partnership and would undertake not to enrich and reprocess except through the partnership.

The partnership would also lease URENCO centrifuges and install them in batches, the first in a few months, the last (making a total of, say, 50,000) seven or more years later. Until the first batch comes in to operation, the partnership would use Iranian P1 centrifuges; all of which would be phased out as soon as the URENCO centrifuges begin to operate. (We estimate that in this period the existing P1s could not produce enough HEU for a weapon.) To preserve secrecy, the sensitive parts of the P1’s would be “black boxed” and handled only by Iranians;

I think MNAs are a promising route to move beyond safeguards in providing confidence that states remain in compliance with their nonproliferaiton options … although I have my doubts about whether the Iranians would take this deal.

Anyway, I thought I would put together a little bibliography on MNAs.


  1. hass (History)

    Iranians have indicated that MNAs would be acceptable as long as they’re on Iranian soil, and fully involve Iranian technicians/scientists.

    See eg Javad Zarif’s editorial in the NYT/IHT of Aril 6 2006 which listed among Iran’s compromise points:

    “Accept foreign partners, both public and private, in our uranium enrichment program. Iran has recently suggested the establishment of regional consortiums on fuel-cycle development that would be jointly owned and operated by countries possessing the technology and placed under atomic agency safeguards.”

    See also Ahmadinejad’s offer made during his UN speech:

    ”[A]s a further confidence building measure and in order to provide the greatest degree of transparency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment program in Iran. This represents the most far reaching step, outside all requirements of the NPT, being proposed by Iran as a further confidence building measure.”

    Of course the US has consistently refused these options, thus leading the Iranians to conclude that the the nuclear issue is just a pretext:

    ” ‘I would like you to write this down,’ he said,speaking through an interpreter. ‘If we backed down onthe nuclear issue, the U.S. would have found faultwith our medical doctors researching stem cells.’ ”

    The German foreign minister has also indicated that such a solution would be acceptable to them – though the US quickly pressed him back to toeing line about “not one spinning centrifuge”

  2. Pavel

    The catch with the multinational arrangements is that they all have a mechanism that makes them unworkable – they assume that the “client country” does not have full control over the facility. Which means that in a precarious situation like this one with Iran, the “multinationals” would turn off the facility (or blow it up). But what’s the point then? Why would anyone want to rely on a guarantee that is designed to be taken away at exactly the moment when a country needs it? Had someone in the West (IAEA, Urenco, any individual country) had physical control over the enrichment facilities in Iran, the facility would have been stopped shortly after first allegations about a secret program appeared. Which would have been about ten years ago. This is (partly) why Iran believes that it needs its own facility.

    If one wants to demonstrate to Iran (and everyone else) that guarantees of access to nuclear fuel are serious, one should get serious about that. Let Russia finish the work on the Bushehr reactor and ship the fuel. If there are issues with Iran’s compliance with its NPT obligations, deal with those. Impose sanctions, if necessary. Or even bomb the offending facilities. But let the Bushehr reactor run and supply it with fuel.

  3. Andy (History)

    Those are good points Pavel.

    Additionally, wouldn’t such agreements, especially as clarified by Hass, lead to transferring enrichment technology? It seems that such agreements have a fatal flaw if a country, such as Iran, is able to master the technology and then reproduce it elsewhere outside the facilities established in the agreement. How is that significantly better than standard safeguards?

  4. hass (History)

    Iranians – or any country – “could” obtain enrichment technology (which they’re entitled to have) and transfer it elsewhere to build bombs. That genie is already out of the bottle. Right now, there are about 40 countries that “could” develop nuclear arms. In the 10 year time frame often ascribed to Iran’s nuclear weaponization, practically any country “could” also build nukes.

  5. Jeffrey Lewis

    Seriously, people, I am getting sick of approving comments that are just kind of “how I feel” about this or that.

  6. Pavel

    >I am getting sick of approving comments that are just kind of “how I feel” about this or that

    I guess I should save you the trouble, so I won’t post comments in your blog again.