Critics Using Sunset Clause to Sabotage Diplomacy

Critics Using Sunset Clause to Sabotage Diplomacy    Critics Using Sunset Clause to Sabotage Diplomacy

A former US nuclear negotiator says opponents of a nuclear deal with Tehran have grabbed onto a common provision in the interim accord signed between Iran and the major powers in late 2013 in a last-ditch attempt to sabotage the talks on a comprehensive settlement to the long-running dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Richard Nephew, director for Iran at the US National Security Council, made the remarks in an article published on the website of the National Interest on Friday.

Since the interim deal was reached, critics have focused on a variety of its alleged deficiencies, “but perhaps no element of the agreement has received as much scorn as its last line,” which is a sunset clause, he said.

The sunset clause says following successful implementation of the final step of the comprehensive solution for its full duration, Iran’s nuclear program will be treated in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear weapon state party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

  Common Provision

Nephew said, “Given the level of criticism, one might think the sunset provision the major powers agreed to with Iran was unprecedented. Alas, you’d be mistaken. Indeed, sunset provisions are a common feature of international arms control and even Congressional legislation.”

In view of the fact that sunset provisions are common in international diplomacy, the real issue becomes whether the sunset concept being negotiated now is adequate protection against a future Iranian move to acquire nuclear weapons, he said, adding that it is possible to discern a few of the US administration’s concepts for the sunset of a nuclear deal with Iran:

1. It would only come after a long period of nuclear restrictions and intrusive inspections.

2. Iran would agree to fully implement its Safeguards Agreement and the Additional Protocol.  

3. During the period of the agreement, Iran would permit even more intrusive inspections than what these agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency would normally allow.

He explained, “Iran would be treated like any other NPT state party in compliance with its international obligations after the term of the agreement formally ends. Nowhere has the United States agreed that Iran would be immunized forever more from international scrutiny after a deal eventually ends. Should Iran attempt to move to nuclear weapons after that time, it would be acting in contravention of its NPT obligations.”

Iran denies it nuclear program may have any military objectives, saying the work is solely for peaceful purposes, such as generating electricity.  

Nephew said, “Sunsetting is not a problem, either conceptually or specifically with Iran, and that it is an appropriate, standard, and reasonable way to address a long-term national security issue… Most people currently taking issue with the sunset clause are really just opposed to any deal with Iran.”

In conclusion, he said, “As a long-time antagonist of the Iranian nuclear program, it is not easy to contemplate a future in which Iran’s nuclear program is free from constraints… However, the simple reality is that Iran will not accept a deal in which it is a second-class NPT citizen forever and insisting upon it would spell the end of the negotiating process.  

“The sunset provision that the negotiators have in mind would address US national security requirements as well as protect the interests of our allies and partners. We should not jeopardize a sufficient solution for an unachievable ideal one.”