Iran Cuts Nuclear Stockpile, IAEA Says
May 24, 2014
Heinz-Peter Bader / Reuters & Kaveh L. Afrasiabi / Al Jazeera America
The Iran nuclear talks have now crossed the midpoint in the six-month timetable for negotiating a final agreement. Both sides have expressed concern at the lack of tangible progress in the latest round of talks, which ended May 16 in Vienna. Iran's negotiators, however, have called it constructive and insisted that a deal within the time frame is still possible.
UN agency says Iran now has only about a fifth of what it would need to build a nuclear weapon
Iran Cuts Nuclear Stockpile, IAEA Says
Heinz-Peter Bader / Reuters
TEHERAN (May 23, 2014) -- Iran has neutralized most of its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium that could be turned quickly into the core of a nuclear weapon, the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday, leaving the country with only about a fifth of what it would need for such a purpose.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a in a quarterly report that Iran now has less than 90 pounds of the material.
The report also said Tehran was meeting all other obligations under an agreement reached four months ago in Geneva that serves as a prelude to a comprehensive deal now being negotiated.
The findings are likely to be welcomed by the six powers trying to negotiate an end to the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program. Iran has consistently denied any interest in obtaining atomic weapons, saying it is only interested in civilian nuclear power, something allowed under the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Diplomats and analysts caution, however, that the positions of Iran and the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China remain far apart and that a successful outcome of their diplomatic efforts is far from certain.
As part of the deal, Iran agreed to dilute or convert all of its stock of uranium enriched to 20 percent in return for limited sanctions relief. At the 20 percent level, uranium is only one technical step away from use as the core of a nuclear warhead. Iran had produced almost enough 20 percent material for such a weapon until it stopped in January and started transforming what it had.
On another closely watched aspect of Iran's nuclear activities, the report said that Iran, at a meeting in Tehran this week, had shown the IAEA information that simultaneous firing of a type of detonator was tested for a civilian application.
The IAEA, which for years has been trying to investigate allegations that Iran may have worked on designing a nuclear bomb, had asked for explanations about the development of Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators as part of its probe.
How Iran responds to the U.N. agency's questions is seen as an important test of its readiness to cooperate with the investigation into what the IAEA calls the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the country's nuclear program.
Iran, it said, was engaging on the issue "for the first time ... since 2008," by providing documents on the use of detonators that the agency suspects were part of experiments on setting off a nuclear charge. But IAEA said Iran continues to assert that its tests were for civilian use in its documentation.
Clinching a Final Deal with Iran
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi / Al Jazeera America
(May 20, 2014) -- The Iran nuclear talks have now crossed the midpoint in the six-month timetable for negotiating a final agreement. Both sides have expressed concern at the lack of tangible progress in the latest round of talks, which ended May 16 in Vienna. Iran's negotiators, however, have called it constructive and insisted that a deal within the time frame is still possible.
If successful, these negotiations will undoubtedly be billed as a prime achievement of multilateral diplomacy in the post-Cold War era; it will garner praise for reducing the potential for war and reversing the escalation of the Iranian nuclear crisis in the turbulent Middle East and perhaps also serve as a stepping-stone for the normalization of Iran's relations with the West.
The outline of the final deal can be gathered from November's interim agreement in Geneva, which put a cap on Iran's nuclear activities and allowed intrusive inspection of its facilities in exchange for modest sanction relief and a tacit acceptance of Iran's right -- under strict conditions -- to a civilian nuclear fuel cycle. Since then, the two sides' negotiators have met on a monthly basis and have signed a confidential 35-page implementation agreement, which went into effect in late January.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) recently confirmed Iran's fulfillment of its obligations under the interim agreement. (The deliberate choice of words signified an executive agreement instead of a treaty under Western and Iranian law, which would require parliamentary approval.)
According to Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran's deputy chief negotiator, there are still 13 areas of disagreement between the two sides, which will likely consume three or more rounds of high-level talks in addition to meetings among technical experts between now and the July 20 deadline (which may be extended another six months if necessary). The remaining gaps would need to be hammered out by comparing the draft texts prepared by each side at a future round.
So far, reports from Tehran and Vienna indicate that substantial progress has been made with respect to transparency and the system of monitoring as well as the fate of the heavy-water reactor in Arak, which has raised Western concerns about proliferation because once operational, it will produce weapons-capable plutonium.
Iran's offer to redesign the reactor's core so it will produce substantially less plutonium has been reportedly accepted in principle, and it will likely take several years before the modified reactor is completed.
On transparency, Iran has already allowed more than 7,500 man-days of robust inspections, including more than 100 inspections on short notice, resulting in the IAEA's certificate confirming the absence of any evidence of illicit diversion of nuclear material.
Intent on proving its benign nuclear intentions, Tehran is now on the verge of adopting the IAEA's intrusive additional protocol, which would expand the inspection system but only if a final deal comes to pass that comprehensively lifts the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran imposed by the United Nations, the United States, European powers and others.
A final deal can be reached only by overcoming an Iranian confidence deficit in the West's intentions.
Unfortunately, such a bright prospect for the ongoing nuclear talks is dimmed by signs of Western attempts to revise the agreement. Some influential Washington policy experts (such as Brookings Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack) have recommended that sanctions be suspended rather than removed and made dependent on biannual review.
But this is at odds with the terms of the Geneva agreement and clearly would put the US negotiators at loggerheads not only with Iran but also with the P5 +1 nations, such as China and Russia, that oppose unilateral Western sanctions against Iran.
Another potential pitfall is the US-led insistence on a significant reduction in Iran's centrifuges, from the current nearly 20,000 down to 4,000 to 5,000, purportedly to delay breakout capability -- the point at which Iran, were it to embark on a nuclear weaponization effort, could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for one or more nuclear weapons -- by six months or more.
But Iran is unlikely to agree to such a steep reduction and is more amenable to the alternative option of maintaining the current 9,000 operational centrifuges that produce low-enriched uranium under the IAEA's surveillance cameras. True, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energy organization, recently stated that Iran needs some 50,000 centrifuges to meet its growing nuclear needs (it plans to build several more reactors).
But for the sake of a mutually satisfactory agreement, Tehran could be willing to forgo an expansion of its centrifuges for the duration of the agreement, along with other transparency measures that would meet Western concerns about breakout potential.
Lest we forget, even by the admission of US nuclear scientists, Iran is capable of producing the 15 to 20 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed to build a bomb with only 1,500 to 2,000 centrifuges. Iran has mastered the nuclear fuel cycle by internally manufacturing all centrifuge components, which means it would be impossible to prevent the latent potential of Iran's dual-track nuclear technology.
As I have written before, including in The Harvard International Review and The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, it is more prudent for the West to adopt realistic measures that will objectively guarantee that Iran's nuclear potential is kept perpetually latent.
Indeed, a convincing argument can be made that allowing Iran to maintain its current stock of operational centrifuges under robust inspections at low ceilings (of up to 5 percent) for five to seven years is feasible and presents hardly any major proliferation risks.
Given Iran's factional politics and its powerful hard-liners' opposition to any excess concessions, the final deal must reflect a face-saving formula or confront a tough sell in Iran.
Ali Larijani, the powerful speaker of Iran's parliament, has warned that the West is seeking a "caricature nuclear program" in Iran, which reflects Iranian skepticism about the West's intentions. A final deal can be reached only by overcoming this suspicion.
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi was an adviser to Iran's nuclear negotiation team from 2004 to 2006 and is a co-author of the forthcoming book "Nuclear Iran: Accord and Détente Since the Geneva Agreement of 2013."
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.
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