An expected Friday deal gave way to more Saturday talks, and reports that the conference might continue into next week. It ended Saturday, however, without a deal and with only a promise to meet again November 20 to try again.
While many saw a hostile US Congress as the biggest obstacle to reaching a deal, it was France that ultimately stepped up and killed the proposal, with Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius citing Israeli and Saudi objections as a reason not to reach a pact on Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Details of the specific objections are still scarce, with top officials mostly keeping quiet about the talks, but France was said to be particularly adamant that Iran be forced to hand over its civilian enriched uranium in any deal, and also wanted a halt of the construction of the Arak heavy water reactor.
The issues surrounding Arak are something of a microcosm for the disagreements on both sides. Arak is meant to replace the aging Tehran Research Reactor as a source of medical and industrial isotopes, and runs on unenriched uranium.
That it doesn’t require enriched uranium would seemingly make it a big “win” for the West, which keeps railing on about Iran’s civilian enrichment program making fuel for other reactors. But the waste the reactor produces could be further processed to extract plutonium. Even though Iran doesn’t have the facilities to do such processing, Western hawks are presenting it as “proof” Iran is trying to have a nuclear weapon capability, while Iranian hardliners see it as proof that there’s just no satisfying the West, and no point trying.
While the Arak dispute could seemingly be resolved with a simple agreement to transfer the waste abroad for disposal, the question of forcing Iran to surrender parts of its civilian fuel stockpile is much more onerous, since Iran isn’t actually doing anything wrong in having it, and is unlikely to want to set a precedent of losing civilian-enriched uranium it has every right to produce.