- Negotiations are under way at the moment between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (Russia, US, China, UK, France) plus Germany. On one side, States are worried about Iran’s nuclear activities. On the other, Iran wants to end crippling sanctions and the threat of military action from Israel.
- The basic issue: the international community does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Iran says it has no intention of doing so, but some of its activities point in that direction.
- In 2002 it was discovered that Iran had acquired uranium and other materials clandestinely and was carrying out research that may have had military dimensions.
- Iran is a member of the non-proliferation treaty, and is bound by the treaty to open up its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency. IAEA inspectors have in the past complained that they have been denied sufficient access to give Iran a clean bill of health, and this issue has gone to the UN Security Council.
- In 2011, the IAEA said Iranian scientists were carrying out experiments with high explosives consistent with research on nuclear explosions. This is why the six powers imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran to try to get it to fall into line and drop moves towards nuclear weaponry. These include a ban on buying Iranian oil and freezing overseas assets.
- We cannot demand what Israel and a number of Americans seem to want: that Iran get out of the nuclear fuel business altogether. We can tell Iran to cut back on some of its nuclear activities and demonstrate that their work is not leading to enrichment for weapons.
- During the past months of negotiations, it has made concessions already, and in return some of the sanctions have been lifted.
- One of the causes for alarm has been a centrifuge enrichment plant at Natanz, which has been enriching uranium up to 20 percent. the core material for a nuclear bomb requires 90 percent enrichment. Enriching to 20 percent put Iran within months or even weeks of having weapons-grade uranium.
Under pressure, Iran has agreed for now not to enrich any more uranium above five percent, and even to dilute some of the 20 percent enriched that it already possesses.
- Iran also has a heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, which, like any reactor, produces plutonium, an alternative core bomb material. Heavy water reactors are particularly well suited to plutonium production. The plutonium has to be separated out from the waste, which requires a chemical engineering plant. Iran has agreed not to operate Arak, and not to build a separation plant.
- These concessions have a time limit. Iran has one reactor producing power, supplied by Russia. When it made the sale to Iran, the terms said that Russia would supply the fuel for seven years. Iran wants to be able to make its own fuel after that. It is unclear the Russians will provide the permission and the commercially-sensitive technical specifications to enable the Iranians to do this. Few countries with nuclear power enrich all of their own uranium.
- As part of the current negotiations, Iran must allow constant and even intrusive IAEA inspection of all their nuclear facilities. If Iran did decide to make a “dash for the bomb” the inspections would alert the rest of the world to this.
- The Israeli Government doesn’t want Iran to have any enrichment capacity whatsoever. Citing statements about wiping Israel off the map by the last Iranian administration, he has reserved the right to take military action. Five Iranian scientists working on nuclear technology have been assassinated. No one has admitted responsibility but many feel that logic points to the Israel secret service.
- Israel’s worries are not entirely unfounded. Iran has acknowledged that it gave Hamas the rocket technology that has enabled it to launch rockets against Israel. The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran passing on technology to Hamas, or some other Palestinian group, is an alarming one.
- Westerners were pleased when Hassan Rouhani became Iranian President last year. A former diplomat, he has negotiated with the IAEA on nuclear weapons and is regarded as a pragmatist. But behind him is the Supreme Leader, Ayatolla Khameini, who could gather the forces to veto any agreement he made. It is even possible that people are carrying out work on nuclear weapons without his approval.
- In America, several senators have already come out against any compromise that allows Iran to keep some enrichment facilities, perhaps taking their lead from Netanyahu. Any agreement will have to have the approval of the Senate.
- The deadline for an agreement is 24th November. The two sides may reach an agreement by then. It is also likely that, following past precedents, that they will reach an interim compromise, and a solution will be put off further. But so will Iranian work that could give it weapon potential.
Read more at British American Security Information Council.