Iran Talks: Devil Is in the Details

Plenty of Room for Talks, But Finalizing Could Take Awhile

by Jason Ditz, October 22, 2013

Western diplomats have leaked details of their “demands” on Iran to the Associated Press, and after last week’s leaks of the Iranian proposal, we now have a pretty clear picture of where the secretive negotiations now stand.

There seems to be plenty of agreement on the broad strokes of a final deal, with both sides in agreement on ending 20 percent enrichment, and the signs that the two sides are going to settle on 5 percent as the limit for civilian uranium enrichment.

That’s plenty for Iran’s current program, with the Bushehr power plant using 3.5 percent, and the 20 percent uranium already made enough for the aging Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

The P5+1 wants Fordow closed, and reports are that Iran wants to keep it as a research site, but is willing to end enrichment there, moving entirely to Natanz. The details of exactly how much enrichment will be allowed at Natanz is going to be a complicated matter to work out, but again is a matter on which there is basic agreement.

The Arak reactor is also a subject of some disagreement, with the US holding out for Iran to shut it down entirely and Iran offering major concessions on oversight, as well as letting the IAEA handle all spent fuel to prevent its further processing into plutonium.

Even this seems a minor dispute in the long run, as turning over the spent fuel moots the prospect of using it to make weapons, and rather the reactor is a long-term source of civilian isotopes, which will allow the TRR to be shut down eventually, meaning Iran won’t need to source fuel for the 20 percent level reactor.

All in all there seems plenty of room to deal, but specifics on Natanz and on additional transparency beyond its NPT protocols are going to take a long time to work out, meaning it’s probably going to be months before anything like a final deal takes shape.

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