Experts: Negotiations on exchange of Iranian uranium at deadlock

Politics Materials 21 April 2010 20:58 (UTC +04:00)
Negotiations on the exchange of 3.5 percent enriched uranium to 20 percent enriched fuel for the Tehran reactor got into deadlock, and all the new Iranian proposals are part of the tactical maneuvering, experts say.
Experts: Negotiations on exchange of Iranian uranium at deadlock

Experts: Negotiations on exchange of Iranian uranium at deadlock

Azerbaijan, Baku, April 21 / Trend T.Konyayeva /

Negotiations on the exchange of 3.5 percent enriched uranium to 20 percent enriched fuel for the Tehran reactor got into deadlock, and all the new Iranian proposals are part of the tactical maneuvering, experts say.

"The situation is deadlocked, Vladimir Yevseyev, senior fellow at the Center for International Security at the Institute for World Economy and International Relations of Russian Academy of Sciences, told Trend said by telephone. - In spite of all its statements, Iran now can neither enrich uranium to 20 percent, nor produce nuclear fuel itself. At the same time, Iran constantly delays the procedure to transfer low-enriched uranium (LEU), and apparently, wants to gain some kinds of preference.

Late last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that Iran plans to hold talks with 14 member states of UN Security Council and the indirect negotiations with other countries with regards to the proposed deal on the exchange of uranium.

According to Yevseyev, an absolutely illogical situation has appeared: there is a problem, and there is a way to resolve it, but Iran does not want to go to the normal ways of addressing it, talking about distrust towards France.

In October 2009, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and "six international mediators on Iran" (Russia, the U.S., China, Britain, France and Germany) offered Tehran to exchange low-enriched uranium (3.5-percent) to high-enriched uranium (20-percent).

But Tehran said it was ready to buy more highly enriched uranium or exchange with its reserves, provided that the exchange will be held in the Iranian territory.

World powers and the IAEA, with its headquarters in Vienna, declined the proposal of Iran. Yevseyev believes that currently the question of the exchange balks not only in Iran but also in the U.S.

"It is not clear how much uranium to export as current LEU reserves exceed two tons, respectively, the amount of uranium that Iran is ready to exchange has decreased, said Yevseyev. - The U.S. can not accept this."

He also added that the U.S. can persuade France not to participate in this. To do this would be very easy, given the close relationship between Washington and Paris and Nicolas Sarkozy's very aggressive position on Iran.

According to the initiatives of the IAEA, the starting material for the planned delivery of foreign nuclear fuel to Iran was to be 1,2 tons LEU accumulated at Natanz plant, which makes up 80 percent of all of Iran's reserves (experts estimated at 1,500 kg). Currently, however, Iran's reserves of 3.5 percent uranium are 2,200 kg, that is, Iran has said the transfer of nearly 50 percent of its available resources.

Programme Officer for North Africa and Near and Middle East Program at German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) Konstantin Kosten believes actually there is no real change in the Iranian position

"Similar offers have been made before and Iran several times declared its willingness to
agree to a modified result including the key elements, including immediate exchange and exchange on Iranian territory," Kosten said.

He said Iran certainly tries to get between the ongoing "5+1" negotiations on further sanctions by publically reiterating its willingness to a deal from time to time.

"It is a strategy to avoid harsh sanctions, also perhaps to achieve a delay in the ongoing "5+1" and Security Council talks, but - at the same time - it does not seem that Iran is really very worried on upcoming sanctions," Kosten added.

The U.S. and other Western countries accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons for military purposes under the guise of peaceful nuclear energy program. Tehran denies the charges, saying that its nuclear program is aimed solely at meeting the country's electricity needs. 

Research Fellow at EU Institute for Security Studies Jean Pascal Zanders believes the various numbers are part of a negotiation strategy by the Iranians to delay decision in the UN Security Council on further sanctions.

"Key element in that strategy is to split China from the other Permanent Members [UN Security Council]," Zanders said "Iran hopes to get a no-vote (veto) from China."

Until now, Russia and China, two permanent members of UN Security Council, opposed the introduction of new tough sanctions against Iran, insisting on a diplomatic solution. However, in mid April, the Chinese side stated that it supported the UN Security Council strategy of "dual path" towards Iran, involving the combination of sanctions and negotiations.

A second strategy announced at the Tehran conference was to engage 14 of the 15 Security Council Members (and the United States via intermediaries), he said.

"The Security Council requires nine affirmative votes (including no objections from the permanent members). Therefore it engages the non-permanent members too, some of whom are sympathetic to Iran's arguments (e.g., Brazil, Lebanon and Turkey)," Zanders added.

Members of the UN Security Council are 15 countries, five of which are permanent members - Great Britain, China, Russia, USA and France. The remaining ten non-permanent members are elected for two years, and now they are Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Turkey, Uganda, Japan. In order to make a decision on new sanctions, the U.S. and its allies need the majority of 9 out of 15 votes, and that none of the five Security Council permanent members should vote against this (so-called right of veto).

Two important non-permanent members of UN Security Council - Brazil and Turkey - opposed against tougher sanctions with regards to Iran. Lebanon is another state that likely also will not support any sanctions against Iran and will likely abstain in order to avoid causing new conflicts inside Lebanon.

Zanders regarded the upcoming review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) next month a third possible reason for Iran's current maneuvering.

"With regards Iran's proposals and then stepping back, I believe that in the period between October and December 2009 the main reason was lack of unity in the Iranian government," Zanders said.

"Following the disputed presidential elections there was a lot of political infighting between different factions going on and as a consequence nobody seemed able to speak authoritatively for the government," he said.

Zander added that the deadline for a reply set by President Obama at the end of December slipped by, and it could well be that in the meantime the Iranian government has now a more unified voice, leading to more tactical maneuvering.

German political scientist, Mehran Barati, Iranian by nationality, believes that the reason for Iran's next statement about willingness to negotiate on exchange of fuel is the hope for Russia and China's rejection to possible sanctions against Iran by the U.S., France and Germany, as well as the existing sanctions.

"The Iranian side believes it can find a way both to continue the process of uranium enrichment and to maintain its image," Barati, a member of the research center in Berlin, told Trend by telephone.

He added that if a way is found to exchange a ton for the reactor in Tehran, then the conditions will be created for the exchange of next consignments.

"If Iran wants to preserve its image, the necessary conditions will be created for it, but the problem is that Iran is playing in the game, Barati said. At the moment the international community, especially Russia have been tired of such games of Iran, and Iran is now understands it."