News / Middle East

    Centrifuges Key Sticking Point in Iran Nuclear Talks

    Video cameras set for start of news conference, Vienna International Center, May 14, 2014.
    Video cameras set for start of news conference, Vienna International Center, May 14, 2014.
    Reuters
    The biggest hurdle Iran and world powers must overcome to clinch a lasting deal on Tehran's nuclear program by a July deadline is agreeing on the future scope of uranium enrichment in the Islamic Republic, officials and diplomats said on Thursday.

    An Iranian official said it will be “very difficult though not impossible” to bridge the divide. Western officials said Iran and the six powers must agree not only on the number and type of centrifuge machines Iran will operate but also the level of enrichment and size of uranium stocks Tehran can accumulate.

    As a result, diplomats said that enrichment has emerged as the principal sticking point in negotiations on what U.S. officials say must be a comprehensive agreement covering every issue under discussion if it is to be acceptable to Washington.

    Iran has defied a U.N. Security Council ban on uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities, resulting in crippling U.S., U.N. and European Union sanctions. It denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that it is covertly seeking the capability to produce atomic weapons.

    Some issues have been satisfactorily resolved, though U.S. officials caution that an agreement will not be possible until every detail is resolved. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” a senior U.S. official told reporters this week.

    One of the thorniest issues in the talks has been the future of Iran's planned Arak heavy-water reactor, which Western powers fear could yield significant amounts of weapons-grade plutonium. But a senior Iranian official said that issue was essentially settled, an assertion several Western officials supported.

    Iran, which says the Arak reactor is for peaceful medical purposes, has ruled out converting it to a light-water reactor, a model less amenable to producing bomb material.

    The idea, the Iranian official suggested, is that Tehran would leave it as a heavy-water plant but run it at a low enough output to ensure any plutonium yields are minimal.

    “There are ways to reach an agreement over the Arak plant to allay concerns,” he told Reuters. “Arak is not a problem anymore.” A Western diplomat agreed: “Arak is not a problem.”

    But there is a much more formidable obstacle to clear.

    Despite the smiles and handshakes at photo opportunities, there have been fierce exchanges behind closed doors at Vienna's Coburg palace touching on the yawning divide over enrichment capacity, diplomats and senior Iranian officials said.

    The gap can be measured in tens of thousands of centrifuges, the slender cylindrical machines that spin in linked clusters at supersonic speed to concentrate uranium's fissile element.

    “We need at least 100,000 IR-1 [first generation] centrifuges to produce enough fuel for each of our [civilian] nuclear [power] plants. We have informed the International Atomic Energy Agency about our plans to build 20 plants,” a senior Iranian official said on condition of anonymity.

    U.S. officials, however, have made clear for months that the number of centrifuges they are willing to tolerate operating in Iran over the medium term is in the low thousands to ensure that Tehran's ability to produce a usable amount of bomb-grade uranium, should it go down that road, is severely limited.

    Iran, which has demonstrated a readiness to curb higher-level enrichment, says such draconian limitations would be a violation of its right to enrich — an issue Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said is a “red line” for Tehran.

    July 20 deadline

    A broad accord, which has eluded Tehran and Western powers for over a decade, is meant to end years of antagonism and avert the risk of a wider Middle East war with global repercussions.

    Iran and Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have set a July 20 deadline for a permanent accord that could bring a gradual end of sanctions hamstringing Iran's oil-dependent economy. That deadline was part of an interim November 2013 deal under which Iran froze some parts of its atomic program in exchange for limited sanctions relief.

    The sides began their fourth round of Vienna talks on Wednesday. U.S. and Iranian officials say they are already working on drafting a final accord that would curb Iran's enrichment program and to reduce the risk that it could lead to the making of atomic bombs. The talks are to end on Friday.

    In exchange, Iran wants an end to biting international sanctions that have forced a sharp reduction in crude oil exports vital to the economic well-being of the Islamic Republic.

    Robert Einhorn, a former top U.S. State Department official once involved in talks with Iran and now at the Brookings Institution, dismissed remarks from the head of Tehran's atomic energy organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, that the Natanz enrichment plant alone would need 50,000 advanced centrifuges.

    “An enrichment capacity that large, indeed, an enrichment capacity greater than a few thousand first-generation centrifuges, would give Iran an unacceptably rapid [bomb] breakout capability,” he wrote on his think-tank's website.

    “If Tehran's position at the negotiating table is a reflection of Salehi's public remarks, it is a show-stopper, and Iran must know that,” Einhorn said.

    Despite the huge gap in negotiating positions, several officials from the six-power group said they believed a deal was the most likely outcome of the talks, given the intense pressure on the Iranians and Americans to get one.

    Consensus elusive, crucial

    At the same time, securing consensus was not a certainty, since the Iranians will find themselves forced to make decisions on limiting their enrichment that may be very difficult to sell to powerful conservatives in Tehran.

    “This will be hard, very technical work,” a Western official said about the process of drafting the details of Iran's permissible enrichment program.

    The Iranian official said Tehran felt the six powers would eventually yield on the enrichment issue. But Western officials said Iran would have to climb down from unreasonable demands.

    “We will find a face-saving solution that will allow both sides to say they got their way,” the Iranian official said.

    While any deal, at its core, will be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the United States, officials said it was crucial all members of the six power group fully accept it.

    “We saw what happened in Geneva when one country broke ranks,” a Western official said, referring to France's last-minute objections that helped foil a preliminary pact with Iran in the second round of Geneva talks in early November. Several weeks later an interim deal was signed.

    Securing acceptance of any deal struck in Vienna by security hawks in Tehran on the one hand and in Washington on the other will also be a challenge, Western officials say.

    Israel has talked of bombing arch-foe Iran if diplomacy does not effectively shut down its nuclear activity. It is dead-set against Iran retaining even limited enrichment under any deal.

    The Americans are consulting with Israel, their closest ally in the Middle East and a country that is widely assumed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the region. Western officials say the Israelis are slowly realizing they may have to accept something other than a “zero enrichment” scenario for Iran.

    The 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees the right of all countries to having nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran frequently cites this, and says enrichment is a foundation of its national sovereignty and modernization.

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    Video Iraqis Primed to March on Mosul, Foreign Minister Says

    Iraqi FM Ibrahim al-Jaafari tells VOA the campaign will meet optimistic expectations, even though US officials remain cautious

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Anthony Bellchambers from: London
    May 16, 2014 7:04 AM
    The solution to this impasse is very clear. Israel MUST subject its massive, undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal to inspection by the UN's IAEA and it MUST sign and ratify the NPT, the CWC and the BWC. Anything less perpetuates and accentuates the very real danger of a nuclear war in the Middle East that would very quickly spread to Europe. Stock markets would collapse and the EU would disintegrate. And all because the US Congress is under the influence of a foreign power.

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    May 15, 2014 2:38 PM
    Iran has every motivation to be stubborn in these negotiations since the US is only pretentiously having all options on the table. When the US goofed on Syria, little did it understand what its implication was going to be diplomatically. Now Iran knows how war-weary and weak the US is under the Obama administration and so can dare her to do anything, sure that nothing is going to happen. Too bad! Israel appears to be the one left in the lurch here, as Saudi Arabia is beginning to mend fence with Iran, maybe out of the fear and intimidation by Iran's growing influence, even as USA began to court the same Iran when Rouhani attended the UN general assembly last year. So why not, Iran see itself now on the driving seat, after all almost the whole world is on their knees now because of one thing - nuclear powered Iran.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora