Gareth Porter / Inter Press Service – 2012-09-25 00:55:03
Iranian Diplomat Says Iran Offered Deal to Halt 20-Percent Enrichment
Gareth Porter / Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON (September 24, 2012) — Iran has again offered to halt its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, which the United States has identified as its highest priority in the nuclear talks, in return for easing sanctions against Iran, according to Iran’s permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who has conducted Iran’s negotiations with the IAEA in Tehran and Vienna, revealed in an interview with IPS that Iran had made the offer at the meeting between EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul Sep. 19.
Soltanieh also revealed in the interview that IAEA officials had agreed last month to an Iranian demand that it be provided documents on the alleged Iranian activities related to nuclear weapons which Iran is being asked to explain, but that the concession had then been withdrawn.
“We are prepared to suspend enrichment to 20 percent, provided we find a reciprocal step compatible with it,” Soltanieh said, adding, “We said this in Istanbul.”
Soltanieh is the first Iranian official to go on record as saying Iran has proposed a deal that would end its 20-percent enrichment entirely, although it had been reported previously.
“If we do that,” Soltanieh said, “there shouldn’t be sanctions.”
Iran’s position in the two rounds of negotiations with the P5+1 â€“ China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, the United States and Germany â€“ earlier this year was reported to have been that a significant easing of sanctions must be part of the bargain.
The United States and its allies in the P5+1 ruled out such a deal in the two rounds of negotiations in Istanbul and in Baghdad in May and June, demanding that Iran not only halt its enrichment to 20 percent but ship its entire stockpile of uranium enriched to that level out of the country and close down the Fordow enrichment facility entirely.
Even if Iran agreed to those far-reaching concessions the P5+1 nations offered no relief from sanctions.
Soltanieh repeated the past Iranian rejection of any deal involving the closure of Fordow.
“It’s impossible if they expect us to close Fordow,” Soltanieh said.
The U.S. justification for the demand for the closure of Fordow has been that it has been used for enriching uranium to the 20-percent level, which makes it much easier for Iran to continue enrichment to weapons grade levels.
But Soltanieh pointed to the conversion of half the stockpile to fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which was documented in the Aug. 30 IAEA report.
“The most important thing in the (IAEA) report,” Soltanieh said, was “a great percentage of 20-percent enriched uranium already converted to powder for the Tehran Research Reactor.”
That conversion to powder for fuel plates makes the uranium unavailable for reconversion to a form that could be enriched to weapons grade level.
Soltanieh suggested that the Iranian demonstration of the technical capability for such conversion, which apparently took the United States and other P5+1 governments by surprise, has rendered irrelevant the P5+1 demand to ship the entire stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium out of the country.
“This capacity shows that we don’t need fuel from other countries,” said Soltanieh.
Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent in 2010 after the United States made a virtually non-negotiable offer in 2009 to provide fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor in return for Iran’s shipping three-fourths of its low-enriched uranium stockpile out of the country and waiting for two years for the fuel plates.
The P5+1 demand for closure of the Fordow enrichment plant was also apparently based on the premise the facility was built exclusively for 20-percent enrichment. But Iran has officially informed the IAEA that it is for both enrichment to 20 percent and enrichment to 3.5 percent.
The 1,444 centrifuges installed at Fordow between March and August â€“ but not connected to pipes, according to the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security â€“ could be used for either 20-percent enrichment or 3.5-percent enrichment, giving Iran additional leverage in future negotiations.
Soltanieh revealed that two senior IAEA officials had accepted a key Iranian demand in the most recent negotiating session last month on a “structured agreement” on Iranian cooperation on allegations of “possible military dimensions” of its nuclear programme â€“ only to withdraw the concession at the end of the meeting.
The issue was Iran’s insistence on being given all the documents on which the IAEA bases the allegations of Iranian research related to nuclear weapons which Iran is expected to explain to the IAEA’s satisfaction.
The Feb. 20 negotiating text shows that the IAEA sought to evade any requirement for sharing any such documents by qualifying the commitment with the phrase “where appropriate”.
At the most recent meeting on Aug. 24, however, the IAEA negotiators, Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman Nackaerts and Assistant Director General for Policy Rafael Grossi, agreed for the first time to a commitment to “deliver the documents related to activities claimed to have been conducted by Iran”, according to Soltanieh.
At the end of the meeting, however, Nackaerts and Grossi “put this language in brackets”, thus leaving it unresolved, Soltanieh said.
Former IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei recalls in his 2011 memoirs that he had “constantly pressed the source of the information” on alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research â€“ meaning the United States â€“ “to allow us to share copies with Iran”. He writes that he asked how he could “accuse a person without revealing the accusations against him?”
ElBaradei also says Israel gave the IAEA a whole new set of documents in late summer 2009 “purportedly showing that Iran had continued with nuclear weapons studies until at least 2007â€³.
Soltanieh confirmed that the other unresolved issue is whether the IAEA investigation will be open-ended or not.
The Feb. 20 negotiating text showed that Iran demanded a discrete list of topics to which the IAEA inquiry would be limited and a requirement that each topic would be considered “concluded” once Iran had answered the questions and delivered the information requested.
But the IAEA insisted on being able to “return” to topics that had been “discussed earlier”, according to the February negotiating text.
That position remains unchanged, according to Soltanieh. The Iranian ambassador quoted an IAEA negotiator as asking, “What if next month we receive something else â€” some additional information?'”.
“If the IAEA had its way,” Soltanieh said, “It would be another 10 or 20 years.”
Soltanieh told IPS a meeting between Iran and the IAEA set for mid-October had been agreed before the IAEA Board of Governors earlier this month with Nackaerts and Grossi.
The Iranian ambassador said the IAEA officials had promised him that Director General Yukia Amano would announce the meeting during the Board meeting, but Amano made no such announcement.
Instead, after a meeting with Fereydoun Abbasi, Iran’s Vice President and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Amano only referred to the “readiness of Agency negotiators to meet with Iran in the near future.”
“He didn’t keep the promise,” said Soltanieh, adding that Iran would have to “study in the capital” how to respond.
Soltanieh elaborated on Abassi’s suggestion last week that the sabotage of power to the Fordow facility the night before an IAEA request for a snap inspection of the facility showed the agency could be infiltrated by “terrorists and saboteurs”.
“The objection we have is that the DG isn’t protecting confidential information,” said Soltanieh. “When they have information on how many centrifuges are working and how many are not working (in IAEA reports), this is a very serious concern.”
Iran has complained for years about information gathered by IAEA inspectors, including data on personnel in the Iranian nuclear programme, being made available to U.S., Israeli and European intelligence agencies.
US Rejected 2005 Iranian Offer Ensuring No Nuclear Weapons
Gareth Porter / InterPress News
WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 7, 2012) — France and Germany were prepared in spring 2005 to negotiate on an Iranian proposal to convert all of its enriched uranium to fuel rods, making it impossible to use it for nuclear weapons, but Britain vetoed the deal at the insistence of the United States, according to a new account by a former top Iranian nuclear negotiator.
Seyed Hossein Mousavian, who had led Iran’s nuclear negotiating team in 2004 and 2005, makes it clear that the reason that offer was rejected was that the George W. Bush administration refused to countenance any Iranian enrichment capability, regardless of the circumtances.
Mousavian reveals previously unknown details about that pivotal episode in the diplomacy surrounding the Iran nuclear issue in memoirs published Tuesday.
Mousavian, now a visiting research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, had been a top political aide to former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and head of the foreign relations committee of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council during his political-diplomatic career in Iran.
Mousavian had been entrusted with Iran’s most sensitive diplomatic missions, including negotiations on a strategic understanding with Saudi crown prince Abdullah in the early 1990s and with US officials on Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda in 2001 and 2002, his memoirs reveal. But he was arrested by the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad administration on charges of “espionage” in April 2007.
The British and US refusal to pursue the Iranian offer, which might have headed off the political diplomatic crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme since then, is confirmed by a former British diplomat who participated in the talks and former European ambassadors to Iran.
Mousavian writes that one of the European negotiators told him that “they were ready to compromise but that the United States was the obstacle.”
The episode occurred a few months after an agreement between Iran and the British, French and German governments on Nov. 15, 2004 on terms for negotiations on “long-term arrangements”, during which Iran agreed to maintain a voluntary suspension of enrichment and other nuclear activities.
The agreement to be negotiated was to “provide objective guarantees that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes” as well as “firm guarantees on nuclear, technological and economic cooperation and firm commitments on security issues”.
But the EU objective in the talks was to demand a complete end to all Iranian enrichment. At the Mar. 23, 2005 meeting in Paris, the EU called for an indefinite suspension of enrichment by Iran, meaning suspension beyond the negotiations themselves.
At the same meeting, Iranian negotiators submitted a proposal that included a “policy declaration to convert all enriched uranium to fuel rods” and “committed to getting the Additional Protocol”, which would allow the IAEA to make snap inspections on undeclared facilities, ratified by its parliament.
Conversion of low enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel rods only usable for power plants could have provided a guarantee against using the enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran did not have the capability to fabricate fuel rods, so the implication was that the LEU would have to be shipped to another country for conversion or would have to be done under international auspices within Iran.
Once the fuel rods were fabricated, it would be practically impossible for Iran to reconvert them for military purposes.
Peter Jenkins, then the British permanent representative to the IAEA and a member of the British delegation to the Paris meeting with Iran, recalled in an interview with IPS, “All of us were impressed by the proposal.”
The European delegations asked for a break to discuss it among themselves, Jenkins recalled, but soon decided to tell Iran they would “need more time to consider further”. But the Europeans did not seek to explore the Iranian offer further.
Mousavian reveals that Iran learned a few weeks after that meeting that the Europeans had no intention of negotiating any agreement that would allow Iran to have any enrichment programme. On Apr. 12, 2005, Mousavian recounts, the French ambassador to Iran, Francois Nicoullaud, told him it was impossible for the Europeans to negotiate on the Iranian proposal.
“For the US the enrichment in Iran is a red line which the EU cannot cross,” Mousavian quotes Nicoullaud as saying.
In June 2009, Nicoullaud signed a statement with five other former European ambassadors to Iran recalling that in 2005 “Iran was ready to discuss a ceiling limit for the number of its centrifuges and to maintain its rate of enrichment far below the high levels necessary for weapons,” but that “the Europeans and the Americans wanted to compel Iran to forsake its enrichment program entirely.”
Jenkins recalled that he was aware that no proposal, no matter how forthcoming on assurances against diversion of LEU to a nuclear weapon, would be acceptable to the British government if it involved a resumption of enrichment.
“I knew in my heart of hearts that this was a waste of time — that it would not fly,” he recalled.
“The British objective was to eliminate entirely Iran’s enrichment capability,” Jenkins said. “I remember we couldn’t even allow Iran to have 20 centrifuges for R&D (research and development) purposes, because we ourselves had mastered the technology with even fewer than that.”
The Iranians had made clear to the European three that they could not agree to any loss of their right to enrich, according to Jenkins, but the Europeans hoped that it was merely an opening negotiating position.
“I don’t think we realised fully in March 2005 that Iran was not prepared to give up enrichment as the price of a settlement,” Jenkins recalled. “We believed that if we could come up with sufficient Incentives and scare Iran with the threat of referral to the (United Nations) Security Council, they would give in.”
After reading Mousavian’s minutes of the meeting with Nicoullaud, the Supreme Leader instructed his nuclear policy coordinator, Hassan Rowhani, to restart the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan. Iran had included the conversion facility in its suspension of enrichment activities only with great reluctance under the pressure of the European negotiators.
Meanwhile, Mousavian made the rounds to try to persuade the Europeans to accept an Iranian offer to ensure that it would not divert uranium to nuclear weapons. He recalls offering his German counterpart Michael Schaefer in Berlin yet another proposal that had not yet been cleared by Iranian leaders.
Under the Mousavian proposal, Iran would have resumed uranium conversion at the Isfahan plant but would have exported its product to “an agreed-upon country” in exchange for yellowcake, the form uranium takes prior to enrichment.
At a later stage of the proposal, Iran would have begun enrichment at Natanz with some 3,000 centrifuges, but again would have exported all the enriched uranium to “an agreed-upon country”.
While those extraordinary arrangements were being carried out, Mousavian proposed, negotiations on a “final compromise” on “objective guarantees of non-diversion” and EU “firm guarantees” on comprehensive relations with Iran would continue for a maximum of one year, and that Iran would adopt a timetable for enrichment agreed upon with the EU “based on Iran’s fuel requirements”.
Schafer encouraged Mousavian to pursue the proposal with the French and British, and French political director Stanislas Lefabvre Laboulaye told him it would depend on the British response.
But Mousavian writes that British director general for political affairs John Sawers told him that the Bush administration “would never tolerate the operation of even one centrifuge in Iran”.
After his round of meetings with the Europeans, Mousavian was informed by Rowhani that the package he had proposed had been accepted by the Iranian leadership, based on a minimum of 3,000 centrifuges and a one-year limit on the negotiations. But a third condition was that the Europeans had to agree on the plan before the June Iranian presidential election.
The third condition suggests that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei did not want either of the two presidential candidates, Hashemi Rafsanjani or Mahmound Ahmadinejad, to get credit for the agreement with the Europeans.
The conversion of the bulk of Iranian low enriched uranium (LEU) to fuel rods after being exported to France or Russia was the basis for the Barack Obama administration’s diplomatic proposal to Iran in October 2009.
The Ahmadinejad government negotiated with the US and European diplomats on the proposal, but in the end Iran was not willing to part with as much as 80 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium without getting any change in US policy in return.
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam”, was published in 2006.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.