Tehran Promises a Clean Slate
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stated that he wants to begin the next round of talks with the P5+1 with a “clean slate” on its nuclear program.
In order to do so, he promised a serious package that will most probably include two main points: stopping uranium enrichment to 20% and increased transparency to nuclear sites. Both issues have been bones of contention between Iran and the IAEA, the UN National Security Council and the P5+1.
After years of ignoring UN Security Council resolutions and IAEA guidelines and denying any wrong doing, these concessions offer a significant change in Iran’s approach to the negotiating table – a change that President Rouhani promised to deliver.
A Not-So Clean Slate
But the nuclear standoff with Iran is not dependent on these two concessions because by themselves, they do not guarantee that Tehran won’t build a bomb.
In fact the two issues which Tehran is placing on the negotiation tables will be seriously undermined by two other issues that are being kept off the table: The underground enrichment facility in Fordow/Qom and the heavy water nuclear facility in Arak.
Fordow – Underground and IRGC
The Fordow facility, disclosed by Iran in 2009 only after the site became known to Western intelligence, is a distinct example of Iran’s lack of transparency to date and another reason to disbelieve the peaceful nature of the nuclear program.
The facts that it is underground and that it is under the management of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has already criticized Rouhani for being too moderate, can easily hamper any promises of transparency in the future.
Rouhani and Zarif may be willing to even bring a temporary shutdown of Fordow to the table but they probably will not be able to fulfill such a promise.
Arak – the Plutonium Alternative
The heavy water reactor in Arak is suspiciously off any negotiation table to date although it is key to opening up a second path to develop nuclear bombs with Plutonium in addition to Uranium.
Since 2006, the UN Security Council mandated that Iran suspend construction of the Arak reactor to no avail – it is to be operational by 2014 and can produce enough Plutonium to arm two nuclear bombs a year.
The stated purpose of the Arak plant is to develop isotopes for medical reasons but the sheer size and capacity of the facility is akin to swatting a fly with a sledge hammer prompting an ISIS report from June to deem it “unnecessary“.
Transparency is a thorny issue in this case as well: To date, Tehran has still not provided the IAEA with the update design information since 2006 and has denied access to its heavy water production plant repeatedly.
The biggest problem is that once it becomes operational, any attempt to destroy it will lead to massive radiation contamination due to the nature of heavy water facilities.
Bottom line, any agreement between Iran and the P5+1 should include Fordow and Arak because anything less will be just a gesture of goodwill that may in the near future prove to be a fatal mistake.