Wall Street Journal: Iran’s demand that the West recognize what it says is its right to enrich uranium has emerged as one of the final missing pieces in an interim nuclear agreement with global powers, according to Iranian, American and European officials.
Reid’s Call for Tougher Sanctions a New Wrinkle in Talks
The Wall Street Journal
By Jay Solomon and Laurence Norman
GENEVA—Iran’s demand that the West recognize what it says is its right to enrich uranium has emerged as one of the final missing pieces in an interim nuclear agreement with global powers, according to Iranian, American and European officials.
Diplomats from Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, a group known as the P5+1, are meeting in Geneva to try to reach a deal that would offer Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbing some activities that the West suspects are aimed at making a nuclear weapon, a charge Iran denies.
The diplomats held a second day of talks in a bid to close gaps that blocked an interim agreement nearly two weeks ago. Officials described the talks as detailed, but said that by late Thursday some key, sensitive issues remained unresolved.
Senior U.S. officials said if progress was made, Secretary of State John Kerry and other foreign ministers could fly to Geneva to try to push through a final agreement.
A spokesman for European Union foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton, who heads the P5+1, said there were no plans for that as of late Thursday.
Injecting a new wrinkle into the talks, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) called for action on legislation intensifying sanctions against Iran and said the bill could be approved next month.
The White House has been urging lawmakers to delay any new sanctions to give time for the diplomatic process. But Sen. Reid’s call could help push the negotiators in Geneva to complete a preliminary deal this month, before the issue can come up before senators.
Thursday’s discussions left Iran and the P5+1 with a clearer view of the others’ key concerns and margin to maneuver, leaving the two sides “closer to finding the right formula” for a deal, a Western diplomat said.
Diplomats in Geneva said the broad outlines of the accord are understood.
Iran would limit the most dangerous parts of its nuclear program, including the enrichment of uranium to near weapons-grade nuclear fuel, in exchange for an easing of international sanctions.
Several issues must be settled if the two sides are to clinch a breakthrough after a decade of nuclear talks, diplomats said.
One is how to word Iran’s assurances that it won’t continue work on its heavy-water reactor in the city of Arak, which will be capable of producing plutonium usable in a nuclear weapon.
The second is what should happen to Iran’s stockpile of near-weapons-grade enriched uranium.
Differences also remain on the precise sanctions relief to be offered Iran, an important part of what the Western diplomat called a package of concessions each side could take.
Fundamental to the overall accord is Iran’s claim that it has a right to enrich uranium. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted in a speech on Wednesday that the West recognize what Iran says is its right to enrich uranium.
Iranian officials in Geneva on Thursday identified the issue as perhaps the biggest impediment to an agreement this week.
An Iranian diplomat in Geneva said any pact signed this week must contain the concept of Iran having the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“If the right to enrich isn’t acknowledged, there won’t be a deal,” said the diplomat.
But Iranian officials also said there was some flexibility in the language that could be used.
Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly for production of energy and medical research.
The Obama administration has argued that the nonproliferation treaty doesn’t recognize every country’s right to produce nuclear fuel, even if it says all nations have the right to civilian nuclear technologies.
A senior U.S. official in Geneva said the Obama administration was confident language could be found to bridge the positions.
“Iran has for a long time said that they believe they have an inalienable right to enrichment,” said the official. “The United States has said for an equally long time that we do not believe any country…has a right to enrichment. Do I believe this issue can be navigated in an agreement? Yes, I do. And we will see if that can be done or not.”
Officials wouldn’t outline the language that might be used to reconcile the two sides.
Outside nuclear experts close to the diplomacy said a possible outcome would be for the P5+1 to recognize in a text agreement that Iran would enjoy all the rights of a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty, without explicitly saying Iran could enrich uranium domestically.
Baroness Ashton spent hours in talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Thursday in a bid to “narrow some of the gaps,” said her spokesman, Michael Mann. She also held talks among the six major powers. “We are doing well,” he said.