According to Secretary of State Condolezza Rice, the U.S. is prepared to enter into talks with Iran, if Tehran gives up its on-going uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. Secretary Rice indicates that Washington and its European allies are prepared to offer incentives for compliance, and possible sanctions for non-compliance. Dr. Rice's comments came after a series of press reports indicated that the U.S. was considering direct negotiations with Iran on its nuclear issue.
We've expressed major misgivings about this diplomatic track, but the Bush Administration appears fully committed. There is a very good possibility that Iran may merely use the talks to push its propaganda points, berate the U.S., stall for time, and give its nuclear engineers the months or years they may need to produce an Iranian bomb. Despite that possibility, the White House seems to believe that it can somehow reach an accord with Tehran, and those favoring a diplomatic solution have the upper hand in policy debates, at least for now.
The State Department insists that it is not "negotiating with terrorists," given Iran's long support for Hizballah and other Middle Eastern terrorist groups. In fact, there doesn't appear to be any effort to link the proposed talks with broader discussions on Tehran's terrorist ties and other issues of concern. In diplomatic terms, that type of linkage might be "premature."
On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with establishing firm, non-negotiable conditions for talks between the U.S. and Iran, focused squarely on the nuclear issue. Here's a list of things we would demand from Tehran as a starting point for any direct talks:
1) Immediate suspension of all uranium enrichment activities.
2) No notice inspections of all known/suspected nuclear facilities
3) Installation of monitoring cameras at all known/suspected sites
4) Short-notice transfer of all enrichment efforts to a Russian facility, with all activities monitored by the IAEA
5) Clearly defined limits on the amount and purity of enriched uranium that can be produced
6) Immediate closure of the Iranian facilities at Khondab (heavy water plant), Esfahan (uranium enrichment), and Natanz (centrifuge operations). The nuclear reactor at Bushehr will remain in operation, but only under strict international supervision
7) Short-term inspections of all enriched uranium produced domestically by Iran, and a strict accounting of all inventories
8) Agreement to "Open Skies"-style overflights, to monitor known and suspected facilities
9) Inspection of all know/suspected medium-range missiles and support facilities
10) Medium-term dismantlement of the Khnodab, Esfahan and Natanz facilities
11) Renounce any intention to develop nuclear weapons, and provide complete transparency on nuclear issues, similar to Libya's actions when it abandoned its nuclear program
Intrusive? Hardly. In fact, such conditions have been a part of nuclear accords proposed and signed in the past. If Iran is serious about these talks, they'd be willing to comply. Refusal to meet these conditions might offer real insight into the Iranian mindset, and tell the Bush Administration if this option should actually be pursued.