Belfer Iran Brief—A potential deal on Arak and other news

Belfer Iran BriefIran announces a potential deal on its heavy water reactor at Arak, fuel prices spike by 75% overnight, and more in this week’s edition of the Belfer Iran Brief for April 19-25, 2014. 

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By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi suggested that Iran and the P5+1 have agreed to a proposal that would significantly reduce plutonium production at the heavy-water facility at Arak.
  • Iran’s atomic energy agency also announced that it was compiling a “comprehensive document” of Iran’s past nuclear-related activities.
  • President Obama approved a law barring Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s nominee for Ambassador to the UN, from obtaining a visa for entry into the United States.

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • Technical discussions between the P5+1 and Iran will continue on May 5-9 in New York. (Jerusalem Post, 4/20)
    • Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi: At these talks, negotiators will begin “writing a draft of comprehensive agreements.” (Reuters, 4/20)
  • Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief announced that “the issue of heavy water reactor (at Arak)…has been virtually resolved. Iran has offered a proposal to…redesign the heart of the Arak facility and [the P5+1] have agreed to that.” (AP, 4/19) Note: See R. Scott Kemp’s new post for Iran Matters for analysis.
    • Salehi claimed that the compromise would reduce Arak’s plutonium production by a factor of 5.
    • Reconfiguring the reactor will delay its start by 3 years, at which point it will run on low-enriched uranium.
      Welder working on heavy water production facility at Arak
      October 27, 2004 - A welder constructs a section of Iran's controversial heavy water production facility at Arak. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
  • A spokesman for Iran’s atomic energy agency indicated that Iran is compiling a “comprehensive document” outlining the country’s past nuclear-related activities. It will be completed within “eight months.” (Reuters, 4/21) Note: No indication that Iran will share this information with the IAEA or others. See Jofi Joseph’s latest post for Iran Matters for analysis.
    • Salehi: “We don’t have any more problems with IAEA on the nuclear issue. There are no more questions that we haven’t answered. In other words, we can say Iran's nuclear activities is a closed case already.” (Reuters, 4/19)
  • Atomic energy agency spokesman: “Oxidizing 5% uranium does not mean the elimination of uranium… It is a mistake to say that we lose our reserves by oxidizing uranium.” (AEI, 4/21)
  • Salehi claimed that Iran’s total number of centrifuges “will remain at the current number of 20,000 for four or five years. After that, we will gradually increase them to reach a capacity of enriching 30 tons of uranium per year.” (AFP, 4/19) Note: This is likely to be a non-starter for P5+1 negotiators.

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • U.S. Department of Justice approved a move to distribute the proceeds from the sale of a building seized from an Iranian foundation in New York to the victims of Iranian-supported terrorist attacks. (Reuters, 4/19) Note: The Justice Department seized the 36-story building last year on the grounds that the Alavi Foundation was funneling money to Bank Melli, an Iranian bank blacklisted by sanctions.
  • Iran announced that a mysterious U.S.-flagged jet spotted last week in Iran had been chartered by a mining company from Ghana and had no Americans on board. (NYT, 4/18)
  • IRGC Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari: “Cultural threats are the most important threats presently facing the Islamic Revolution… It seems that the goal of sanctions also includes changing the people’s beliefs and outlooks through economic pressures.” (AEI, 4/21)
  • Iran began slashing fuel subsidies, prompting a 75% rise in the price of petrol. (BBC, 4/24)

Iranian domestic politics

  • In a speech on Women’s Day in Iran, President Rouhani advocated for equal opportunities for men and women. (BBC, 4/20)
    • Ayatollah Khamenei struck a different tone: Gender equality is “one of the biggest mistakes of the Western thought. Justice is a right. But equality is sometimes right and sometimes wrong.”
  • Iran denied a report that guards had clashed with prisoners at Tehran’s Evin prison. (al-Monitor, 4/21)

US-Iran relations

  • President Obama approved a law barring Hamid Aboutalebi, Iran’s nominee for Ambassador to the UN, from obtaining a visa for entry into the United States. (BBC, 4/18)
    • Iran called on the United Nations to compel the United States to issue the visa. (Reuters, 4/23)
  • Iran was given a seat on the UN committee on non-governmental organizations, sparking consternation from U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power: “The unopposed candidacy of Iran, where authorities regularly detain human rights defenders, subjecting many to torture, abuse, and violations of due process, is a particularly troubling outcome.” (Reuters, 4/24)

Geopolitics and Iran

  • Prince Turki al-Faisal, former Saudi intelligence chief: “Preserving our regional security requires that we, as a Gulf grouping, work to create a real balance of forces with [Iran], including in nuclear know-how, and to be ready for any possibility in relation to the Iranian nuclear file. Any violation of this balance will allow the Iranian leadership to exploit all holes to do harm to us.” (Reuters, 4/23) Note: A number of senior Saudi officials have publicly hinted that Saudi Arabia will obtain a nuclear weapon of its own—likely from Pakistan—in the event of an Iranian bomb.

Israel

  • No significant developments.

“Red lines,” “points of no return,” and military strikes

  • No significant developments.

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • No significant developments.

Andrew Wojtanik is a research assistant at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.