By Daryl G. Kimball
This week in Baghdad, the P5+1 group (the United States, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.K.)–led by EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton–met for two days with the Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, Saeed Jalili, and his team on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
As the diplomats met inside a guest house in the fortified Green Zone, the world waited anxiously for some tangible progress. While each side presented revised versions of earlier proposals to resolve their respective concerns, the meeting concluded without an agreement on concrete confidence-building steps, and they announced they will meet again in Moscow June 18-19.
Given the infrequency of serious, direct talks with Tehran, the outcome in Baghdad is not surprising. Nevertheless, an initial confidence building deal is still within reach if both sides show some flexibility.
The top priority must continue to be–as the P5+1 insists–that Iran halts its accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium (which is above normal fuel-grade and closer to weapons grade) in exchange for fuel assemblies for its Tehran Research Reactor.
This would be a win-win for both sides and reinforce the principle that Iran will only enrich according to its civilian power needs, and could serve as a basis for a broader deal to limit the size and scope of its enrichment program as a whole. A deal to halt enrichment above normal fuel grade would provide negotiators with more time and space to address other key issues.
While an agreement on initial confidence building steps was not reached in Baghdad, it is clear that both sides are exchanging serious proposals that could produce results in the next round. For its part, Iran must follow though on the tentative deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on inspections of key sites and personnel to ensure that any weapons-related experiments have been discontinued and the P5+1 must indicate what specific steps Iran must take on its nuclear program in order to delay additional international sanctions measures and begin to remove those already in place.
Iran clearly wants to avoid tougher sanctions–particularly the European oil embargo set to begin next month–but the P5+1 are unlikely to give up that leverage before tangible steps are taken by Iran, such as giving the IAEA necessary access to sites and personnel and halting enrichment to 20% in exchange for fuel supplies for its Tehran Research Reactor.
Iran made it clear once again in Baghdad that it will not compromise its so-called right to enrich uranium.
But under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, such rights do come with responsibilities. The position of United States and its negotiating partners has been–correctly–that under very strict conditions Iran would, sometime in the future, having responded to the international community’s concerns about nuclear weapons-related experiments, have such a right under IAEA inspections.
The IAEA’s New Report on the Iranian Nuclear Program
The importance of full Iranian cooperation with the IAEA and progress on concrete confidence building steps in Moscow was further underscored by today’s report from the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano to the Board of Governors.
The IAEA’s May 25 report indicates that Iran continues to make steady progress enriching uranium to 5% U-235 (from 5451 kg in Feb. 2012 to 6197 in May 2012) and 20% U-235 (from 95.4 kg to 145.6 kg). However, Iran has still not installed more advanced centrifuges that could significantly increase its uranium enrichment output and it has used a large portion of its uranium enriched to 20% U-235–about 43 kg– for fabricating fuel plates for its Tehran Research Reactor, which effectively leaves its current 20% stockpile relatively unchanged, as of May 15.
And, despite recent progress towards an agreement on a “structured approach” with the IAEA to resolve outstanding questions about experiments with possible military dimensions, the IAEA report makes it clear that Tehran is still not providing the information necessary for the Agency to resolve outstanding concerns.
The IAEA report also notes that Iran appears to be operating a heavy water production plant and continuing construction on a heavy water reactor now being built near Arak, which could be used to produce plutonium for bombs.
The Agency is also reporting that it has gathered additional information since its November 2011 report that “further corroborates its analysis” about possible experiments at the Parchin site, and the Agency continues to seek prompt access to that site.
The Director General “invites Iran to expedite final agreement on the structured approach, as agreed with Mr Jalili in Tehran on 21 May, 2012, and urges Iran to engage the Agency on the substance of these issues as soon as possible, including by providing early access to the Parchin site.”
In other words, it is past time for Iran’s supreme leader and his team to provide the transparency necessary to ensure that his religious fatwa against nuclear weapons is genuine. If, as the Iranians want, some delay of additional sanctions down the road, Iran must promptly follow-though on the tentative deal with the IAEA on inspections to verify that any weapons-related experiments have been discontinued and halt 20% enrichment at all of its enrichment facilities in exchange for fuel supplies for its Tehran Research Reactor.
Both sides need to focus on achieving concrete results at the next round of talks in Moscow to sustain progress toward the overdue actions necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.