A deal to limit Iran's nuclear program in exchange for limited sanctions relief took effect 20 January 2014. Officials from both sides confirmed the start date January 13, 2014 after experts spent weeks discussing how to implement the six-month pact they first agreed to in November. Iran would limit its uranium enrichment to five percent and reduce its stock of higher-enriched uranium, while also allowing United Nations inspectors to access nuclear facilities. In exchange, the United States and European Union eased sanctions that have squeezed Iran's economy. Iran and the six world powers, which include the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany, would use the six months to continue negotiations on a long-lasting deal to address fears that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.
Iran's foreign minister met in Geneva Tuesday 15 October 2013 with officials from the so called P5+1: the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany. This latest round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program came with high expectations following new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani striking conciliatory tones throughout his young administration. "I assure you that, on the Iranian side, this will is there fully, a hundred percent, that within a very short period of time there will be a settlement on the nuclear issue," said Rouhani, discussing the upcoming talks.
However, not all are convinced. Israel thinks Iran is merely playing for time as it continues to attempt to develop a nuclear weapon. Israeli Government spokesman Mark Regev. "Our concern is, that the Iranian promises, the Iranian words of good faith, are in fact a smokescreen, a cover for the continuation of their aggressive nuclear programs. And what are the facts? Israel will look at what Iran does, not what it says,” said Regev.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said 08 July 2014 that Iran needed to significantly increase its uranium enrichment abilities to meet its long-term nuclear energy goals. Khamenei’s remarks -- which came in a posting on his official website -- underlined divisions between Tehran and world powers at talks in Vienna aimed at reaching a permanent nuclear accord by July 20. The so-called P5+1 – the United States, Russia, France, Germany, China, and Britain – wants Tehran to reduce its enrichment capacity so that it can’t quickly produce the highly enriched uranium needed to build nuclear weapons. Khamenei said the P5+1 wants Tehran to accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units, or SWU -- a measurement of the effort needed for the separation of isotopes of uranium. The separative work units (SWU), a complex unit, indicates energy input, enrichment and depletion levels. Khamenei said Iran needs 190,000 SWU to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants.
“A current sensitive issue is the nuclear issue,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech to government officials 07 July 2014, adding that the opposing side has taken a maximalist position in the nuclear talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. “Their goal is that the Islamic Republic — in regard to the suitable enrichment capabilities, for instance, which is one of the issues — to be satisfied with 10,000 SWU,” he said, adding, “However, they started at 500 SWU and 1,000 SWU. Approximately 10,000 SWU is the output of approximately 10,000 centrifuges — from the outdated ones we’ve had and have. This is their goal.
“Our officials say that we need 190,000 SWU,” he continued. “Maybe this need will not be for this year, or two years, or five years, but this is the final need of the country.”
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, clarified the country’s nuclear needs 08 July 2014. “Our needs for an agreed time frame, for the next eight years, to secure annual fuel for Bushehr nuclear power plant, is approximately 190,000 SWU... “If the capacity of each centrifuge is three SWU, approximately 60,000 centrifuges are needed ... If the ability of each centrifuge is 10 SWU, we need 19,000 centrifuges. If the machines of the centrifuge from our latest generation have the ability of 24 SWU, we need less than 10,000 centrifuges.... the latest generation of centrifuges with the capacity of 24 SWU have not reached mass production... Based on designs, the ability of current centrifuges, which are first generation, are approximately three or so, which in reality is less than two SWU.”
By one July 2014 account, the West tried to force Iran to accept a limit of 4,000 centrifuges. But now Iranian negotiators were unfortunately requesting 8,000 centrifuges, which would deny industrial enrichment.
World powers and Iran agreed July 19, 2014 to extend a deadline for reaching an agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program until 24 November, citing progress made, but nowhere near enough to reach a deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the draft had " more brackets than words", reflecting gaps and points of disagreement between Iran and the P5+1.
Iran had converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complied with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program in exchange for easing of sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had converted its stockpiles of 20 percent enriched uranium to lower enrichment.
Iran will accept monitoring of its nuclear program as called for in the global non-proliferation treaty, but not any inspections beyond that. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said August 17, 2014 that any inspection beyond the legal framework of the treaty "would be a precedent, against the interests of all developing countries."
By October 2014 Iran proposed to keep about 10,000 centrifuges spinning while suggesting that 900 other machines could be disconnected and those still operating spin at lower rates or with less uranium gas injected. The latest US position had reportedly edged up from 1,500 centrifuges to 4,500. If Iran agreed to reduce the number to 7,000 – as an Iranian source VOA reporter Barbara Slavin – that might be enough to sway Russia and China – not to mention a host of developing nations and Iranian neighbors – to resume normal trade with Iran.
On November 24, 2014 International powers and Iran extended talks on a comprehensive deal over Iran's nuclear program, with new deadlines reaching into next year. More than a year of intensive talks and the direct involvement of seven foreign ministers failed to settle differences over how much nuclear enrichment capability Iran will be allowed to have, and how quickly economic sanctions will be lifted. Negotiators will work toward a political framework agreement by 01 March 2015. A final deadline of July 1, 2015, was set for the comprehensive deal. Talks would resume in December. This was the second extension, after an original, six-month deadline expired in July. The negotiators want Iran to be at least six months, preferably a year, away from building a nuclear bomb.
On 25 March 2015 US Secretary of State John Kerry defended US policy to continue nuclear negotiations with Iran, saying if Washington will walk away from the talks, the sanctions against the Islamic Republic will not hold. Kerry said "... the sanctions will not hold, because those other people who deem the plan to be reasonable will walk away and say, 'You do your thing, we'll do ours. You're not willing to be reasonable, we're going to do what we think is reasonable.' And then you have no sanctions regime at all."
Iran and six world powers agreed 02 April 2015 to "key parameters" for a preliminary deal involving Tehran's nuclear program. The framework deal – fiercely opposed by US ally Israel – substantially reduced Iran's enrichment program for at least a decade. Among its more than 40 parameters, it cut the Islamic Republic's number of installed centrifuges for enrichment from 19,000 to 6,000, reduced its stockpile of low-enriched uranium, and extended its "breakout time" – the period needed to acquire sufficient material for a weapon – to at least a year. It was then estimated to be two or three months. Iran also agreed to transparency for its nuclear program, allowing inspectors to monitor the supply chain, materials and facilities. Different restrictions on Iran's nuclear program would continue for a quarter-century. In return for compliance, international sanctions would be lifted.
No deal was actually signed, and the competing fact sheets were critical to understanding what had been "agreed". There were at least six major areas of discrepancy between American and Iranian accounts of what the "agreement" actually entails. The US parameters state that sanctions will be suspended only after Iran has fulfilled all its obligations, while Iran claims the immediate lifting of all sanctions as soon as a final agreement is signed. The Americans provide for restrictions on enrichment for 15 years, while Iran speaks of 10 years. The US says the framework rules out development of advanced centrifuges at Fordo, while Iran says they are free to continue this work. The US says that Iran has agreed to surprise inspections, while Iran says such consent is only temporary.
Contrary to the US account, Iran says its stockpile of enriched uranium [enough for seven bombs if highly enriched] will not be shipped out of the country. The issue of the Possible Military Dimensions [PMD] of the Iranian program has not been resolved.
Former ambassador John Bolton, who served as Under Secretary of State for arms control and international security, said “The sanctions that we have seen have caused Iran to come to the table to get relief from sanctions - well, no kidding! What else would you expect? But, they have not caused Iran to make anything other than trivial and easily reversible concessions on the nuclear program”.
Iran's nuclear program began in the Shah's era, including a plan to build 20 nuclear power reactors. Two power reactors in Bushehr, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, were started but remained unfinished when they were bombed and damaged by the Iraqis during the Iran-Iraq war. Following the revolution in 1979, all nuclear activity was suspended, though subsequently work was resumed on a somewhat more modest scale. Current plans extend to the construction of 15 power reactors and two research reactors.
Research and development efforts also were conducted by the Shah's regime on fissile material production, although these efforts were halted during the Iranian revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.
The current nuclear program is headed by the President, the commander of the Iranian Revulutionary Gaurd Corps (IRGC), the head of the Defense Industries Organization, and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO). These leaders continue the pursuit of WMD's and support Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear programs against all pressures from the United States and its allies.
Iran ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, and since February 1992 has allowed the IAEA to inspect any of its nuclear facilities. Prior to 2003 no IAEA inspections had revealed Tehran's violations of the NPT.
Since the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Tehran redoubled its efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missiles. In addition to Iran's legitimate efforts to develop its nuclear power-generation industry, it is believed to be operating a parallel clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iran appears to be following a policy of complying with the NPT and building its nuclear power program in such a way that if the appropriate political decision is made, know-how gained in the peaceful sphere (specialists and equipment) could be used to create nuclear weapons (dual-use technologies have been sold to Iran by at least nine western companies during the early 1990's). Also, in this atmosphere of deception, unconfirmed reports have been made that Tehran purchased several nuclear warheads in the early 1990's
It is evident that Iran's efforts are focused both on uranium enrichment and a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.
Iran does not currently have nuclear weapons, and would appear to be about two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. By some time in 2006, however, Iran could be producting fissile material for atomic bombs using both uranium enriched at Natanz and plutonium produced at Arak. The Natanz facility might produce enough uranium for about five bombs every year, and the Arak facility might produced enough plutonium for as many as three bombs every year.
If Iran did acquire atomic bombs, it would put pressure on other countries in the region do the same. Many Arab countries believe it is unfair that Israel has nuclear weapons. If Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia but also Egypt and possibly Syria, found themselves caught between a nuclear-armed Israel and a nuclear-armed Iran, it would greatly increase pressures to pursue their own nuclear options. This could result in a regional arms race in the Middle East which is likely to be quite destabilizing, given the number and intensity of conflicts and instabilities in the region.
In December 2003 Presidential hopeful John Kerry said that he would explore "areas of mutual interest" with Iran. And in June 2004 Kerry proposed providing nuclear fuel to Iran in exchange for Iran's abandoning the fissile material production complex at Esfahan, Arak, Natanz and other locations. In an interview on 29 August 2004, reported in the Washington Post on 30 August, Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards proposed a "Grand Bargain" with Iran, under which the US would drop objections to the nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, in exchange for Iran abandoning the material production complex. According to Edwards, if Iran rejected this offer, it would confirm that it was building atomic bombs. Edwards also said that Kerry would ensure that European allies would join the US in imposing sanctions on Iran. "If we are engaging with Iranians in an effort to reach this great bargain and if in fact this is a bluff that they are trying to develop nuclear weapons capability, then we know that our European friends will stand with us," Edwards said. "Iran is further along in developing a nuclear weapon than they were when George Bush came into office... A nuclear Iran is unacceptable for so many reasons, including the possibility that it creates a gateway and the need for other countries in the region to develop nuclear capability -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, potentially others," Edwards said. A new assessment of the costs and benefits of attacking Iran released September 13, 2012 said U.S. military strikes probably carry the risk of igniting an all-out war in the Middle East. The report, by more than 30 former U.S. government officials, national security experts, and retired military officers, says attacks would shake the Iranian regime's political control. But it goes on to say that Tehran would likely retaliate, directly and through surrogates. The report says an attack could delay Tehran's development of an atomic bomb for a few years. If the United States alone, or with Israel, carried out “extended military strikes,” Iran’s ability to build a nuclear bomb could be delayed by two to four years, it says. The report estimated that a military strike by Israel alone could delay Iran’s nuclear program by up to two years. "You can't kill intellectual power," said retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Frank Kearney, who endorsed the report. He is a former deputy director at the National Counterterrorism Center and former deputy commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Iran will be capable to create nuclear weapons in six to seven months, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with the NBC channel on 16 September 2012. "They're in the last 20 yards. And you can't let them cross that goal line," Netanyahu said. "Because that would have unbelievable consequences." “Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism, "It's the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today,” Netanyahu said referring to a string of riots across the globe sparked by the U.S.-made short film titled "Innocence of Muslims." The Israeli prime minister also said he disagrees with the statements that Iran’s nuclear weapons would stabilize the situation in the Middle East calling this approach “a new standard for human stupidity.”
In a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency dated 23 January 2013, Tehran said it would introduce new centrifuges to its main enrichment plant near the central town of Natanz. The letter from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) informed the Agency that 'centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used in Unit A-22' at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz. It was not clear how many of the upgraded centrifuges Iran aimed to put in place at Natanz, which is designed for tens of thousands of machines, but the wording of the IAEA's note implied it could be up to roughly 3,000. A unit can house more than 3,000 centrifuges. About 10,400 IR-1 centrifuges were installed at Natanz as of late 2012, an IAEA report said in November 2012. Using the IR-2m in large numbers would enable Iran to enrich uranium much faster.
Previously, Iran's supreme leader rejected a proposal for direct talks about its nuclear program with the United States, saying negotiations will not solve anything. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a statement posted on his website 07 February 2013 that the US wanted to talk while threatening to punish Iran, and that his country will not be intimidated. On 06 February 2013 President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in reaction to US proposal for holding direct talks with Iran, said Iran evaluates the new proposal 'positive', adding if US changes its behavior, Iran will consider the proposal. US Vice President Joe Biden said during a security conference on Saturday 02 February 2013 in Munich that the United States is open to directly engaging Iran if it is serious about negotiations.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|