As the deadline for a political framework deal over Iran’s nuclear program approaches at the end of the month, the Islamic Republic is doubling down on demands to allow hundreds of centrifuges to continue operating at the Fordo site and keep the Arak heavy water reactor, according to a report today in The Times of Israel.
Yet as Kerry arrived in Switzerland Sunday for several days of discussions with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, no one was promising a breakthrough. One diplomat said new differences surfaced only in the last negotiating round of what has been a 15-month process, including a sudden Iranian demand that the Fordo nuclear facility, buried deep underground, be allowed to keep hundreds of centrifuges that are used for enriching uranium — material that can be used in a nuclear warhead. Previously, the Iranians had accepted that the plant would be transformed into one solely for scientific research, the diplomat and others have said.
On Saturday, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization jead Ali Akbar Salehi said that Iran was “determined to make use of” Fordo, near the city of Qom, “according to the guidelines of Iran’s supreme leader,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported. Salehi also insisted that Tehran would seek to retain its heavy water reactor in Arak, despite fears that it could present an alternative route to a nuclear weapon.
Over the course of nuclear negotiations with Iran, Iran has often promised certain concessions, only to renege later. Iran may have offered concessions on both Fordo and Arak earlier in the negotiations, but appears to be returning to its earlier position regarding these facilities. Iran demanded last year to keep Fordo open and keep the heavy water reactor at Arak, prompting commentator Fareed Zakaria to express doubts if a deal could be made if these were Iran’s “opening positions.”
Iran admitted to the existence of the Fordo enrichment facility only after the United States, France, and Britain gave evidence of its existence to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The Islamic Republic only admitted to the Arak heavy-water reactor after a dissident group revealed the existence of the facility.
Iran has successfully kept any discussion of its ballistic missile development off the table, even though this research was prohibited by United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Negotiations following the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action have been marked by Iranian intransigence, combined with Western acquiescence to Iranian demands. An editorial last month in The Washington Post commented that “a process that began with the goal of eliminating Iran’s potential to produce nuclear weapons has evolved into a plan to tolerate and temporarily restrict that capability.”
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