1. How can the ’framework’ be implemented?
· Before the ‘framework’ was reached there was a big risk that the US and perhaps a few other states, would act as self appointed policemen and – as in the case of Iraq in 2003 – ignore the Security Council and deal a military strike against the Assad government, claiming that they were reacting on behalf of the world to enforce the ban on the use of chemical weapons. The framework now tells us that the US and Russia will go to institutions that the world has set up – OPCW and the Security Council — to push for a plan how the world can react to a violation of world law. Instead of undermining these institutions the framework strengthens them.
· The first acute point for the implementation of the ‘framework’ is the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program. It should be doable, as the government has assumed the obligations of the Chemical Weapons Convention by acceding to it and accepted to take a ‘fast track’. It seems improbable that the government would go back on this commitment. If the Syrian chemical weapons ever had any value, they have now lost it. Any use of them – or obstruction of their elimination — would surely bring a military reaction.
· There will be considerable practical problems in ensuring that all stocks of the weapons are identified and eliminated in a limited time and in the midst of a civil war. Some mechanism will be needed under the Security Council to ensure the removal and destruction. The framework suggests that participation by experts from the P5 may be useful. This is probably true. The presence of US, Russian, Chinese, French and British experts in the groups might well help deter anyone tempted to impede their work.
2. What role should the US play in today’s world?
· In the lecture that President Obama gave when accepting the Nobel prize in 2009 he said that ‘all nations – strong and weak alike – must adhere to standards that govern the use of force’, but he added that ‘like any head of state’ he did ‘reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my country’. Seen against the background of politics in the US he could hardly have gone closer to a commitment to the UN Charter’s restrictions on the use of armed force. He showed understanding for the need for an international legal order that his opponents showed contempt.
· When explaining why he walked back from unilateral action in Syria he said that he did not like the role of ‘world police’ and that the US public was of the same view. Let us hope they continue to follow that line rather than opening for a fatal undermining of the UN Charter’s restrictions on the use of armed force. Obviously, future pressures for unilateral actions will be easier to resist, if the five permanent members of the Security Council rather than narrowly pursuing national interests seriously shoulder their responsibility vis-à-vis the world to engage in cooperation against aggression, genocide and grave violations of world law. The US has been central in the construction of the current world security order. It would be paradoxical if after the end of the Cold War that paralyzed the system, the US were to start an erosion of it.
3. Does the Obama administration want to implement the Iraq scenario in Syria?
· It seemed to be on its way to do so, when it was ready to rely on its own intelligence and not even wait for the report of the UN inspections that had been sent to Syria at the request of many governments, including the US. It also seemed to follow the Iraq scenario in the readiness to launch an armed action without asking any authorization of the Security Council. I was critical of this attitude. The use of chemical weapons was a terrible act, but as President Obama has remarked, there was no imminent danger to the US. What the US planned to defend was, in my reading, the credibility of warnings issued by the US president. One such warning was that his stand on intervention in Syria would change, if chemical weapons were used.
· He has subsequently explained that the issue of chemical weapons was much less significant than the issue of Iran getting closer to nuclear weapons. In simpler language: action putting into effect the warning given to Syria was seen as required in order to send Iran the message that the US warnings of armed action against Iran on the nuclear issue should be taken seriously. However, that message would seem to have been amply conveyed by the presence of the US navy in the Persian Gulf. Adding a strike on Syria was hardly needed.
4. Will the Kerry-Lavrov deal work?
· What is now in focus – the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program – while practically taxing, may be the least difficult part. The deal also confirms the commitment from the G8 meeting in June 2013 to stop the bloodshed – presumably under a cease fire – and to set up a conference that can create a ‘transitional governing body’. With more than 100 000 dead and millions of refugees these tasks are as urgent as they are politically daunting.
· It seems unlikely that the armed struggle could not continue at a significant scale, if the supply of arms, munitions, fighters, intelligence and money did not continue from the sources that are now reported to provide it: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia and Iran and others. The struggle began as an uprising against an oppressive government. It is, I believe, through the large scale infusions from the outside that it has become a full scale horrible civil war. If the outside suppliers stop pouring gasoline on the fire, it will end. The Security Council, in particular the P 5, will need to show wisdom, statesmanship and use of heir power and leverage to bring about such a stop and a conference of relevant parties.
· It is welcome that President Obama has declared that Iran must be invited to the conference. Its participation in the diplomacy leading to the conference is equally important. The civil war in Syria is, I believe, in part a result of concerns and fears in some countries about the power and influence of Iran. If these fears can be allayed – not least through progress on the nuclear issue — agreement about and at the conference would become less difficult.
5. Is the UN inspectors report biased?
· I do not think so, but there may be more material to examine. The inspectors have declared their intention to return to Syria to complete their mission that included more cases than the gas attack near Damascus.
· If member states have evidence they think relevant they could present it.
6. Will Iran be given a seat at the Geneva talks?
Yes, it seems so.
7. What link between the nuclear dispute and a solution to the Syrian issue?
· As explained above, if the nuclear issue is defused, it would contribute to reduce fears in the region about Iranian power ambitions and the relation a new Syrian government might develop with Iran would become less important to other states in the region. This should make the task of the conference somewhat less difficult.
8. What steps should the sides take in the nuclear dispute?
· Iran is right, in my view to insist that under the NPT, to which it is a party, it has a right to enrich uranium for peaceful uses, but the treaty does not impose a duty on any party to enrich. Iran is free to decide unilaterally whether and how much it wishes to enrich. It is also free, if it should find it advantageous, to make commitments to other states on the matter. In the past complicated deals have been discussed and failed. There are now reports about a new deal that might be more likely to work out. In the present tense situation a deal would probably have to be relatively simple and aim at immediate effects. It would not remove the need for ideas about broader longer term solutions.
· To defuse acute tension, it seems likely to me, will require that not more uranium be enriched to below 5 or 20 % (and put in stock) than is practically needed for the declared peaceful nuclear program. A commitment to this effect could be made and carried into effect unilaterally by Iran with full transparency to the IAEA or it could be laid down in an international agreement that also provided a precise quid pro quo to Iran. The latter path would be the familiar and conventional way to go – possibly calling for long and arduous bargaining. A unilateral commitment by Iran would not guarantee any immediate quid pro quo, but it would avoid the risk of drawn out lengthy negotiations about inflated bargaining positions. The action carried into effect unilaterally would reduce tensions and would be likely to lead to positive reciprocal action.
· Long term I think the countries in the Middle East region should seek to agree on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and – as important – free of installations that are needed for their production – e.g. in the nuclear sphere, enrichment plants and reprocessing plants for plutonium production. Israel would have to do away with its nuclear weapons, stocks of fissile material and reprocessing facilities. Iran would have to dismantle enrichment plants and all other states in the region would have to commit themselves to acquiring neither weapons nor facilities needed for the production of weapons. Naturally, there would have to be inspection going beyond IAEA safeguards, security assurance of various kinds and assurances of the supply from the outside of fuel for nuclear reactors in the region. This reply to an interview does not give room to explain the idea. If, as unsuccessfully discussed last year, a meeting came about in Helsinki to focus on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, the thoughts advanced above could be explored.
9. Halting Iranian enrichment of uranium to 20 %?
· Answered in part above.
· Seems like a good idea. I believe Iran already has more at that level than it practically need.
10. Do the powers have the will to solve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program?
· I do not know. The chips put one the table at Alma Ata about the sale of spare parts for air planes, purchase of gold and no further tightening of sanctions did not, in my view, indicate a serious will.
· Nevertheless, here is another day. President Obama has declared that he prefers diplomacy to the use of armed force. I think he is sincere.
11. Should we expect an improvement in Iran-EU and Iran-US relations?
· Yes, style and words matter in international relations. They should be chosen with precision and an awareness that what is directed to a domestic or regional audience is audible and has effects in the rest of the world.
· The US is closely allied with Israel. Even before a solution is aching out on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict verbal outside threats against Israel’s existence are unhelpful to a diplomatic solution.