University of Notre Dame
Kroc Institutde for International Peace Studies

Seyed Hossein Mousavian

With the victory of a moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, in Iran, there is renewed hope for a diplomatic breakthrough in the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program. There also are encouraging signs at the White House. President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union address called on Iran’s leaders to “recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution.” At the same time, however, there is a risk that if the current Western policy of pressure on Iran continues, we will inch toward a military confrontation.

The Iranian nuclear dilemma is centered on the legitimate rights of Iran to enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is not about building a nuclear bomb.


During President Khatami’s nuclear talks (2003 to 2005) with the three European powers (UK, France, and Germany), when I was a member of the negotiating team, Iran demonstrated far-reaching overtures to resolve the nuclear dispute. Iran implemented the maximum level of transparency to which a member-state of the NPT can commit by accepting the Additional Protocol and Subsidiary Arrangement. We also demonstrated Iran’s readiness to commit to all confidence-building measures, assuring the peaceful nature of the nuclear program—forever. Regrettably, Iran and its European counterparts failed to reach a final agreement because the U.S. continued to deny the legitimate rights of Iran under the NPT.

Iran has demonstrated readiness to commit to confidence-building measures, assuring the peaceful nature of the nuclear program—forever.

“We were getting somewhere, with respect, and then it’s a complicated story,” former British foreign minister Jack Straw told the BBC in July 2013. “The Americans actually pulled the rug from under Khatami’s feet, and the Americans got what they didn’t want.”


The most important initiative during President Ahmadinejad’s period was the Russian step-by-step proposal introduced in the summer of 2011, which addressed all demands required by the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The proposal entailed the following points:

  1. implement the Additional Protocol;
  2. implement the Subsidiary Arrangement Code 3.1;
  3. limit the level of enrichment to 5 percent;
  4. halt installation of new generation of centrifuges;
  5. limit the number of enrichment sites to one;
  6. address the IAEA’s concerns on all technical ambiguities including Possible Military Dimension issues (PMDs); and
  7. suspend enrichment for three months in order to address the requirement of the United Nations and the IAEA resolutions.

President Ahmadinejad confirmed that Iran is ready to accept the Russian plan to solve the Iranian nuclear problem. “The Islamic Republic of Iran has positively received Russia’s idea for a step-by-step solution and is ready to prepare suggestions for cooperation in the nuclear sphere,” reads the statement by the former president, which was posted on his official website. However the U.S. and Europeans declined the Russian Plan.


Iran’s ability to enrich uranium at 20 percent, a possible gateway to weapons-grade material, is the main concern for the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). On Feb 12, 2010, at the onset of enriching 20 percent, Ali Akbar Salehi, the then-head of Iran’s nuclear program, publicly announced that Iran would be ready to stop enriching at 20 percent if the West provided the fuel rods for Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The U.S. declined this offer, believing Iran would not have capability to convert the 20 percent to fuel rods.

In October 2011, having mastered the technology for producing the fuel rods, President Ahmadinejad reiterated Tehran’s readiness to “immediately” stop production of low enriched uranium of 20 percent, provided world powers would give Iran the nuclear material. Once again, the U.S. rejected the offer and increased unilateral and multilateral sanctions.

As a sovereign state and a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is entitled to uranium enrichment.

These three major historical episodes indicate that the Iranians have sought to defuse the crisis. Iran, as a sovereign state and a signatory to the NPT, is entitled to uranium enrichment. I believe that the crux of the matter is the necessity for Washington to recognize the legitimate right of Iran to enrich under NPT for peaceful civilian purposes. Doing so will pave the way for an immediate nuclear deal, but, without this recognition, no substantial agreement will be possible.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian is the former Iranian ambassador to the U.S. and spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiators. He is currently a research scholar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. His latest book is The Iranian Nuclear Crisis: A Memoir (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace).