Article by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Published in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper on 4 April 2015
An entire week at a Swiss hotel at Lake Geneva spent talking about just one topic – I cannot recall another time when the foreign ministers of the most powerful countries in the world and of the United Nations Security Council veto powers, along with Germany, conducted such intensive negotiations and pulled together as much as they did during the past days in Lausanne.
This reflects the global political importance of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme. It also illustrates the importance of the agreement we reached with Iran two evenings ago. Together we showed that although it may take a long time and it involves a great deal of effort, negotiated political solutions are possible, even in the most difficult conflicts. Our endeavours to bring about disarmament and to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are worth every effort. These efforts were very successful in Lausanne.
The starting situation was actually anything but positive. Diplomacy certainly does not get many chances in the crisis‑ridden and war‑torn Middle East region these days. Negotiations with Iran had already been ongoing for over a decade without any tangible success. The fact that we are able to peacefully resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme thanks to the days and nights of negotiations between the E3+3 countries and Iran – a conflict that had been simmering for over 12 years – cannot be overstated as regards its importance for the region and beyond.
The key parameters we agreed in Lausanne do not mean we have achieved our final target. The details of a final agreement now have to be negotiated on the basis of these parameters by the end of June. There will be tough talks on the “small print”.
But it is already clear that the key political parameters we agreed on provide the basis for blocking Iran’s path to nuclear weapons effectively, permanently and verifiably. This is the goal we have set ourselves. This is the benchmark against which every agreement must be measured. We are certain that we can achieve this through the Lausanne agreements.
Iran’s nuclear programme will be drastically curtailed. Over two‑thirds of its currently operational centrifuges for uranium enrichment will be decommissioned for many years, while 95 per cent of its enriched uranium stockpiles will have to be destroyed or exported. For many years, Iran will only be allowed to conduct extremely limited research on and development of new centrifuges, thus precluding a rapid expansion of its enrichment capacities for many years – for well over a decade. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will supervise the conversion of the research reactor in Arak and the underground enrichment facility in Fordow so that they too no longer pose a proliferation risk.
A wide range of restrictions and controls will allow us to ensure that even if Iran breaches the agreement, it would over a period of many years need at least 12 months in order to amass enough fissile material to build even one nuclear bomb. In comparison, before the interim agreement of November 2013, Iran was only around two months away from this threshold, despite many years of extremely strict sanctions.
Iran cannot, and will not, receive a vote of confidence. Given its secret nuclear activities in the past, the recurring unacceptable tirades against Israel by hardliners in Tehran, and the country’s dubious and at times dangerous role in other conflicts in the region, such as in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, a vote of confidence is not warranted.
This is why we could only accept an agreement that does not take trust in Iran for granted. On the contrary, the key parameters allow us to ensure more comprehensive and more intensive controls than ever before. In some areas, these controls will apply forever – they are not limited to a particular period. In other cases, they will apply for 25 years under an historically unprecedented special monitoring regime that takes into account the breaches of trust of the past. This includes unscheduled inspections of all facilities and the permanent monitoring of nuclear activities in Iran using the latest technology, sensors and surveillance cameras.
Furthermore, we are not giving up the sanctions leverage that allowed us to bring Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. The sanctions will be lifted gradually under strict conditions, and can be re‑enforced immediately if Iran breaches the agreement.
We know that some people fundamentally reject any type of agreement with Iran. But these people must also say what alternatives they can offer apart from their calls for military solutions. Neither tougher sanctions nor military attacks can prevent Iran’s access to nuclear weapons with anything like the same level of certainty as an agreement based on the key parameters of Lausanne.
Diplomacy gets very few chances in the Middle East, and it enjoys even less success. We will only know if Lausanne will go down in history as a breakthrough and a turning point once a final agreement has been negotiated, signed and actually implemented. However, I am certain that if we achieve this, it would not only be the key to resolving the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, but could also prevent a new arms race in the region.
The Iranian question is the first and only conflict in the Middle East for years in which we are now able to achieve de‑escalation. There are thus some grounds for hope that this dynamic could give rise to prospects for de‑escalating other dangerous crises and conflicts in the Middle East.
This shows that efforts to seek peaceful solutions – efforts based on great diplomatic persistence rather than on illusions – are also worthwhile in the case of difficult conflicts.