October 16, 2013

Iran nuclear talks end with no breakthrough

Featuring Colin H. Kahl

Source: USA Today

Journalist Oren Dorell

Nuclear talks between Iran and world powers ended on a promising note Wednesday, according to the United States, but analysts cautioned that Iran had not appeared to agree on any of the major demands of the West.

Media reports that Iran had agreed to "snap" inspections of its nuclear facilities were contradicted by an Iranian negotiator.

And the Iranians continued to insist that any serious concessions to the West would not come until at least a year, by which time the United States estimates Iran may have mastered the technology and created the materials to build an atomic bomb.

Gary Samore, former chief adviser to President Obama on weapons of mass destruction, said reports on Iranian television that Iran offered to limit its enrichment of uranium — enrichment at high levels can produce fuel for a nuclear bomb — is no guarantee that the Islamic republic will not produce a bomb.

"The Iranian offer to limit the level of enrichment is not going to be sufficient," said Samore, head of United Against Nuclear Iran.

To ensure the nuclear program is for peaceful purposes as Iran claims, the number of centrifuges that enrich uranium must be reduced, and there must be constant oversight and inspection of Iranian facilities, he said.

Exactly what Iran agreed to discuss was not made public at the end of talks Wednesday in Geneva. The two sides did agree to meet again in November, Iran's foreign minister wrote on his Facebook page.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the two days of meetings as "fruitful" and said they would "hopefully be the beginning of a new phase in our relationship."

Zarif said the West needed to take a "balanced" approach to the talks, a possible reference to Iran's demand that the West ease economic sanctions imposed to pressure Iran to open its nuclear program to inspection as required by nuclear pacts it signed.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said Iran had shown a "level of seriousness and substance that we have not seen before." European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton described the talks as the most "substantive" and "detailed" between the West and Iran.

Western countries suspect Tehran of trying to build nuclear bombs, and Israel and the United States have said Iran is on a path to enrich enough uranium to make a bomb in less than one year.

Iranian television reported Wednesday that Iran was considering permitting short-notice visits of its nuclear sites as a final step in a year-long process it has proposed to end the standoff with the West, according to the BBC.

But Abbas Araqchi, Iran's chief negotiator, said snap visits did "not exist" in Iran's three-step plan.

Snap inspections are a necessary part of any deal and considered "a minimal condition," said David Albright, a non-proliferation expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Iran agreed to such visits in 2003. It then suspended snap visits in 2006. Since then, the United States has learned Iran had a secret facility that contained thousands of centrifuges.

Without snap visits, "history has shown a country will build a secret nuclear program, and inspectors will not find it," Albright said, citing secret nuclear programs developed in Iraq, Iran, Libya and Taiwan.

Iraq's was dismantled after the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91. Libya dismantled its program after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Iran's and Taiwan's are still in existence.

Albright said cameras installed inside nuclear facilities could monitor whether a program is peaceful. He said Iran has objected to cameras and other equipment that would transmit live or daily images of its uranium stockpile and other elements of its nuclear program.

Colin Kahl, a former deputy assistant secretary of Defense for the Middle East during Obama's first three years in office, said Western negotiators want a deal in which the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency can verify that Iran is abiding by limits on enrichment, centrifuges and stockpiles of nuclear material.

"If you have intrusive inspections and monitoring equipment, you'd be able to catch them cheating," Kahl said.

Iran argues that other nations have not been required to submit to such measures and neither should it. Kahl said treating Iran differently is justified because "they build facilities that the IAEA considers extremely suspicious."

"If they mean what they say – peaceful nuclear program – then they have nothing to hide," he said.

The Iranian offers may not be ideal but may be close to "the best we can hope for," said Lacie Heeley, director of Middle East and defense policy at the Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation, which has long advocated for direct negotiations between the United States and Iran.


  • Colin H. Kahl

    Middle East Security

    Dr. Colin H. Kahl is an associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the former National Securi...