Iran Update: Number 160

  • Moscow talks leave both parties frustrated
  • Latest IAEA-Iran talks end without making progress; Iran produces fuel plates for reactor
  • Putin proposes Iranian involvement in Syria crisis
  • Iran announces development of nuclear-powered submarine
  • Iranian and British representatives hold difficult bi-lateral meeting

Moscow talks leave both parties frustrated

The E3+3/P5+1: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, plus Germany, met with Iran in Moscow on June 18-19 apparently with little progress, reflected in the subsequent interim downgrading of future talks. A technical meeting has been set for July 3 in Istanbul, with further progress contingent upon its outcome.

During the meeting, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili delivered a five-point proposal, including: recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium; sanctions relief in exchange for greater cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); collaboration on civilian nuclear energy production and safety, and on non-nuclear projects, such as counter-narcotics and regional security (i.e. the crises in Syria and Bahrain); and confidence-building measures, such as limiting production of 20%-enriched uranium. Although the latter drew interest from the E3+3, Iran offered its potential acceptance of the deal to include the importation of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, and also demanded relief from sanctions, a condition which the United States and EU have rejected outright.

There were rumors that the Obama Administration was considering proposing a broader, more comprehensive deal, but this did not materialise, and the E3+3 stuck to the “stop, shut, ship” proposal; i.e. confidence-building measures including cooperation with the IAEA, the halting of production and shipping out of uranium enriched up to the 20% level, and the suspension of all activity at Fordow; all in exchange for fuel for its research reactor, and allowing the supply of spare parts for planes.

In the run-up to Moscow, Iran pushed for a meeting between deputies to discuss the technical aspects of the talks and prepare an agenda, rebuffed by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Ali Bagheri, Iran’s deputy negotiator, accused the E3+3 of leaving the talks stagnated and threatened Iran’s exit. Jalili then committed to addressing the E3+3 proposal if Iran’s concerns were also discussed with an emphasis on regional security issues. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met with President Vladimir Putin. President Putin reaffirmed to President Ahmadinejad Russia’s support for Iran’s right to a nuclear program as long as it remained peaceful, when they met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Beijing.

Baroness Ashton highlighted after the Moscow talks “significant gaps” between Iran and the E3+3’s positions, and stated that the success of negotiations now hinges on whether Iran “is willing to make diplomacy work, to focus on concrete confidence-building steps and to address the concerns of the international community”.

However, the E3+3 has been criticized for not more actively making sanctions relief a part of a deal, a consequence of domestic U.S. politics. A bipartisan letter signed by nearly half of the U.S. Senate prior to the talks in Moscow, talked of further tightening sanctions (potentially targeted at Iran’s shipping and insurance sectors).


Latest IAEA-Iran talks end without making progress; Iran produces fuel plates for reactor

There was no tangible breakthrough at the latest meeting between Iran and the IAEA, on June 8 (before Moscow). IAEA head Yukiya Amano had hinted towards the end of May that an agreement was imminent, but Iran continues to refuse access to the Parchin site, where the Agency suspects Iran of having carried out explosive tests related to trigger mechanisms for nuclear devices – an accusation the Iranians invariably deny. Satellite images released in late May suggested that Iran has attempted to cleanse the site of evidence. Head of the U.S. delegation to the IAEA, Robert Wood, voiced suspicions: “if Iran has nothing to hide, why deny the agency access and carry out these apparent cleanup efforts?” The Iranians point out that it is nearly impossible to remove traces of radioactive particles.

There may be a problem of sequencing. Iran was clearly concerned about giving up leverage in advance of an agreement on a broader framework with the E3+3. The parties ended the talks without setting a date for a future meeting. Iran’s IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has stated that Iran is keen to continue work on the “structured approach” document that sets out the terms for the IAEA’s investigation.

The last quarterly IAEA report of May 25 reported Iran’s conversion of a third of its 20% enriched uranium stockpile into metal plates to fuel the Tehran Research Reactor, which is used primarily for medical purposes. Iran now has less uranium available for further enrichment to weapons-grade (fissile) material, which could serve as evidence of Iran’s peaceful intent, though enrichment continues (36kg were enriched since last November, but a third of the total 145kg was converted into plates). A recent ISIS report has predicted that by 2013 Iran could have enough uranium enriched to the 19.75-level for a bomb, if further enriched to bomb-grade level (about 90%). However, the report notes that Iran would likely want to amass more of this material before attempting a nuclear weapons break-out.


Putin proposes Iranian involvement in Syria crisis

Earlier in June, President Putin in the face of Western opposition proposed bringing in Syrian-ally Iran to assist with a resolution to the crisis in Syria. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also been pressuring the United States to engage Iran on the crisis. President Obama has cautiously hinted that, following talks with Putin, he had agreed to include “all interested parties”. When Putin again proposed Iran’s involvement in discussions to take place in Geneva on June 30, however, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said that the United States was currently opposed to the idea because of Iran’s level of support for the Syrian government.


Iran announces development of nuclear-powered submarine

On June 12, Iran announced that it was in the initial stages of developing its own nuclear-powered submarine and, deputy navy commander Abbas Zamini added that Iran would not stop at one. Although work would be on nuclear propulsion systems rather than on weapons, the enrichment levels of fuel needed for most nuclear-powered submarines are higher than that needed for warheads. The announcement followed a story revealing that Israel has been deploying nuclear cruise missiles on German-supplied Dolphin-class submarines, and that Israel recently signed a contract with Germany for a sixth submarine.


Iranian and British representatives hold difficult bi-lateral meeting

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with British foreign secretary William Hague on the margins of a security conference on Afghanistan, which took place in Kabul on June 14, the first meet at this level since the attack on the British Embassy in Tehran last November.


Shivani Handa, BASIC



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