Distrust Increases With Enrichment Levels

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P5+1 Want Decrease, Iran Increases

Uranium enrichment has always been at the base of the suspicions that Iran’s nuclear program is far from peaceful:  5% enriched uranium is enough to fuel reactors for electricity purposes and were Iran to accept the 5% limit, the nuclear crisis would not exist nor would the ensuing sanctions.

In the Geneva “nuclear agreement” in November, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment to 5% and neutralize all stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium. Since then, instead of decreasing the levels of enrichment and increasing the level of trust, Tehran has done the exact opposite.

Increasing Enrichment and Distrust

Within a month of the “nuclear deal”, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned that Iran could resume 20% enrichment within 24 hours…

Barely a week later, Majlis legislators pushed for an old-new 60% Uranium enrichment bill in parliament as outlined in our last post which would actually force the enrichment of uranium to 60% to “provide fuel for submarine engines if the sanctions are tightened and Iran’s nuclear rights are ignored”. The bill was successfully introduced by 100 lawmakers last week  and now has over 200 backers…two third of the Majlis!

Within the same week, the chief of Iran’s nuclear program and former foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told the world that his country is building a new generation of centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

20%, 60%…so much for the “confidence-building” steps President Hassan Rouhani expounded on back in September.

Tehran’s True Colors

Whenever Tehran tries to increase its levels of enrichment, questions regarding the real nature of its nuclear program naturally arise – putting any agreement at risk.

Democrat Bob Menendez, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, sums it up nicely: “Iranians are showing their true intentions….If you’re talking about producing more advanced centrifuges that are only used to enrich uranium at a quicker rate … the only purposes of that and the only reason you won’t give us access to [a military research facility] is because you’re really not thinking about nuclear power for domestic energy — you’re thinking about nuclear power for nuclear weapons”.

Bottom line:

  • Assumption: Iran wants a deal to ease sanctions.
  • Fact: Iran is continuously working on its nuclear program regardless of any deal.
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60% Enrichment – Here We Go Again

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Flashback to 2012

Let’s go back to 2012, and remind you of one of those oh-so-lovely, Ahmadinejad-led Iranian threats: On the 2nd of October, Reuters reported that “Iran would enrich uranium up to 60% purity if negotiations with major powers over its nuclear program fail”.

The reason for this number, according to Mansour Haqiqatpour, deputy head of parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, was for yielding fuel for atomic submarines…not for any peaceful causes, if someone was asking.

Enter Rouhani

Skipping a few months into the future, the Iran election came and went and Hassan Rouhani was elected into the office of President with a great promise of moderation. There were the few rounds of talks, and then the big announcement in November that a “landmark” “nuclear deal” was signed, a deal that magically continues to be both a done deal and a work in progress simultaneously, depending on who’s talking.

But, regardless of who is talking, it’s understood that one of the defining lines of the deal is capping at 20% uranium enrichment (actually, according to the NPT, this should be 5%). Capping on 20% enrichment shows that Iran is not intending in any way to militarize its nuclear program. Everyone believed that this was agreed.

Back to the Future, Again

Well, apparently not everyone.

According to Foreign minister Zarif, not only can “Iran (could) resume enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity in less than a day” but the magic 60% number is back again: the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, is pushing for a bill which would require Iran to enrich its Uranium to 60%.

So while Zarif is righteously shouting out against the US Congress’s wish to renew sanctions and President Obama is actually willing to veto these sanctions, the 20% limit is on its way to being broken and there’s a good chance that Zarif might blame the US for this as well.

So what’s the lesson here? Always learn from history, it has a funny way of repeating…especially in Iran.

Nuclear Talks Deteriorate to Bazaar Haggle

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Geneva “Landmark Deal” Proves Elusive

The latest negotiation attempts in Vienna raised troubling questions about the ramifications of the much-touted “landmark”/”milestone” deal in Geneva barely a month ago.

The starting gun for the six month nuclear deal hasn’t yet sounded, the deal is not formally signed, its interpretations of the “spirit of the (Geneva) deal” are varied and the bazaar-like hagglings are a constant reminder that there still is no deal.

The Iranian team alternates between welcoming smiles and “warnings”, “setbacks”, “walk-outs” and “interruptions” while the “complexity of the technical issues” have resulted in a rocking one-step-forth-one-step-back routine with no end in sight.

For all those who want to believe that “moderate”/”pragmatic” President Hassan Rouhani’s promises of change were being fulfilled – guess what? Still no deal.

 

Meanwhile, On the Other Side of the Atlantic…

Iran’s (mis)interpretations of the Geneva have put many on edge.

The threat of renewing or even increasing sanctions is voiced not only by the US congress but by the UN’s Iran Panel of Experts and the UN Security Council.

The American public doesn’t trust Tehran’s motives and even President Barack Obama gave the deal a neutral 50-50 chance.

In the meantime, possibly out of fear of being seen as “going soft”, the Obama administration hit “two dozen companies and individuals with punitive measures for aiding Iran’s nuclear program“.

 

Meanwhile, Back in Tehran…

The attitudes of the Iranians to the deal, or “no-deal”, are varied.

At first, hardliners were quick to attack Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s “triumphant” nuclear deal but Supreme Leader Khamenei gave his blessing…for now. Rouhani seemed just as pleased as Zarif – his election ticket was the economy and the economy reacted well to the Geneva nuclear deal (including a long expected surge in tourism from its neighbors).

But now that the deal seems to be unwinding, the Iranians are voicing worries that an impasse in negotiations will preclude attacks on the nuclear program.

One of the outcomes of these “worries” is that Tehran has refused to allow live camera monitoring of its nuclear facilities stating that the live feeds can be abused by spy networks.

Or perhaps, these “worries” are simply good excuses to back down from promises of full transparency.

  

Back to Diplomacy/Haggling

The only issue both sides do seem to agree on is the need for diplomacy.

But diplomacy is just a means to an end and in order to guesstimate the chances of success through diplomacy, it is crucial to understand what exactly are the goals/motives of both sides.

The P5+1 seem to view diplomacy as a way to evade a possible multi-level confrontation with Iran in the middle. Whether they succeed or not remains to be seen.

Tehran’s motives for diplomacy are harder for us to fathom: The Iranians might also be searching for a non-confrontational option but they are also haggling for time to strengthen their economy, their nuclear program and their standing vis-à-vis their neighbors.

For the moment, apart from a lasting peaceful solution, Tehran has achieved all of these goals.

Related Posts: 

Nuclear Deal Terminally Ill (Iran 24/07)

A 7-Billion-Six-Month Pause (Iran 24/07)

The Ever-Elusive Nuclear Deal (Iran 24/07)

Nuclear Deal Terminally Ill

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Smiles & Hugs

Two weeks ago, the white smoke from Geneva foretold a change in the relations of Iran with the world. The smiling faces of the P3+3 leaders and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said it all: the change that President Hassan Rouhani had promised bore fruit in a “nuclear deal” with Iran.

This “first-step” deal was based on the understanding that Tehran would freeze its nuclear program and encourage transparency for six months in return for goodwill and a $7 Billion relief from sanctions.

But then, the dealmakers went their separate ways.

20% Enrichment & Arak

The “fact sheet” immediately issued by the White House and the response from Tehran deeming it a “one-sided interpretation“, “nonsense and “invalid” were the first warning signs.

Key Issues

Washington’s Interpretation

Tehran’s Interpretation

“Break-out point”

 

“Iran has committed to neutralize its stockpile of near-20% uranium.”

“Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity.”

“There will be no solution to the nuclear issue without the enrichment [program]”

“Iran will decide the level of enrichment according to its needs for different purposes.

“Plutonium Route”

 

“Iran has committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track.”

It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there”.

So much for mutual expectations…

 

Sanctions & Doubts

Regardless of Zarif’s dismissal of the effectiveness of sanctions, Tehran’s main motive to sign a nuclear deal is to dismantle all sanctions.

So the P5+1 not only handed over the $7 Billion sanction relief, they agreed to no new sanctions for 6 months. All fine and well but the growing contentions between Tehran and Washington about the “Breakout Point” and the “Plutonium Route” have turned the issue of sanctions into a deal-breaker.

While Kerry tried to appease the US Congress into not issuing new sanctions, Zarif warned that the deal was “dead” if new sanctions were approved “even if they do not take effect for six months”.

And while both sides deal with skeptics back home (US & Iran) and details are ironed out, Tehran’s nuclear program ticks on and there still is no “start date” for the six-month freeze.

 It’s time to say it loud and clear for all to hear: There may have been a “nuclear deal” – it existed for a few hours on that smiling podium in Geneva on the 24th. Unfortunately, it seems to have remained there.

Related links: https://iran2407.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/a-7-billion-six-months-pause/