Vienna Talks: Watershed Moment for Nuclear Negotiations?

Atomic-atomic--atoms---4425Undoubtedly, in recent years, a great concern rocking our globe is that of the creation or proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). How the international platform has dealt with these nuclear issues has been varied.  One of these methods, nuclear diplomacy, has been in use this week at the Vienna talks.

China, France, Russia, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom (otherwise known as the P5+1) were back at the drawing board with Iran to discuss and outline a framework for the future of the country’s nuclear agenda. In November 2013, an interim deal was struck between the two sides, which allowed for an initial six-month process of frequent inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a restriction on nuclear activities. Up until and during this week’s talks in Vienna, Iran has claimed that its nuclear programme has been conducted for peaceful purposes and that it was only ever exercising its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to produce nuclear energy. The truth of this claim has been difficult to determine due to the fact that uranium enriched beyond the level needed for nuclear energy could be used for nuclear weapons. Furthermore, since Iran’s enrichment programme was kept secret for 18 years, there is a large amount of suspicion around its claims. The United States certainly doesn’t believe them and members of Congress have already called for an increase of sanctions on Iran. This negative outlook on the agreement is also mirrored by Iran, which stated that the agreement to a long term deal would be unlikely. A next round of talks that are scheduled in March will further illuminate these attitudes.

An Atomic Nuclear History

If anything, WWII opened a can of worms and the ‘never again’ ideal saw the development of the (NPT) and the formation of the IAEA that sought partly to prevent the creation of nuclear weapons. Since then, global relations have been on a roller coaster ride surrounding the topic and concern has spread, with the ‘nuclear club’ expanding its membership to Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea. This concern is significant of course, as was well evidenced by North Korea brandishing its intent on launching a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States in 2013. Even states that are still signatories to the NPT dwindle from the straight and narrow; Iran’s unconventional nuclear programme became known in 2002 and since then, the state has been involved in rounds of negotiations; only in 2013 did it agree to an interim deal.

The Nuclear Club

The Nuclear Club

A Silver Lining to the Pessimism

To some, from the start, the drawing board might have seemed lopsided, with Iran only joining negotiations after strong sanctions were imposed on its oil exports and banks by the United States and the European Union. Furthermore, the aforementioned negativity exuding from both the United States and Iran are distressing to the attitude of co-operation and compromise that usually surrounds successful negotiations. However, there are some very good reasons why these talks should be considered as a watershed moment for nuclear diplomacy. Not only have both sides agreed on what needs to be outlined in the coming months’ discussions, but there is an overall notion that these talks are a small step towards compromise. This is reflected by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who said: ‘There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy but we have made a good start’. Lastly, it must not be forgotten that it was just over a decade ago that the United States invaded Iraq with a WMD rhetoric; perhaps if a norm of nuclear diplomacy were established, this mistake would be found hard to repeat.

Article by red24 intern, Saffron Beatson, follow her @SaffronBeatson

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