Various theories on why last weekend’s negotiations with Iran failed to bridge differences between Tehran and the international community continue to swirl. Some new reports are pointing to Iranian demands that the West acknowledge that it has a right to enrich uranium (it doesn’t). Others continue to emphasize early leaks that had France objecting to Iranian demands that it continue to make progress on its plutonium facility at Arak.
The Arak complex has a heavy water production facility and a heavy water reactor. The production facility is used to create the heavy water used by the reactor. Once the reactor goes “hot” – once it is activated – it can’t be destroyed militarily without creating significant fallout, and will produce two bombs worth of plutonium per year. Tehran had reportedly offered – as part of its basket of concessions – not to turn the reactor on, in exchange for being allowed to continue making progress in advancing the complex. But Tehran had already acknowledged that it wasn’t going to activate the reactor until mid-to-late 2014, and critics fear that allowing Iran to continue making progress will simply leave the regime in a position to turn on the reactor at will.
It was almost certainly concerns over Arak that caused French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to tag the framework as “sucker’s deal.”
Perhaps even more dangerously, Iran reportedly would have been allowed to run tests during the interim period. The test run that Iran has already outlined for the international community, however, is curious to the point of triggering widespread concerns. The description of how the Iranians intend to run their trials had led analysts to suggest they might be ruse s to turn the reactor on.
Dr. Bruno Tertrais, senior Research Fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Strategique (FRS) gestured to exactly that issue on Saturday as a way of highlighting French concerns:
#Iran Want to know why Arak might be so much of a problem? Start with the Strange Tale of Dummy Fuel Assemblies and Light Water Testing.
— Bruno Tertrais (@BrunoTertrais) November 9, 2013
Writing in the Huffington Post earlier this week, Foundation for Defense of Democracies scholar Michael Ledeen emphasized that France’s nonproliferation concerns – and its aggressive approach to enforcing them – are nothing new:
My personal experience with a French Socialist Government during the early years of the Reagan Administration bear this out. Whenever I went to them with a proposal to act against our common enemies–typically terrorist groups in the Middle East–the French not only declared themselves fully supportive, but urged us to do even more, sometimes much more, than we had in mind…
Yes, France wants a deal with Iran, Fabius has said, but a serious deal, not one that is clearly destined to fail (France was a party to such a deal ten years ago). And it may very well be that he convinced the others, including Secretary of State John Kerry, that it was important for the West to dig in its collective heels and insist on the three main points of contention: refusal to recognize an Iranian “right” to enrich uranium, the development of the heavy-water reactor at Arak must cease, and highly enriched uranium has to be turned over.
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