Enrichment Capacity, Main Issue in Negotiations
June 21, 2014 – Sara Massoumi
Difficult talks between Iran and the P5+1 continue. During the ten-year history of Iran’s nuclear negotiations, the negotiating method of Iran’s nuclear team has changed, but what has not is Iran’s demands for its nuclear rights. This time, both sides are making great efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement, and this has led to the US and Iran meeting several times for bilateral talks regarding this issue. What adds to the importance of these talks is the fact that recent crises in the region have created a greater need for potential cooperation between Tehran and Washington. Iranian Diplomacy recently spoke with Seyyed Hossein Mousavian, a former senior member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, about the ongoing nuclear talks and its effects on the Persian Gulf region. Mr. Mousavian, who is currently a researcher at Princeton University, was Iran’s Ambassador to Germany from 1990-1997 and headed the Foreign Relations Committee of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran during the eight years of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency.
The fifth round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 commenced in Vienna. This is while the speed of convergence of both sides to write the draft of the final agreement has been reduced. During the past few months, any time that Iran and the West have sat behind the negotiating table, many issues of differences, from Fordow to Parchin, from enrichment to the Arak heavy water reactor, etc. have been proposed. What is the main problem, in your opinion, which has made reaching an agreement difficult these days?
The main problem is Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. The US and the other P5+1 countries have accepted the issue of enrichment in Iran but they insist that Iran’s capacity of enrichment should be limited. Now the question is, why does the US have doubts about the issue of Iran’s enrichment capacity? What the nuclear experts outside of Iran stress is that achieving a nuclear bomb is possible through these two paths: uranium enrichment and the Arak heavy water reactor. Now the US, after 35 years of resistance against Iran’s access to these two paths of making a bomb, has accepted that Iran can have uranium enrichment. Nevertheless, this issue will be considered in the final agreement under conditions when Iran accepts certain limitations with regard to the enrichment of uranium and there will practically be no possibility of making a bomb in a short period of time. The second issue is that both the US and Europe insist that Iran must transform heavy water into light water so that Iran would not have the two possible paths of making a bomb.
Iran and the 6 countries which negotiate with Iran have agreed upon the level of enrichment under 5% and now the issue is the capacity of enrichment. What Iran states is that we seek to locally produce the needed fuel for all reactors. This is while the West claims that if Iran’s enrichment capacity reaches a point where it could provide the fuel for a reactor (for example, to provide the fuel of a reactor we must have 100000 IR1 centrifuges) then it would be capable of making a bomb.
If Iran accepts the issue of limiting the enrichment capacity, it will be faced with domestic criticisms by those who opposed the Geneva Agreement. And if we accept these limitations and also transform Arak’s heavy water into light water, then what will our achievements be? What I mean by achievement is technical achievement and not issues like the gradual lifting of sanctions.
The point is that Iran has, hitherto, achieved much success. It was more than three decades that the US insisted that Iran does not have the right to have nuclear reactors. This was the main reason behind the US’ pressure on Germany to stop the building of a reactor in Iran. Today the US and Europe have accepted that Iran could have nuclear reactors without any limitation for the number. We must not forget that our main challenge with the West which was related to the nuclear reactor has now been resolved. During the past three decades, the US and Europe insisted that Iran must shut down Tehran’s water reactor and that is why they did not give us nuclear fuel rods. The West hoped that by the end of the lifetime of these nuclear fuel rods, this reactor would be shut down. Today the western countries have accepted for the Tehran reactor to continue its activities and they provide Iran’s need for nuclear fuel rods. Iran’s third achievement is that the US and Europe had opposed the Isfahan nuclear project during the past three decades and exerted pressure on China to cut its cooperation with Iran in this project. Right now, the Isfahan project, which transforms yellow cake into UF6 and UF4, has been accepted by the West. With regard to the Arak project, they have somehow accepted the main purpose of this project but they insist that light water should replace the heavy water.
Furthermore and most important point is that the US has accepted the issue of enrichment in Iran. We must not forget that our main challenge with the US during the past decade was the issue of enrichment. During the first two decades after the revolution, our issue with the West was the building of nuclear reactors and today both these issues have been resolved. What the western countries are saying is that we have shown flexibility and now we ask you to show flexibility on the issue of the capacity of enrichment. The West asks Iran to shut down Fordow and be satisfied with Natanz. The other demand of the West and Russia is that you could provide the needed fuel for the present and future reactors from Russia and the world markets and only provide the fuel for Arak and Tehran reactors and other research projects.
Recently in an article in al-Monitor, a new plan with your name has been reported wherein the old generations of centrifuges in Iran would be changed and of course the establishment of multilateral enrichment installations or a nuclear consortium. Perhaps we could hear the details of this plan which is severely criticized by David Albright and Robert Einhorn from you.
The plan which you talked about is the plan proposed by the nuclear scientists of Princeton University. The authors of this plan are some of the best experts on nuclear issues in the entire world. In one of his recent speeches, Javad Zarif mentioned that he had proposed a plan to the three European countries when he was ambassador to the UN and some of those scientists who were involved in that plan have participated in this recent text as well. This plan covers several points; the first one is the necessity of the continuation of enrichment in Iran; the second point is that Iran should have the most progressive generation of centrifuges. IR 1 centrifuges belong to half a century ago and are not economical and that is why Iran has moved towards the building of more progressive centrifuges. If the West accepts this matter, then Iran would need two or three years for research and development in order to build the latest generation of progressive centrifuges. This time could be the same time which the West needs for confidence-building. If the West accepts this issue, then Iran would also win because the uneconomical generation of centrifuges would be transformed into a progressive and economical generation. We must take note that the West’s concern about Iran’s nuclear program is, in fact, caused by the Israelis and the time which is determined in this plan for the research and development of Tehran could help in attracting the confidence of the western countries.
Why was this plan opposed? One could understand the reason behind domestic opposition but why did the western countries oppose it?
The ambassadors of the three European countries immediately met with me and stressed that they opposed this plan because the latest centrifuge technology must be given for the establishment of an international consortium. The issue which must be considered is that the first point in the establishment of a consortium is that this project must be economical and for that objective the most progressive generation of centrifuges must be used.
Considering your statements, there is the need to open a parenthesis for political discussion. Your plan for the establishment of a nuclear consortium is very ideal but it seems that in the Middle East wherein its member countries live in tension and the phenomenon of terrorism is growing day by day and Israel creates more tension every day, the possibility of enforcing this plan, at least in a short period of time seems far-fetched.
Iran does not recognize Israel as a member of the Middle East.
Nonetheless, the obstacles created by this unofficial member have, hitherto, added to the complexities of Iran’s nuclear dossier.
Yes, you are right in this regard. But the government of Iran does not recognize Israel as a member of the Middle East. As you said, there is crisis between the members including Iran and Saudi Arabia. Of course, there are regional disputes between the Shiites and the Sunnis in the region and terrorism is spread. Therefore, I believe that, even more than the nuclear issue, this regional cooperation in the Persian Gulf is strategically important for Iran. On this ground, Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council must sign a security pact to safeguard peace and stability in the region and cover a common struggle against all common concerns. The existing problems in the region are much more significant and vital than Iran’s nuclear issue. The real issue is the threat of terrorism and Takfiri forces. There is no other way than to reach a common regional understanding to contain these issues.
The countdown towards the six-month deadline of the Geneva Joint Plan of Action has begun. Will Iran and the P5+1 countries reach an agreement by July 20th? If not, what scenarios would be proposed for both sides?
I assume that Iran and the P5+1 countries have passed 50% of the path in these negotiations. Of course I must stress that the first 50% was simple but the second 50% is very difficult. There are three possibilities; the first possibility is that I hope that the final agreement would be signed by July 20th which I believe is possible. I believe that it is the West which must distance itself from its high demands and be realistic.
The second possibility is that a second temporary agreement dcould be signed. In this agreement, whatever they have reached an agreement on should be written and in response some of the sanctions would be removed. The remaining part could be lifted in November when the final agreement is made.
Iran and the P5+1 have stressed in the Geneva Agreement that until all issues are negotiated, nothing is negotiated.
Yes. On this basis the third scenario which is the extension of the present trend without an official agreement would be put on the table.
It seems that during the past two months, the pressures exerted by the Congress and the Senate and other anti-Iran lobbies on Obama have been reduced but there are reports that considering the upcoming elections for the US Congress in November, the failure of negotiations until July 20th would increase the pressure on the White House. This is while the opponents of an agreement with Iran have, many times, reiterated that non-agreement is better than a bad agreement. What should, in their opinion, this agreement cover?
Washington has never been under the internal and external pressures during the past 50 years as it has been about the nuclear issue. An unprecedented front comprised of Arabs, the MKO, radical and pressure groups inside the US, numerous lobbies and Israel has been formed and organized heavy pressure on the Obama administration to prevent the compromise between Iran’s nuclear issue and the world powers and the removal of hostilities between Tehran and Washington.
The said pressure group asks the Obama administration to, now that it has accepted an enrichment program in Iran, make efforts to keeo Iran’s nuclear program at the level of a symbolic program and not a real one to provide the real needs of Iran’s nuclear fuel. The closing of the Arak heavy water project and the Fordow nuclear site are among the main demands of this group. The opponents of compromise with Iran make great efforts to place negotiators in an unrealistic and delusional atmosphere. Iran and the P5+1 must be attentive of the destructive measures of this lobby. Both sides must be realistic on the path of reaching an honorable deal. The principles of this agreement must be within the framework of the NPT. This is while these days we see that the US and the world powers seek to impose measures on Iran which are beyond the NPT. These moves would also question the legitimacy of the NPT and must be prevented.
These days the crisis in the region including in Syria and Iraq demand that Iran and the US bypass the ups and downs of the nuclear issue and cooperate in other areas. Simultaneously, there is some talk about the possibility of Tehran and Washington cooperating to contain the Daesh crisis. Could the success of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 impact other common concerns of these two countries?
As you mentioned, the Middle East is involved with these crises in Iraq and Syria and has been severely damaged by them. If these problems are not immediately resolved, then the trend of a failed region would be transformed into failed states; a situation that neither the world powers nor the regional powers would be able to control. The achievement of the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 in the nuclear negotiations could be the beginning point of the new strategic developments in the Middle East region. Through the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue, the gates would be opened for dialogue and cooperation between the regional powers including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to manage the regional crises.
We must not forget that Iran’s nuclear crisis is a fake crisis created by the global Zionism which has caused Iran, the world and the regional powers to ignore the serious and real crises in the region such as the emergence of the most dangerous terrorism in the Middle East. If this fake dossier is closed, then the real crises will be discussed and the ground would be prepared for interaction between Iran and the world powers about these problems.
Will countries such as Saudi Arabia which fear the possible closeness in relations between Tehran and Washington in some regional issues welcome the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1?
The issue is that right now the present diplomacy of the regional powers is based on a blame diplomacy which has no result but the spread of crisis and hostility. Saudi Arabia and other Arab states of the region will be the first victims of the blind terrorism of the Takfiris. Among the countries of the region, Iran and Turkey will be less vulnerable to the blind terrorism of the Takfiris. The Arab countries and the western world, especially the US, and Israel will be most vulnerable to this issue.
The other point which must be considered is that, if the nuclear negotiation fails, there will be an energy crisis in the world markets. The reason is the situation of two big oil producers, meaning Iraq and Libya, is very fragile and the world powers are aware of the vulnerability of the oil-producing Persian Gulf littoral states. Iran, with its huge oil and gas reserves, is one of the most stable sources of providing energy in the world. The imposed sanctions have damaged energy security and the failure of the nuclear negotiations would increase instability in the world markets.