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"Minister Zarif and I, together with the Political Directors of China, France, Germany, Russia,the United Kingdom and the United States, just finished a third round of talks in our ongoingdiplomatic effort to seek a Comprehensive Agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue asenvisaged in the Joint Plan of Action.We would again like to thank the Austrian Foreign Minister and his staff as well as the UnitedNations for their support in hosting these negotiations in Vienna.
Senior-level talks on the Iran nuclear issue resume in Vienna this week amid a generally upbeat mood. The parties are rolling up their sleeves, staffing their teams and getting to grips with key issues.
Long gone are the trying talks of the past: the frustrating spring 2012 meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow during which Iran’s chief negotiator, the dreary Saeed Jalili, began every session with a sanctimonious sermon. President Hassan Rouhani’s team gets right to the point. The negotiating parties still do not have mutual trust, said an insider at a recent IISS workshop, but they have mutual respect.
The issue is no longer whether Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium; it is how much, based on Iran’s practical need for enriched uranium. Questions concerning quantity are inherently negotiable.
Similarly, on the issue of the Arak research reactor, Iran has already agreed, in principle, that the design could be adjusted to reduce the amount of weapons-grade plutonium that could be produced. Lowering the power of what is now designed to be a 40 megawatts (thermal) reactor won’t be enough to satisfy policymakers in key Western capitals. They want the reactor converted to use light water (which is to say, regular water) as a moderator and coolant, though they may be willing to allow heavy water to be used as a reflector. Making use of Iran’s heavy water could be a face-saving compromise. Again, such details are negotiable.
The greatest convergence between the parties is over verification. Since the days of his election campaign, Rouhani has been ready to accept greater transparency. The increased tempo and scope of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections spelled out in the 24 November Joint Plan of Action is one reason I called it a surprisingly good deal.
The comprehensive deal that is supposed to be negotiated by 20 July will require yet more transparency. If the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ever decides to reverse his fatwas against nuclear weapons and to break out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the production of highly enriched uranium would more likely take place at a clandestine facility rather than at a declared site that is visited near-daily by inspectors. This is why the IAEA needs to be able to visit undeclared sites that it has reasonable grounds to suspect.
Iran drew a red line on Tuesday on how far it would go at landmark nuclear talks, saying as the meeting opened that it would not buckle to pressure from the U.S. and five other world powers to scrap any of its nuclear facilities.
The statement by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi suggested tough talks ahead, constituting a rejection of a central demand by the six countries.
The talks are designed to build on a first-step deal that came into effect last month and commits Iran to initial curbs on its nuclear program in return for some easing of sanctions. The deal can be extended, if both sides agree to do so after six months.
Iran insists it is not interested in producing nuclear weapons, but the six powers want Tehran to back its words with concessions.
They seek an agreement that will leave Iran with little capacity to quickly ramp up its nuclear program into weapons-making mode with enriched uranium or plutonium, which can be used for the fissile core of a missile.
For that, they say Iran needs to dismantle or store most of its 20,000 uranium enriching centrifuges, including some of those not yet working. The six powers also demand that an Iranian reactor being built be either scrapped or converted from a heavy-water setup to a light-water facility that makes less plutonium.
According to a background briefing from the State Department, daily access by the International Atomic Energy Agency to Iran's enrichment facilities has begun.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Takashi with NHK Broadcasting. As far as an implementation of the first measures is concerned, are you satisfied with the pace and scope of Iranians’ implementation so far? And are you going to talk about it tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Tomorrow is focused on beginning the negotiation of the comprehensive agreement, not to look backwards at the JPOA. As I said, the IAEA will be providing a monthly report verifying the monitoring is done and all of that is taking place. I think Dr. Timbie told me that, in fact, the daily access is now daily. I know from Richard Nephew, who also works on the sanctions, that we’ve put pieces in place. And obviously Adam Szubin here from Treasury – all of that is going forward. So I think, gentlemen, you would say satisfied that things are being implemented. Yes.