P5+1 Heartache Over Iran
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Details emerge on Iran’s priorities in nuclear talks
Iran says it is willing to lower uranium enrichment levels to end sanctions. But it also set out red lines in PowerPoint presentation at recent Moscow talks.
By Scott Peterson, Staff writer / July 6, 2012
Details are emerging about the content of Iran‘s nuclear talks with world powers, days after a 15-hour marathon meeting of technical experts in Istanbul, which show the two sides poles apart but engaged on substantive issues.
Iran’s priorities are now clear: The removal of all sanctions, and explicit guarantees of its “nuclear rights” to enrich uranium, according to the original slides of an Iranian PowerPoint presentation made during the latest top-level political talks in Moscow in June, acquired by the Monitor.
Also becoming clearer: Iran is willing to negotiate over its most sensitive nuclear work – enrichment to 20 percent level – but rejects many other demands of the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany).
The Iran mission to the United Nations shared a text version of the same information – without clearly identifying it as the precise presentation made in Moscow – with Iran specialists Tuesday. Added to it was Iran’s detailed response to the P5+1 package, which was first laid down during a previous rancorous round of talks in Baghdad in May. That Iranian document was first published by Al-Monitor website on Wednesday.
The P5+1 wants to permanently curb Iran’s advanced nuclear program, to ensure the Islamic Republic can never build a nuclear weapon. Iran says its work is limited to peaceful uses only, and argues that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and under constant UN inspection, it has been singled out for political reasons.
The Istanbul round last Tuesday was low-level and technical in nature. The talks focused only on two points. The first was halting Iran’s 20-percent enrichment – a level technically close to weapon’s grade of 90 percent – and shipping its 20-percent stockpile out of the country. Iranian officials have indicated publicly for months they may willing to do a deal on 20 percent, though Iranian lawmakers this week voiced reasons to raise that level further for non-weapon purposes.
The importance of progress was underscored by mutual saber-rattling this week: Iran conducted three days of missile-test war games, while the US highlighted its own military buildup off Iran’s shores in the Persian Gulf.
Ending 20-percent enrichment
The second point discussed in Istanbul was the P5+1 demand that Iran close down its enrichment facility at Fordow, which is deeply buried underground, difficult to attack, and home to Iran’s 20 percent enrichment.
“My first impression is that there is room to be optimistic, as long as both sides need to calm the situation, because it is getting out of control,” says an Iranian official familiar with the talks, who asked not to be further identified.
At the negotiating table, Iran “clearly for the first time” offered to exchange 20-percent enrichment for lifting of sanctions, says the Iranian official. That indirectly echoes Iran’s PowerPoint proposal, which states that Iran “will cooperate with the 5+1 to provide enriched [20 percent] fuel,” and expects the P5+1 will in return “terminate the sanctions and will remove Iran’s nuclear file from the [UN Security Council] agenda.”
“We said the issue of 20-percent could be a matter of discussion, when the [final] result was known, if they said what they are going to give us in return – a full lifting of sanctions,” says the Iranian official. “We said all of them, though it could be done part by part.”
On the other side, the P5+1 say they need to see Iran take confidence-building measures first, before real bargaining can begin.
“So far, we have not seen a willingness by the Iranians to do anything else than talk, write letters, and gesture,” says a Western diplomat close to the talks. “There is a real sense among the P5+1 that we’re going to have to see some action … from the Iranians.”
“It’s not that we are inflexible, but there is a sense that before we get into the flexibility, they have to do more than just talk,” says the Western diplomat.
The sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy and have tightened in recent days, with a European Union oil embargo and more US measures coming into effect. Sanctions relief is not among incentives of the P5+1 package, and many of the escalating American measures imposed by Congress require more than Iranian movement on its nuclear case in order to be lifted.
On the last page of the Iranian response document is a cryptic line in quotations marks, apparently referring to the P5+1 package, which reads with ellipses: “The United States is prepared to … adjust its sanctions policy….”
Of the four main objectives listed at the top of Iran’s PowerPoint proposal, the first is to “normalize Iran’s nuclear file” at the UN and with its nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “by termination of the UNSC, unilateral, and multilateral sanctions against Iran.”
“We said we need a quick response…. We warned them that tomorrow it may not be the case that 20 percent [enrichment] is still the issue,” says the Iranian official, noting some calls in Tehran to raise the level of enrichment – an unlikely and provocative step.
“We said closing Fordow is completely out of the question, and provided the explanation that it is not a military base and is under safeguard by the IAEA,” he says. “So there is no need to close it, it is not a matter of concern.”
That point is made in Iran’s official presentations. Stating that there is “no limitation” to IAEA access at Fordow, the documents add that “sustained threats” against Iran’s nuclear program and the assassination of a number of its scientists make protection of sensitive facilities “necessary.”
“Facing constant threats, we need a backup facility to safeguard our enrichment activities,” Iran’s document states. Iran further suggested that it has plans for “at least four other research reactors,” and therefore needed a steady supply of 20 percent enriched uranium to make fuel for them.
Iran further stated that there was no reason to ship its current stockpile out of the country, because it was already under IAEA “supervision” and “seal” inside Iran – and would be so anywhere else.
Underpinning the Iranian position, according to the PowerPoint presentation and document – a third, shorter PowerPoint about the legal implications of the fatwa by Iran’s top religious authority rejecting nuclear weapons has not yet been made public – is that both sides move forward “step by step” in a reciprocal, simultaneous and balanced way.
The documents also say Iran is committed to both rights and obligations under the NPT, which include removing doubt about longstanding accusations of past weapons-related work, and accepting more intrusive inspections. While dismissing those charges as “baseless accusations and ambiguities,” the PowerPoint says Iran will “transparently cooperate” with the IAEA to clear up “possible military dimensions.”
Under the title: “A framework for comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation among 7 countries,” Iran calls for top negotiators – Saeed Jalili for Iran and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for the P5+1 – to meet every three months.
Barely mentioned is that the P5+1 also requires Iran to suspend all enrichment – including the bulk of its work, at 3.5 percent purity for nuclear fuel – in keeping with UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions. Iran has always rejected such a move.
Critical for “guaranteeing the success” of the talks, reads one Iranian PowerPoint slide, is that both sides “clearly set the ultimate outcome of the talks” up front – meaning, in Iran’s view, that the P5+1 agree to lift all sanctions by the end of the process, and “normalize” Iran’s nuclear efforts.
But many of Iran’s official positions are unacceptable to the P5+1, just as many P5+1 proposals are unacceptable to Iran. Any common ground will be chewed over at the next meeting, between deputies of the top negotiators, on a date not yet specified.
“We’ve come up with a pretty good package with which, if they take it at face value, we could be trundling down a productive path for both of us,” says the Western diplomat. “The most important carrot is a process toward rehabilitation, respect, and acknowledgment, of which the immediate steps are meant to get down the track to that wider, comprehensive arrangement.”
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History of Official Proposals on the Iranian Nuclear Issue
Press Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Nonproliferation Analyst, (202) 463-8270 x102
Updated: April 2012
Diplomatic initiatives to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue have produced several proposals for a negotiated settlement or to build confidence between Iran and the international community. Thus far, none of those proposals have gained acceptance from all of the involved parties and efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program continue. As Iran progresses down a path towards a nuclear-weapons capability, the difficulties in finding a compromise that would protect against a nuclear-armed Iran while being acceptable to the leadership in Tehran have grown.
Tehran devised a number of these proposals between 2003 and 2005, some of which included provisions to initially limit operations at its key nuclear facilities and implement transparency measures for its nuclear activities. Iran’s IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said during a September 2011 Arms Control Today interview however, that those proposals are “obsolete.” Since that time, proposals offered by Iran have generally not addressed concerns that it is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (the EU3) also offered Iran several proposals to resolve the nuclear issue during negotiations with Iran in 2004 and 2005. China, Russia, and the United States joined the three European countries in 2006 as part of a format known as the “P5+1”—in reference to the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany—offering similar comprehensive proposals to Iran. The P5+1 have described their negotiations with Tehran regarding these proposals as one track of a “dual track strategy” to address Iran’s nuclear program. The second track consists of Security Council resolutions which impose sanctions on Iran and demand that it suspend all uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, as well as construction of a heavy water reactor.1 The West fears that Iran might enrich uranium to high levels necessary for use in nuclear weapons, or reprocess spent nuclear fuel to acquire plutonium for weapons.
Recent initiatives have focused more on short-term confidence-building measures rather than a negotiated agreement resolving the nuclear issue, with the goal of bridging the trust deficit between the two sides before entering more difficult and long-term negotiations.
Spring 2003 Proposal
According to Tim Guldimann, former Swiss ambassador to Tehran, Iran issued a proposal to the United States in May 2003 calling for negotiations on a variety of contentious issues between the two countries. The document listed a number of agenda items that the two countries would negotiate and proposed the creation of three parallel working groups to carry out negotiations on disarmament, regional security, and economic cooperation. Key among the agenda items were:
- Relief of all U.S. sanctions on Iran
- Cooperation to stabilize Iraq
- Full transparency over Iran’s nuclear program, including the Additional Protocol
- Cooperation against terrorist organizations, particularly the Mujahedin-e Khalq and al-Qaeda
- Iran’s acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 “land for peace” declaration on Israel/Palestine
- Iran’s full access to peaceful nuclear technology, as well as chemical and bio-technology
The Bush administration dismissed the proposal in favor of placing additional pressure on Iran.
Several months later, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom agreed to discuss with Iran a range of nuclear, security, and economic issues as long as Tehran suspended work on its uranium enrichment program and cooperated fully with an investigation by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). However, that agreement unraveled the following year when Tehran continued work on uranium conversion, the precursor to enrichment. Iran then agreed with the EU3 in November 2004 to implement a more stringent suspension. Negotiations between the two sides began shortly afterward.
Iran presented four proposals during the course of these negotiations. In addition to Iran’s nuclear program, the proposals covered subjects such as Tehran’s support for terrorist organizations, regional security issues, and economic cooperation.
The Iranian proposals were as follows:
January 17, 2005 This Iranian proposal to the EU3/Iran Political and Security Working Group outlined commitments on both sides in general terms, including:
- An Iranian commitment not to pursue weapons of mass destruction
- A rejection of any attacks, threats of attack, or sabotage of Iran’s nuclear facilities
- Cooperation on combating terrorism, including intensifying the exchange of information and the denial of safe havens
- Regional security cooperation, including on Iraq and Afghanistan
- Cooperation on strategic trade controls and the EU removal of restrictions on transfers of conventional arms and dual use goods to Iran
The Iranian proposal to the EU3/Iran steering committee in March provided greater detail into the “objective guarantees” Iran was willing to discuss regarding its nuclear program, including:
- Iran’s adoption of the IAEA Additional Protocol and continuous on-site inspections at key facilities
- Limiting the expansion of Iran’s enrichment program and a policy declaration of no reprocessing
- Immediately converting all enriched uranium to fuel rods
- An EU declaration recognizing Iran as a major source of energy for Europe
- Iran’s guaranteed access to advanced nuclear technology along with contracts for the construction of nuclear plants in Iran by the EU
- Normalizing Iran’s status under G8 export controls
In April Iran’s proposal repeated some of the items in the March proposal, but focused more on short-term confidence-building measures than long term resolutions. Its key terms included:
- Iran’s adoption of the IAEA Additional Protocol
- A policy declaration of no reprocessing by Iran
- Continued enrichment suspension for six months
- Establishment of joint task forces on counter-terrorism and export control
- An EU declaration recognizing Iran as a major source of energy for Europe
Iranian Message from Hassan Rowhani, then-Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, to France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. In his statement Rohani proposes:
- An agreement on initial limitations on uranium enrichment at Natanz
- Negotiations for the full-scale operation of Natanz
- Arrangements to import material for uranium conversion and the export of UF6
- Negotiation of an “optimized” IAEA monitoring mechanism for Natanz
In August 2005 the three European countries presented their own comprehensive proposal for a long-term agreement, outlining the following:
- Arrangements for the assured supply of low enriched uranium for any light water reactors constructed in Iran
- Establishing a buffer store of nuclear fuel located in a third country
- A commitment by Iran not to pursue fuel cycle technologies, reviewable after 10 years
- A legally binding commitment by Iran not to withdraw from the NPT and Iran’s adoption of the Additional Protocol
- Arrangements for Iran to return spent nuclear fuel to supplier countries
- EU recognition of Iran as a long-term source of fossil fuel energy
- EU-Iran cooperation in a variety of political-security areas, including Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism, and drug trafficking
Iran rejected that proposal days later, claiming that it did not recognize Iran’s right to enrichment. Tehran proceeded with uranium conversion, breaking the suspension agreement with the EU3 and ending negotiations.
In order to support Iran’s talks with the EU, Russia proposed to Iran in October 2005 that Tehran share ownership of a uranium-enrichment plant located in Russia. Following months of discussions on that proposal, Iran ultimately rejected it in March 2006.
China, Russia, and the United States joined the three EU3 countries in June 2006 to offer another proposal for comprehensive negotiations with Iran. The proposal mirrored some of the previous offers for negotiations and included the following key points:
- Iran’s suspension of enrichment-related and reprocessing activities
- The establishment of a mechanism to review this moratorium
- Iran’s resumption of the Additional Protocol
- The provision of state-of-the-art light water reactors to Iran through joint projects, along with nuclear fuel guarantees and a 5-year buffer stock of fuel
- Suspension of the discussion of Iran’s nuclear program in the UN Security Council
- Cooperation on civil aviation, telecommunications, high-technology, and agriculture, and other areas, between the United States, EU, and Iran
Tehran responded to this proposal in August 2006. It rejected the terms of the proposal due to its requirement that Iran suspend its enrichment-related activities, but noted that the proposal contained “useful foundations and capacities for comprehensive and long-term cooperation between the two sides.” It did not, however, identify what those useful foundations were.
In March 2008, the P5+1 agreed to “repackage” the June 2006 proposal in order to specify some of the benefits that they would offer Iran as part of a long-term agreement on its nuclear program and to better demonstrate the nature of those benefits to the Iranian public. This agreement to revise the 2006 proposal coincided with the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1803, the third UN sanctions resolution on Iran.
Before that package was formally submitted to Iran, however, Tehran issued its own proposal to the six-country group. While the Iranian proposal also called for comprehensive negotiations leading to cooperation on nuclear energy, and political and economic concerns, it offered very few details regarding the steps Iran would take to resolve concerns related to its nuclear program. Some of its key provisions were:
- “Establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world-including Iran”
- Improved IAEA supervision “in different states”
- Cooperation on nuclear safety and physical protection
- Cooperation on export controls
- Cooperation on regional security and global economic issues
The P5+1 group presented their revised package during a June 2008 meeting in Tehran which included participants from five of the six countries, excluding the United States. During the meeting, the six-countries relayed an understanding that preliminary talks could begin under a six-week “freeze-for-freeze” period in which Iran would halt the expansion of its enrichment program while the six countries would agree not to pursue additional sanctions against Tehran. The proposal also entailed:
- The 2006 package remains on the table
- Consideration of nuclear energy R&D and treatment of Iran’s nuclear program as any other NPT non-nuclear-weapons state once confidence is restored
- Technological and financial assistance for Iran’s nuclear energy program
- Reaffirmation of the UN Charter obligation to refrain from the use and threat of use of force in a manner inconsistent with the Charter
- Cooperation on Afghanistan, including drug-trafficking, refugee return, reconstruction, and border controls
- Steps towards normalizing economic and trade relations, including support for WTO membership for Iran
- Further details on the prospect for cooperation on agriculture, the environment and infrastructure, civil aviation, and social development and humanitarian issues
Representatives of the six-country group, including the United States for the first time, followed up the June meeting with a meeting in July 2008 in Geneva. At the meeting, Iran issued a non-paper proposing a process for negotiations, highlighting that such discussions would be “based on the commonalities of the two packages” issued by Iran and the P5+1 group in May and June. Both the P5+1 and Iranian proposals called for political, economic, and security cooperation but the Iranian proposal did not address steps that Tehran would take in regard to its nuclear program. The Geneva discussions were inconclusive.
Following the election of U.S. President Barack Obama, who sought to abandon the previous U.S. policy requiring Iran to fulfill UN Security Council demands to suspend nuclear fuel cycle activities prior to negotiations, the P5+1 sought to renew their negotiations with Iran. They issued a statement in April 2009 in which the other five countries welcomed “the new direction of U.S. policy towards Iran,” formally inviting Iran to talks once again.
Iran did not respond to that invitation until that September, when Tehran issued a revised proposal. Although that proposal repeated several of the provisions of the one Iran issued in 2008, it did not include a section on the nuclear issue. Instead, the proposal covered the following:
- Cooperation to address terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and piracy
- UN and Security Council reform
- The codification of rights for the use of space
- Promoting a “rule-based” and “equitable” IAEA oversight function
- Promoting NPT universality and WMD nonproliferation
Tehran Research Reactor “Fuel Swap” Proposal
In June 2009, Iran informed the IAEA that it was seeking assistance to refuel its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), a U.S.-supplied 5 megawatt research reactor that produces medical isotopes. Following Iran’s entreaty, the United States proposed that, in return for a supply of 120 kilograms of fuel for the TRR, Iran ship out an equivalent amount of uranium enriched to 4%, totaling about 1,200 kilograms. The 1,200 kilograms accounted for roughly 80% of Iran’s LEU stockpile at that time, a percentage that diminished as Iran continued to produce LEU. At an initial meeting between the United States, France, Russia, Iran, and the IAEA October 1, 2009, Iranian officials agreed “in principle” to the exchange.
- Iran exports 1,200 kilograms of LEU in a single batch before the end of the 2009
- Russia further enriches Iran’s LEU to about 20%, a process producing about 120 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium for the TRR fuel rods
- France manufactures the TRR fuel rods for delivery about one year after the conclusion of the agreement, prior to the depletion of the current TRR fuel supply
- The United States works with the IAEA to improve safety and control implementation at the TRR
Following reservations expressed by Iran about the terms of the deal, the P5+1 indicated their readiness to take some steps to facilitate the arrangement:
- A political statement of support by the six countries to guarantee that the TRR fuel would be delivered to Iran
- Financing for the movement of LEU and fuel
- An option for the IAEA to hold Iran’s LEU in escrow in a third country until the TRR fuel is delivered
In the months following the initial agreement of the TRR proposal Oct.1, Iran delayed giving the IAEA and the P5+1 a definitive response to the proposal, with many prominent Iranian politicians voicing their opposition to the arrangement, motivated at least in part by their opposition to President Ahmadinejad. Iranian officials publicly suggested alterations to the fuel swap proposal, including: staggering the export of Iran’s LEU over the course of a year or transporting 400 kilograms of LEU to Iran’s Kish Island to exchange for TRR fuel. These proposals, however, undermined or eliminated the confidence-building nature of the export of the bulk of Iran’s LEU. Tehran began to increase the enrichment level of some of its LEU to 20% in February 2010, ostensibly for TRR fuel.
Brazil, Turkey, Iran Tehran Declaration
Brazil and Turkey carried out a diplomatic initiative in the Spring of 2010 to broker the TRR fuel swap with Iran. In an April 20 letter to the leaders of the two countries, President Obama said Iran’s agreement to export 1,200 kilograms of LEU “would build confidence and reduce regional tensions by substantially reducing Iran’s LEU stockpile.” The initiative resulted in the May 17 Tehran Declaration agreed between Presidents Lula da Silva, Erdogan, and Ahmadinejad.
- The three countries “recall the right of all State Parties, including the Islamic Republic of Iran, to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy (as well as nuclear fuel cycle including enrichment activities)”
- Iran transfers 1,200 kilograms of LEU to be held in escrow in Turkey within one month
- Pending their approval of the Tehran Declaration, the IAEA, France, Russia, and the United States (the Vienna Group) would agree to provide 120 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium fuel to Iran within one year
- If the terms were not filled by the Vienna Group, Turkey would transfer the LEU back to Iran (which maintains legal possession of the material)
France, Russia, and the United States rejected the Tehran Declaration on a number of grounds identified in a June 9 letter to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. The key critique was that the declaration did not address Iran’s production of 20%-enriched uranium and Iran’s accumulation of a larger amount of LEU.
Russian Step-by-Step Proposal
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov first publicly proposed a “road map” to implement the P5+1’s proposed incentives package July 12 during a speech in Washington. The proposal itself has not been made public, but its key elements have been described by former Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian.
- Iran limits enrichment to Natanz, does not install any additional centrifuges, and halts the production of advanced centrifuges.
- The P5+1 suspends some UN sanctions, including financial sanctions and ship inspections.
- Iran agrees to provide early design information to the IAEA under Code 3.1, caps its enrichment level at 5%, and allows greater IAEA monitoring over its centrifuges.
- The P5+1 suspends most UN sanctions and gradually lifts unilateral sanctions.
- Iran implements the IAEA Additional Protocol.
- The P5+1 suspends all UN sanctions in a phased manner.
- Iran suspends all enrichment-related activities for 3 months.
- The P5+1 lifts all sanctions and begins to implement the group’s proposed incentives.
Other P5+1 members have not voiced public opposition to the Russian proposal, but some do not appear to support it in its current form. U.S. officials have said that Washington is studying the proposal, and have held meetings with Moscow regarding the plan. Similarly, Iran publicly welcomed the proposal but has been non-committal regarding its terms, claiming it would take several months to study.
1. To date, the UN Security Council has adopted six resolutions in response to Iran’s nuclear program. The council first demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment-related and reprocessing activities with the adoption of resolution 1696 in July 2006. The following three resolutions, 1737 adopted in December 2006, 1747 adopted in March 2007, and 1803 adopted in March 2008, imposed incremental sanctions on Iranian persons and entities believed to have been involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs. Resolution, 1835, adopted in September 2008, reiterated the demands made in resolution 1696 without imposing additional sanctions. The UN Security Council significantly expanded sanctions in June 2010 with the adoption of Resolution 1929.
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