This week Zarif appeared to offer a concession, suggesting Tehran might no longer insist on hammering out wording in the interim agreement that explicitly guaranteed Iran the right to enrich uranium, saying there could be references to the right already, under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But an Iranian negotiator at the talks denied the Iranian position had eased. “If this element is not in the text, it is unacceptable to us. Without that, there will be no agreement.” … A compromise had been floated in the days running up the latest Geneva talks whereby the agreement text would mention NPT rights and the parties would interpret that in their own way. However, the Iranian negotiator said that would not be enough for Tehran. “It is because there are different interpretations of the NPT that there is a need to spell it out in the text. We are trying to find language that is the least problematic for all parties, but what is essential is the element of enrichment.”
Among the issues to be resolved concerns language in the text on enrichment, an analyst briefed by negotiators told Al-Monitor. Specifically, he understood, language in the P5+1 proposal given to Iran at the end of the last meeting November 9th would permanently limit Iran’s enrichment, and would never let Iran be treated as a normal member of the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the analyst understood. Another issue is thought to be a demand on the Arak facility, an issue the Iranians told the P5+1 at the Nov. 9 meeting would not be acceptable, and which remains so now, at least without additional sanctions relief, the analyst said.
Several issues must be settled if the two sides are to clinch a breakthrough after a decade of nuclear talks, diplomats said. One is how to word Iran’s assurances that it won’t continue work on its heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak, which will be capable of producing plutonium usable in a nuclear weapon. The second is what should happen to Iran’s stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium. Differences also remain on the precise sanctions relief to be offered Iran, an important part of what the Western diplomat called a package of concessions each side could take.
Fundamental to the overall accord is Iran’s claim that it has a right to enrich uranium. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in a speech on Wednesday that the West recognize what Iran says is its right to enrich uranium. Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday identified the issue as perhaps the biggest impediment to an agreement this week. An Iranian diplomat in Geneva said any pact signed this week must contain the concept of Iran having the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “If the right to enrich isn’t acknowledged, there won’t be a deal,” said the diplomat. But Iranian officials also said there was some flexibility in the language that could be used.
A senior U.S. official in Geneva said the Obama administration was confident language could be found to bridge the positions. “Iran has for a long time said that they believe they have an inalienable right to enrichment,” said the official. “The United States has said for an equally long time that we do not believe any country…has a right to enrichment. Do I believe this issue can be navigated in an agreement? Yes, I do. And we will see if that can be done or not.” Officials wouldn’t outline the language that might be used to reconcile the two sides. Outside nuclear experts close to the diplomacy said a possible outcome would be for the P5+1 to recognize in a text agreement that Iran would enjoy all the rights of a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty, without explicitly saying Iran could enrich uranium domestically.
Both the U.S. and Iranian delegations face pressure from skeptics at home. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) joined other prominent members of Congress in warning that even harsher economic sanctions could be imposed on Iran in the weeks ahead. The White House had lobbied to prevent lawmakers from approving new measures while the Iran talks were at a delicate stage. “While I support the administration’s diplomatic efforts, I believe we need to leave our legislative options open to act on a new, bipartisan sanctions bill in December shortly after we return,” Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor.
In Iran, conservative clerics have warned newly elected President Hassan Rouhani against agreeing to any limits on Iran’s nuclear program. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators formed a ring around the country’s Fordow uranium-enrichment plant to protest any deal limiting the facility’s output. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, soured the atmosphere surrounding the talks with an inflammatory speech Wednesday that denounced Western countries as “evil powers” and called Israel the “rabid dog” of the Middle East.
Leading members of Congress were less constrained. Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, introduced legislation on Thursday that would give the White House 60 days to conclude an interim agreement. If such an accord were achieved and Mr. Obama were later informed that the Iranians were not in compliance with some of its provisions, the president would have no more than 15 days to reverse the sanctions relief that he had granted Iran. Mr. Corker’s legislation would also give the White House no more than 180 additional days to conclude a more comprehensive agreement that the Obama administration says it is seeking or any sanctions that had been relaxed would be reimposed. The aim of the legislation is to prevent the Iranians from dragging out the talks and making an initial agreement the final one.It also would set more stringent terms for a comprehensive deal than Iran is currently prepared to accept by demanding that Tehran end uranium enrichment.