LOOKING HARD FOR A NUCLEAR AGREEMENT WITH IRAN THAT WASN’T THERE
The Swiss city of Lausanne has long been one of the world’s favourite spots for international meetings. Some meetings have been more successful than others. In 1923 a conference there finally settled Turkey’s place in Europe after World War One, and in 1932 another conference suspended the war reparations payments imposed on the defeated states. But when the world met in Lausanne in 1949, it failed to resolve the disputes arising out of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War – the last best chance for years to bring peace to the Middle East.
Earlier this year, a group of six states plus a representative of the European Union met with Iran in Lausanne to work out an agreement to curb Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons. To help “spur” the negotiations – which actually began in 2002 (when Canada was still involved) – the parties had set themselves a deadline of the end of March. Since the negotiators had failed to meet earlier deadlines in July and November last year, it wasn’t entirely surprising there was still no agreement when the latest deadline arrived on March 31. But they were close, sort of. According to a spokesperson for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the sides had reached “agreement in principle on a framework outlining elements of a final deal to be reached by June 30”. Two days later, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced the negotiators had achieved “consensus on the key parameters of an arrangement that, once implemented, will give the international community confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is and will remain exclusively peaceful”.
Reaching agreement on a “framework” would represent no small accomplishment – given that Iran doesn’t want any curbs on its nuclear weapons program and is only talking in order to get relief from the economic sanctions imposed on it. As it happens, the parties never agreed to anything in writing. They had been working on a “preliminary agreement” in which they had hoped to detail the “key elements” and, as Lavrov had confirmed on March 31, to put “on paper in the next few hours or a day at the most”. But at the last minute, it seems, the Iranians baulked and threatened to leave the talks if they couldn’t get the language they wanted. What would have remained, however, wasn’t “solid enough”, at least as far French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and perhaps others were concerned – and they successfully called the Iranians’ bluff.
In the circumstances, the best that could be salvaged was a joint statement (i.e. press release) issued by the EU “High Representative” and the Iranian foreign minister which described in three vaguely worded paragraphs what “solutions” had been worked out. The fact that none of the other parties signed speaks volumes about how little had in fact been accomplished.
In the days that followed, the United States issued what it described as “Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” regarding Iran’s nuclear program. The document consisted of four pages of detail which the State Department claimed – clearly disingenuously — had been “decided at Lausanne”. Disappointingly, the British went along with the charade. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced that the parties had “agreed the key parameters of a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear programme”, an accomplishment he described as “well beyond what many of us thought possible even 18 months ago” and a “testament to the persistence and willingness of all sides to be flexible in finding solutions to seemingly intractable problems”. The French and Germans settled for “cautiously” welcoming the outcome in Lausanne while warning that there were still “very complex issues that need work”.
So what emerged from Lausanne was (a) a joint statement by an unelected EU representative and Iran which hadn’t been endorsed by the six other states involved in the negotiations, (b) a unilateral US claim about what Iran had agreed to which Iran clearly had not, (c) individual announcements by three European states about the varying degrees of “progress” achieved, and (d) silence from Russia and China.
They looked hard for an agreement in Lausanne, but there wasn’t one there.