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

Official: S. Sudan President, Rebel Leader to Meet in Tanzania

Talks part of effort to end conflict in country that has left more than 10,000 people dead, displaced more than 1.5 million others More

Dutch Deny Link to Mystery Submarine off Sweden

Netherlands denies Russian claim that 'foreign vessel' photographed in waters off Sweden could be Dutch More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid