New Nuclear Proposal in the Offing?
With Iran refusing US demands that it gut its uranium enrichment program, the two sides are now discussing a new proposal that would leave much of Tehran’s enriching machines in place but disconnected from feeds of uranium, diplomats told the Associated Press on Saturday.
The talks have not made significant progress for months over US demands that Iran sharply reduce the size and output of centrifuges. Tehran says its enrichment program is only for peaceful purposes, but the US and some other Western countries claim Iran may have been seeking to develop the capability to build nuclear weapons.
Time is running out before a November 24 deadline and both sides are eager to break the impasse.
Ahead of the resumption of talks on Friday, the New York Times reported that Washington was considering putting a new plan on the table that would focus on removing piping connecting the centrifuges.
*****Leeway to Modify Demands
That would allow the US leeway on modifying demands that Iran cut the number of centrifuge machines from 19,000 to no more than 1,500.
Two diplomats told the AP that Tehran, which would gain an end to sanctions as part of any deal, was initially non-committal at a bilateral meeting in August. But they say the proposal has now moved to being discussed at the talks Tehran is holding with the US and five other powers.
Both diplomats demanded anonymity because their information is confidential.
While only a proposal, the plan would allow the Iranians to say they did not compromise on vows that they would never emasculate their enrichment capabilities, while keeping intact US demands that the program be downgraded to a point where it could not be possible for Iran to quickly produce higher-grade enriched uranium if it decides so.
****Opposition to Compromise
But any plan could founder due to opposition to major compromises at the negotiating table from Iranian critics as well as US congressional critics, and a group of 31 Republican senators quickly criticized the proposal.
Warning of “troubling nuclear concessions to Iran,” the Republican senators expressed grave concerns about the new initiative and the possible softening of Washington’s stance on other issues, in a letter dated September 19 and sent to US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Among the signatories was Republican Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was behind many of the sanctions slapped on Iran over its nuclear program.
The talks bring Iran to the negotiating table with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly. That means Kerry and his counterparts will likely join in, adding their diplomatic muscle to the meeting.
Ahead of the talks, chief US negotiator Wendy Sherman acknowledged that the sides “remain far apart” on the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity.
Iran’s demands that it be allowed to keep its program at its present size and output are not acceptable and will not give Iran what it wants — an end to the sanctions, she told reporters.
“We must be confident that any effort by Tehran to break out of its obligations will be so visible and time-consuming that the attempt would have no chance of success,” she said.
Other contentious issues are what to do with an underground enrichment plant near the village of Fordo and with a reactor under construction near the city of Arak.
The US wants the Fordo facility converted to non-enrichment use because it is heavily fortified against underground attack. And it wants the reactor converted to reduce to a minimum its production of plutonium.
The deadline was extended to November 24 after the sides failed to reach agreement by the end of July.