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After years of failed talks, the international community has come up with a familiar strategy to halt Iran’s rapidly growing nuclear program: more talks.
On April 14, UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States, along with Germany, will hold the latest round of talks with Tehran over its nuclear program. As in previous versions of these negotiations, the goal will be to convince Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment program, and with it its drive for a nuclear weapon. As in the past, too, there is little evidence that Iran has come to the negotiating table in good faith.
The last time that the so-called P5+1 powers held talks with Iran, in January 2011, the talks collapsed in an impasse. Despite a warning from President Obama that the upcoming talks represent “perhaps the last chance” for diplomacy to succeed, early signs suggest that this outcome is likely to be repeated. Not only did Iran reject “preconditions” for the talks, but it could barely bring itself to agree on a venue for holding them.
Substantively, too, Iran is offering little in the way of compromise. Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, recently announced that Iran could eventually stop its enrichment of uranium to the 20-percent level, the highest level acknowledged by Iran, even as it would continue to enrich uranium to lower levels of about 3.5 percent for the purpose of generating power. On the surface at least, this is supposed to address international concerns that Iran could continue to increase its enrichment toward the more than 90-percent level required for a nuclear warhead.
Yet there is less to this concession than meets the eye. Iran’s insistence on keeping some level of enriched uranium is already a hardening of its negotiating stance from 2009, when it agreed “in principle” to export most of its low-enriched uranium in exchange for foreign-made fuel rods. Today, Iran has reneged on that position, refusing to transfer enriched uranium out of the country. Not only that but last month it made a defiant display of inserting its first domestically made fuel rod into a research reactor in northern Tehran. The point was to show that Iran is fully capable of carrying out the cycle of nuclear production on its own and in the face of international pressure and sanctions.
Iran has also spurned demands that it shutter its underground enrichment facilities. Just this week, Iran announced that it would not close its heavily fortified Fordo nuclear site. The site is built in tunnels deep inside a mountain located about 20 miles from the city of Qom, thus making it less vulnerable to destruction from bomb strikes. Recent revelations that Iran has begun enriching uranium at Fordo have further heightened concern that, left unchecked, it could become the birthplace of Iran’s nuclear bomb.
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