Belfer Iran Brief—French pessimism on nuclear talks and other news

Belfer Iran BriefAre talks between the P5+1 and Iran “hitting a wall”? This question and more in this week’s edition of the Belfer Iran Brief, covering June 7-13, 2014.

By Andrew Wojtanik

Highlights

  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated talks with Iran were “hitting a wall” over the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep.
  • Iran announced that its heavy-water reactor at Arak will be reconfigured to reduce the amount of plutonium released to less than one kilogram per year.
  • Iran released a shiny new report suggesting that it would take at least 3 years for Iran to enrich, convert to metal, and mold enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb.

Diplomacy and nuclear issue

  • U.S. delegation, including Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and White House adviser Jake Sullivan, met with Iran for direct talks in Geneva. (al-Monitor, 6/10)
    • Iran also engaged in bilateral talks with France, Russia, and Germany.
    • Monthly negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran will continue next Monday in Vienna.
  • French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius: “We are still hitting a wall on one absolutely fundamental point, which is the number of centrifuges which allow enrichment. We say that there can be a few hundred centrifuges, but the Iranians want thousands, so we're not in the same framework.” (Reuters, 6/10)
  • Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi: “It’s still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. The hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20.” (Reuters, 6/10)
  • State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf: “We are at a critical juncture in the talks…People need to make tough choices.” (Reuters, 6/10)
  • Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced that the heavy-water reactor at Arak will be reconfigured to reduce the production of excess plutonium to less than 1 kg per year. (AP, 6/12)
    • Despite hopes in the West of converting Arak to a light-water reactor, Salehi claimed it will remain a heavy-water reactor.
  • Iran released a shiny new report suggesting that it would take at least 3 years for Iran to enrich, convert to metal, and mold enough highly-enriched uranium for a bomb. (Nuclearenergy.ir, 6/10)
    • Foreign Minister Javad Zarif: “A serious scrutiny of the myth of breakout may prevent it from derailing the nuclear negotiations.” (al-Monitor, 6/11)
      Iran's uranium breakout timeline
      A graphic from the Iranian government released this week claiming that Iran's current "breakout time" to a uranium-based bomb is over 36 months.
  • Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), commenting on Iran’s potential ability to pursue a covert path to the bomb: “We must ask, what good is striking an agreement — and removing sanctions, our only leverage — if Iran keeps a capacity to secretly build nuclear bombs?” (al-Monitor, 6/10)
    • Advocated that Iran “come clean” on its past nuclear weapons-related work and grant inspectors access to military facilities like Parchin.
  • Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) indicated he would oppose extending the talks by 6 months unless convinced that negotiators are “really close to an agreement which is in line with my thought about what an agreement should be.” (GSN, 6/11)
    • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA): “Even with determined efforts by the [Obama] administration, it doesn’t seem like they’re going to get there, and so I’m not sure what an extension would accomplish.”
  • Araghchi: “Iran will return to 20 percent enrichment if a deal cannot be reached.” (Reuters, 6/12)

Sanctions and Iran’s economy

  • Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh claimed Iran is now exporting 1.5 million barrels/day. (AEI, 6/11)

Iranian domestic politics

  • No significant developments.

US-Iran relations

  • No significant developments.

Geopolitics and Iran

  • Unconfirmed reports suggest Iran has deployed Revolutionary Guards units to Iraq to defend Baghdad and two important Shi’a sites in Karbala and Najaf from a widening jihadist insurgency. (WSJ, 6/12)
    • Senior Iranian official: Iran may be willing to “work with Americans to end the insurgency in the Middle East.” (Reuters, 6/13)
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Turkey, where he discussed expanding economic ties between the two countries. (al-Monitor, 6/9)

Israel

  • Brig. Gen. Itai Brun, chief of Israeli military intelligence’s research division: diplomacy with Iran heading in a “positive direction,” though “I don’t know how it will end.” (Reuters, 6/9)
    • “Iran is abiding by the interim agreement and the pressures, mainly the economic crisis, are leading it toward a dialogue, which we regard as serious-minded, on a permanent agreement.” Note: This more positive outlook is reflective of a increasingly public divide between Israel’s security establishment and political establishment.
  • Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz: “A good agreement with Iran is an agreement in which Iran may get the ability to present a developed civilian nuclear program like other countries have—Sweden or South Korea or Spain—but without the ability to enrich uranium and without the ability to yield plutonium.” (Reuters, 6/9)
    • “We opposed the interim deal because we saw problems and holes in it. Nor do we like the idea of extending the talks by half a year or a number of months…But if the alternative that will be raised in the coming weeks, beginning with this imminent week, will be to try to seal an agreement at any price…it would be preferable—though we are not keen on this—to extend the talks by a number of weeks or months to close up all of the holes on a matter that is so critical to our well-being and that of the world.”
  • Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized Prime Minister Netanyahu’s relationship with the United States: “We are facing an unprecedented crisis in our relationship with the United States. It is a crisis that results from our problematic and often disdainful behavior.” (al-Monitor, 6/9)

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

  • No significant developments.

Uncertain or dubious claims

  • No significant claims.

 

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