Showing posts with label Iran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iran. Show all posts

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Iran deal could stumble on sensitive nuclear monitoring

(L-R) German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarifat, Russian Deputy Political Director Alexey Karpov and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond are seen following nuclear talks Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (2nd R) and staff watch a tablet in Lausanne as President Obama delivers a state address on the status of the Iran nuclear program talks, April 2, 2015.
Beefing up international monitoring of Iran's nuclear work could become the biggest stumbling block to a final accord between Tehran and major powers, despite a preliminary deal reached last week.

As part of that deal, Iran and the powers agreed that United Nations inspectors would have "enhanced" access to remaining nuclear activity in Iran, where they already monitor key sites.

But details on exactly what kind of access the inspectors will have were left for the final stage of talks, posing a major challenge for negotiators on a complex and logistically challenging issue that is highly delicate for Iran's leaders.

Securing proper inspections is crucial for the United States and other Western powers to ensure a final deal, due by June 30, is effective and to persuade a skeptical U.S. Congress and Israel to accept the agreement. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, but it has never welcomed intrusive inspections and has in the past kept some nuclear sites secret.

Sharply differing interpretations have emerged on what was covered by last week's framework agreement - a sign of what diplomats and nuclear experts say will be tough talks ahead.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say for Iran on the deal, on Thursday ruled out any "extraordinary supervision measures" over nuclear activities and said military sites could not be inspected.

That appeared to contradict a U.S. "fact sheet" issued after last week's marathon talks in Switzerland which said the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would have "regular access to all Iran's nuclear activities" and to the supply chain that supports it, as well as a joint Iranian-European Union statement that said the IAEA would have expanded access in Iran.

Aside from the question of Iranian consent, the logistical requirements for increased monitoring of Iranian sites would be daunting. It would involve more cameras, on-site inspections, satellite surveillance and other methods and might require the IAEA to assign more people and resources to its Iran team.

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David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, said it was crucial to come up with a mechanism for "anytime, anywhere" inspections that go beyond the IAEA's own special arrangements for short-notice inspections, known as the Additional Protocol.

The Additional Protocol was created in the 1990s, after the discovery of Iraq's secret nuclear weapons program and revelations that North Korea and Romania had separated plutonium, as a means of smoking out covert arms-related activities.

"It’s extremely difficult for Iran," said Albright, himself a former U.N. weapons inspector. "They don’t want it. They want to keep smuggling (nuclear-related dual-use items). They’re buying a lot of things, and they’re not going to want to stop."

"BIG FIGHTS" AHEAD

Last week's framework accord between Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China cleared the way for talks on a final settlement by a June 30 deadline. The aim is to block an Iranian path to a nuclear bomb in return for lifting sanctions on Tehran.

The framework would require Iran to mothball most of its installed enrichment centrifuges and curtail uranium enrichment and other sensitive work for at least a decade. The plan calls for IAEA-monitored storage by Iran of thousands of centrifuges and other infrastructure.

Among the splits that have already emerged in the Iranian and Western interpretations of the deal are timing of sanctions relief and the removal of U.N. sanctions, as well as monitoring.

"I believe monitoring and inspections may prove to be the most difficult nut to crack and I wouldn't be surprised if Iran and the P5+1 (six powers) have some big fights about it," a senior diplomatic source told Reuters condition of anonymity.

The interim deal makes clear that broader inspections will be mandatory for Iran. The joint EU-Iranian statement said that the IAEA "will have enhanced access through agreed procedures, including to clarify past and present issues."

Iran signed the Additional Protocol in 2003, a year after the existence of its Natanz enrichment site and Arak heavy-water production facility was revealed. Tehran began voluntarily implementing the protocol but never ratified it. It eventually stopped implementing it.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington on Wednesday that Iran had agreed that it would resume implementation of the Additional Protocol and would submit it for ratification.

But Olli Heinonen, the IAEA's former chief nuclear inspector who is now at Harvard University, said Additional Protocol inspections would likely not be enough for proper monitoring.

The Additional Protocol has limitations, experts say, such as not covering research by Iran that the IAEA is investigating and which Western countries believe was linked to weaponization.

Heinonen said there would have to be a new comprehensive Iranian declaration about its nuclear program that also includes information about Iranian cooperation with foreign states.

"You need some provision about nuclear cooperation with other countries given the stories about cooperation with North Korea," Heinonen said.

Jacqueline Shire, a non-proliferation expert and former member of the U.N. Security Council's Panel of Experts on Iran, said resolving questions about the so-called "possible military dimensions" of Iran's past nuclear activities was crucial but extremely difficult.

"Iran will have to engage with the IAEA on this in a way it has not, up to this point, been willing to," she said.

Heinonen, Albright and Shire said that failure to address the possible military dimensions could undermine confidence in any monitoring and inspection regime.

"If you leave PMD unresolved, then there could be many unknowns," Heinonen said.

(This version of the story has been refiled to clarify editorial insertion in David Albright quote to "nuclear-related dual-use items," not "nuclear materials", in 11th paragraph)

Source Reuters
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Thursday, 3 July 2014

Exclusive: Iran eases demands for nuclear capacity at Vienna talks: Western diplomats

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif waits to begin talks in Vienna July 3, 2014.

Iran has reduced demands for the size of its future nuclear enrichment program in talks with world powers although Western governments are urging Tehran to compromise further, Western diplomats close to the negotiations said on Thursday.
The diplomats, who spoke to Reuters at the start of a two-week round of negotiations between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, said that despite some movement from Tehran it would not be easy to clinch a deal by their self-imposed deadline for a deal of July 20.
Tehran's shift relates to the main sticking point in the talks - the number of uranium enrichment centrifuges Iran will maintain if a deal is reached to curb its nuclear program in exchange for a gradual end of sanctions. Ending the decade-long dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions is seen as instrumental to defusing tension and averting a new Middle East war.
"Iran has reduced the number of centrifuges it wants but the number is still unacceptably high," a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity and without further detail.
On Wednesday a senior Iranian official told Reuters that Tehran has refused to back down from its demand to maintain 50,000 operational centrifuges, a figure deemed by Western officials to be out of keeping with Iran's stated need for a strictly civilian nuclear energy program.
Iran, a major oil producer, says it plans a future network of nuclear power plants to diversify its energy supply, though just completing one of them would take many years, analysts say.
"Iran needs at least 50,000 centrifuges and not 49,999," the Iranian official said. "We will not compromise on that ... The other party is talking about a few thousands and this is unacceptable for Iran."
That figure has been in the public domain for some time. The head of Tehran's atomic energy organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said months ago that the Natanz enrichment plant alone would need 50,000 advanced centrifuges going forward.
But the Western diplomats said that behind closed doors Iran was no longer insisting on 50,000 machines. It had signaled it would settle for a lower figure but declined to be specify the number so as not to disrupt the negotiations.
Iran now has over 19,000 centrifuges, though only around 10,000 of those are running. The powers want that number cut to the low thousands, to ensure Iran cannot quickly produce enough high-enriched uranium for a bomb, should it choose to do so.
Tehran denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that it is developing a nuclear-weapons capability behind the screen of a declared civilian atomic energy program.
IRAN "WILL NOT KNEEL"
Iranian officials declined to comment directly on the reported concession on centrifuges.
"As we said, we are ready to assure the world that we are not after the bombs," another senior Iranian official told Reuters. "We have shown our goodwill but will not yield to demands that violate our rights.
"A few thousand more or less centrifuges makes no difference," he added. "Our right to enrichment has been accepted by all parties involved in the talks. ... There are technical ways to assure both sides about securing their rights and removing concerns."
Western governments are exerting pressure for Iran to compromise further in the interest of nailing down a deal by July 20, a deadline that Western officials say privately will be extremely difficult to meet.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry chided Tehran on Tuesday by saying in a Washington Post article that Iran's "public optimism about the potential outcome of these negotiations has not been matched, to date, by the positions they have articulated behind closed doors."
On Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague echoed Kerry's criticism.
"We will not accept a deal at any price," he said in a statement. "A deal that does not provide sufficient assurances that Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon is not in the interests of the UK, the region or the international community."
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an apparent response to Kerry's remarks, said Tehran was ready to take concrete steps to ensure its nuclear program is peaceful but will not "kneel in submission" to do a deal.
Centrifuges are not the only stumbling block in the talks. One of the more sensitive matters is Iran's ballistic missile program, which is banned under U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on Tehran between 2006 and 2010 over its refusal to suspend enrichment and other activity with bomb applications.
The United States has insisted that Iran's ballistic missile capabilities be covered under the potential nuclear deal under discussion in Vienna but Tehran does not want that to be on the table, officials close to the negotiations have said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who along with Zarif is leading the Iranian delegation in Vienna, confirmed this by saying that "the two sides are divided on this topic."
"Our position remains the same," Araqchi was quoted as saying on Wednesday by the Iranian student news agency ISNA. "Iran's defense system is not up for negotiation."
Other disputes include the duration of any nuclear deal, the timetable for ending the sanctions, and the fate of a research reactor that could yield significant quantities of plutonium, an alternative fuel for nuclear weapons.
The current round of talks in the Austrian capital will run until at least July 15.
Reuters
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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Iran questions nuclear deal deadline as talks 'hit wall'

France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius addresses a news conference with his Algerian counterpart Ramtane Lamamra (not pictured) in Algiers June 8, 2014.
(Reuters) - Iran, after talks with senior U.S. officials, questioned whether a July deadline for a nuclear deal with world powers will be met, fueling doubts on the outcome as France spoke out, saying talks on curbing Tehran's uranium enrichment had "hit a wall". Iran's talks with six major powers on curbing its nuclear program in exchange for an end to Western sanctions could be extended for six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline agreed by all parties, a senior Iranian official said. While an extension is possible under the terms of the talks, experts believe both Iran and the international powers may face domestic political pressures to argue for better terms during this extra time period, further complicating negotiations. The Iranian official, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, said it was "too soon to judge" whether more time was needed. "But the good thing is all parties are seriously committed to meet that goal," he said of the July 20 target. "Whether we can do it or not is something else," he told Iranian media in Geneva. A recording of his remarks were reviewed by Reuters. After holding bilateral talks with U.S. officials, Araqchi was quoted as saying that differences remained. "An exchange of views will continue," he told Iran's Fars news agency. "The talks were useful, especially before the next round of talks in Vienna. However, a diversity of opinions still exists." The six powers and Iran will meet again in Vienna for another round of negotiations June 16-20. Araqchi had earlier spoken of a possible half-year extension to the talks. Western and Iranian officials have already said an extension appears increasingly likely. Singling out a big gap in negotiating positions that will be difficult to overcome in less than two months, France's foreign minister said Iran should drop a demand to have thousands of uranium enrichment centrifuges. Instead it should restrict itself to a few hundred of the machines used to increase the concentration of the fissile isotope of the metal - a process that can make a weapon, though Iran denies it wants to do that. Iran - which says its nuclear program is peaceful and mainly aimed at generating electricity - has around 19,000 centrifuges, of which roughly 10,000 are operating, according to the U.N. nuclear agency. Enriched uranium can have both civilian and military uses, depending on the degree of refinement. "We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point, which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio. "We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands, so we're not in the same framework." "UNREALISTIC DEMANDS" Reporters in Washington asked State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about Fabius' comments. She said the focus should be on the actual negotiations taking place behind closed doors, not on what parties to the talks are saying publicly. "I've seen those remarks," she said. "We feel our efforts should be directed towards the negotiations happening behind the scenes on the tough issues and not on public demands." Paris has long held out for strict terms in the negotiations. Based on Psaki's remarks, it appeared that Fabius was not necessarily speaking for the other five powers - the United States, Germany, Britain, China and Russia. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the priority was not the July 20 deadline, but to achieve a deal to guarantee that Tehran would not obtain a nuclear weapon. Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what it currently needs for civilian purposes. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for planned nuclear reactors. The negotiations ran into difficulty last month with each side accusing the other of making unrealistic demands, raising doubts about prospects for a breakthrough next month. This week's bilateral talks between U.S. and Iranian officials were aimed at breaking the deadlock. An extension should be possible, but U.S. President Barack Obama would need to secure the consent of Congress at a time of fraught relations between his administration and lawmakers. Close U.S. ally Israel, which in the past has threatened to attack Iranian nuclear sites, has made clear its deep scepticism about the chances of a deal that sufficiently denies Iran any nuclear weapons capability. Iran says it is Israel's assumed nuclear arsenal that threatens peace in the region. Iran and the powers included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement in an interim deal agreed in November. The November agreement - under which Iran suspended some nuclear activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief - allowed for a six-month extension, if more time were needed for a settlement. An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited sanctions relief and restraints on Iranian nuclear work. "TOUGH CHOICES" REQUIRED U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary U.S. negotiator with Iran, met an Iranian delegation led by Araqchi in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday. "We are at a critical juncture in the talks," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington. "We know we don’t have a lot of time left," she said of the July 20 deadline. "That’s why we’ve said diplomacy will intensify. People need to make tough choices." Araqchi, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, used similar language: "There are still gaps," he said. "In order to bring our views closer, the other side must make tough decisions." The French Foreign Ministry said officials from France and Iran would meet on Wednesday to discuss the Vienna negotiations. And Russian officials will have talks with the Iranians in Rome on Wednesday and Thursday, according to Iranian media. German and Chinese officials will also hold talks with Iranian officials ahead of next week's negotiations in Vienna. (Additional reporting by Michelle Moghtader in Dubai, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Writing by Louis Charbonneau and Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood Alastair Macdonald and Gunna Dickson)
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Wednesday, 4 June 2014

July deadline for Iran nuclear deal appears in jeopardy: envoys

Video cameras are set up for the start of a news conference at the United Nations headquarters building (Vienna International Center) in Vienna May 14, 2014.
(Reuters) - It is increasingly unlikely that six world powers and Iran will meet their July 20 deadline to negotiate a long-term deal for Iran to curb its nuclear program in return for an end to economic sanctions, diplomats and analysts say. In theory, an extension to the high-stakes talks should not be a problem if all sides want it. But President Barack Obama would need to secure Congress' consent at a time of fraught relations between the administration and lawmakers. Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement in an interim deal they reached in Geneva on Nov. 24. The November agreement allowed for a six-month extension if more time was needed for a final deal to end sanctions on Iran and remove the threat of war. An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited sanctions relief and limits on Iranian nuclear work as agreed in Geneva. To avoid an open conflict with Congress, Obama would want U.S. lawmakers' approval to extend that sanctions relief. The latest round of talks in Vienna last month ran into difficulties when it became clear that the number of enrichment centrifuges Iran wanted to maintain was well beyond what would be acceptable to the West. That disagreement, envoys said, can be measured in tens of thousands of centrifuges. As a result, the latest round of Vienna talks broke off last month with Tehran and Western powers accusing each other of being unrealistic. While talk of an extension could be a negotiating tactic, members of both sides appeared to favor the idea. EXTENSION A "FOREGONE CONCLUSION" Barring a surprise breakthrough in the next round in Vienna on June 16 to 20, Western officials said an extension was virtually a foregone conclusion. "We're far apart," one diplomat said, adding that the talks would be "long and complicated." The sides said last month that they had intended to start drawing up a final pact but the full-scale drafting did not actually start. French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said the priority for France was to reach a good deal rather than to rush through an agreement. An Iranian official told Reuters, "We have to get rid of the sanctions immediately. Therefore, the talks will end when this issue is totally resolved. A few more months will kill no one." Pushing the deadline to October would be fine, he said. Tehran insists it needs to maintain a domestic uranium enrichment capability to produce fuel for nuclear power plants without having to rely on foreign suppliers. [ID:nL6N0OJ20Y] Western governments and their allies suspect Iran wants the ability to produce atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran denies. No one had an interest in letting the negotiations collapse and boosting the risk of war, said Gary Samore of Harvard University, who was the National Security Council's top nuclear security official in the first Obama administration. "Although there will be strong opposition in both Washington and Tehran, I don't think either side can afford to take the blame for walking away from the table if the other side is prepared to continue," said Samore. IRAN REFORMS AT STAKE Failure of the talks would strengthen the position of hard-liners in Iran's clerical establishment against President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist who has sought to improve relations with the United States. The countries broke off ties during a hostage crisis after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. "Rouhani has put all his eggs in this basket. Failure of the talks means failure of reforms in Iran," an Iranian official close to Rouhani's government said. If there is an extension, the Obama administration will seek the blessing of Congress. U.S. officials voiced confidence to Reuters they would ultimately get it, but it appears it would not come without a fight. Members of Congress are already expressing concern about a possible delay. Republican Representative Kerry Bentivolio said last week that Obama had not updated lawmakers on the Vienna talks frequently enough. To get an extension, he said, "Iran must make real and meaningful concessions and convince us it is not simply stalling." Privately, administration officials said they believed members of Congress were unlikely to risk the blame for torpedoing the talks. "They (Congress) don't want to take the blame for destroying a deal," one U.S. official said. (Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem, Justyna Pawlak in Brussels and John Irish in Paris; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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