United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Iran Nuke Program 2: ABCs of Sites

      The following is a rundown of Iran’s key nuclear sites. Each will be a subject at diplomatic talks between the Islamic Republic and the world's six major powers.






Bushehr Nuclear Facility
        The Bushehr facility contains Iran’s first nuclear power plant. Its light-water reactor was loaded with nuclear fuel in August 2010. It has an operating capacity of 1,000 megawatts. Bushehr was originally launched in 1976 under contract with a German company, but after the 1979 revolution, Washington opposed it on the grounds that weapons grade plutonium could be extracted from the reactor’s waste, allowing Iran to construct nuclear weapons. Iran says the plant is for power-generation purposes only and will be subject to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
      The theocracy halted construction of the Bushehr reactor after the 1979 revolution, and it was badly damaged during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. But Tehran decided to revive the project in 1990 to provide energy. The contract was awarded to Russia’s Rosatom Corp. To address international concerns, Moscow agreed to supply the enriched uranium fuel for the power plant and take back its plutonium-bearing spent fuel. In February 2005, Tehran and Moscow signed an agreement designed to ensure Iran could not divert enriched uranium for a weapons program.  In September 2013, Russia transferred operational control of some key facilities to Iran.
Natanz Fuel Enrichment Facility
         This fuel enrichment facility is at the heart of Iran’s dispute with the United Nations. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, revealed the existence of the facility in 2002. It is located just outside the city of Natanz, approximately 130 miles south of Tehran.
         The site consists of two facilities:
  • An above-ground pilot fuel enrichment plant (PFEP)
  • A larger, underground fuel enrichment plant with the capacity to hold up to 50,000 centrifuges (FEP). 
      Activities at Natanz were suspended in 2004 following an agreement negotiated by Britain, France and Germany. But Iran restarted its uranium enrichment at the FEP after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in 2005. The international community is concerned that Iran may use the enrichment technology at Natanz for nuclear weapons. These activities were proscribed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1696 in 2006. Iran rejects the legality of these resolutions.
            Iran has not installed new centrifuges at either of the Natanz sites since the implementation of the November 2013 Joint Plan of Action. And enrichment of uranium above five percent is no longer taking place at Natanz, according to a February 2014 U.N. report. About 160 kg of uranium enriched to 20 percent still remains at the site but some of the stockpile is being downblended or converted to uranium oxide, which could not easily be used to fuel a nuclear weapon. 
Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility
          The historic city of Isfahan is home to several nuclear-related sites, but the most significant facility is the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Plant. Isfahan also has a fuel fabrication laboratory, a uranium chemistry laboratory and a zirconium production plant. The conversion plant has been operational since 2006, and converts uranium yellowcake into uranium hexafluoride (UF6) for Iran's enrichment facilities. The facility can also produce uranium metal and oxides for fuel and other purposes.
Tehran Nuclear Research Center
      The Tehran Nuclear Research Center is a complex of several laboratories, including the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). The TRR produces radioisotopes for medical and research purposes. The United States supplied Iran with the 5-megawatt light-water reactor in 1967; it was fueled with highly enriched uranium (around 90 percent). In 1987, Argentina concluded a deal with Iran to change the core of the reactor so it could operate on low-enriched uranium (20 percent).
Arak Heavy Water Plant and Reactor
           The Arak nuclear facility includes a heavy water production plant, which has been operational since 2006, and a 40-megawatt heavy water reactor still under construction. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an exiled opposition group, also revealed the existence of this facility in 2002.
      Heavy water production plants are not subject to traditional safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory. Under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, Tehran would be subject to declarations and complementary access for IAEA inspectors. Since Iran has signed but not yet ratified the Additional Protocol, the IAEA uses satellite imagery to monitor the facility. Iran's heavy-water-related activities are also proscribed by U.N. Resolution 1696, which Tehran rejects.
            In December 2013, Iran provided the IAEA with information and access to the plant. Approximately 100 tons of reactor-grade heavy water have been produced at Arak since 2006. 
Qom Uranium Enrichment Facility (Fordo)
      This secret uranium enrichment facility was made public in 2009 after the United States shared intelligence about it with allies, and Iran confirmed its existence. Construction of the uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom began around 2006, but Tehran maintained that it was not required to report its existence under the safeguard obligations until six months before it became operational. The plant has a few installed centrifuges, but Iran stopped all work once the site was publicized. The facility is located on a mountain on what was reportedly a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ missile site.
           The facility’s revelation prompted concern that Iran intended to construct a potential breakout facility where it could make weapon-grade uranium for a nuclear bomb. Iran told the IAEA that the plant was intended to enrich uranium only to 5 percent, which is not enough for a nuclear weapon. The plant is believed to have room for 3,000 centrifuges for uranium enrichment.
            Parchin is a military complex about 19 miles southeast of Tehran. The IAEA suspects Iran may have conducted experiments related to nuclear weapons production. U.N. inspectors visited the site twice in 2005 but did not find anything suspicious. But the IAEA later received additional evidence about alleged experiments. “We didn’t have enough information [back then],” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said in 2012. “Extensive activities have taken place” at Parchin that have “seriously undermined” the IAEA’s ability to investigate possible military dimensions of Iran’s program, according to a February 2014 report.
            Iran apparently undertook cleanup activities, according to satellite imagery analyzed by the Institute for Science and International Security. The IAEA noted that satellite imagery revealed “possible building material and debris” at Parchin in 2014.
Gchine Mine and Mill
            The Gchine mine is located in southern Iran in Bandar Abbas. The associated mill is located at the same site. According to the IAEA, it began production in 2004 and has an estimated production capacity of 21 tons of uranium per year. The IAEA has questioned the mine’s ownership and relationship to Iran’s military. In January 2014, Iran provided the IAEA with managed access to the mine.
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.


Photo credits: NuclearEnergy.ir, Natanz via Iranian President's Office and The New York Times



Iran Nuke Program 3: ABCs from Khamenei

            Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has voiced his opposition to nuclear weapons on several occasions during the last decade. The following are excerpted remarks in reverse chronological order.


      “Even now that reason - including religious and political reason - has made it clear that the Islamic Republic is not after nuclear weapons, American officials bring up the issue of nuclear weapons whenever they address the nuclear issue. This is while they themselves know that not having nuclear weapons is the definite policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
      April 9, 2014 in a speech to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran
      “We are against nuclear weapons not because of the U.S. or others, but because of our beliefs. And when we say no one should have nuclear weapons, we definitely do not pursue it ourselves either.”
      Sept. 17, 2013 in a meeting with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
            “Nuclear weapons are neither a #security provider, nor a cause of consolidation of political power but rather a threat to both. The events of the 1990s proved that possessing such weapons would not save any regimes including the Soviet Union. Today as well, we know countries who are faced with fatal torrents of insecurity, despite having nuclear bombs.
           “The bitter irony of our time is that the U.S. government has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons and is the only government that has used them, while it bears the flag of anti-nukes struggle!”
            Aug. 30, 2012
            “We do not possess a nuclear weapon and we will not build one, but
we will defend ourselves against any aggression, whether by the U.S. or the Zionist regime, with the same level [of force].”
            March 20, 2012 in a speech marking Nowruz, Persian New Year
            “Nuclear weapons are not at all beneficial to us. Moreover, from an ideological and fiqhi (juridical) perspective, we consider developing nuclear weapons as unlawful. We consider using such weapons as a big sin. We also believe that keeping such weapons is futile and dangerous, and we will never go after them.”
            Feb. 22, 2012 in a speech to nuclear scientists
            “Islam is opposed to nuclear weapons and that Tehran is not working to build them.”
            February 2010 at a ship-christening ceremony
      “The Iranian people and their officials have declared times and again that the nuclear weapon is religiously forbidden in Islam and they do not have such a weapon. But the western countries and America in particular through false propaganda claim that Iran seeks to build nuclear bombs which is totally false and a breach of the legitimate rights of the Iranian nation.”
      June 4, 2009 in a speech marking the 20th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s death
      “Even though the Iranian nation does not have an atomic bomb and keeps no intention to possess the deadly weapon, the world acknowledges that it is a dignified nation because the dignity of the nation has emerged from its resolve, faith, good deed and bright goals.”
      Sept. 9, 2007 in a speech to Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders
            Iran “is not, and the westerners know it well, after a nuclear weapon, because it stands contrary to the country's political and economic interests as well as Islam's statute.”
            Jan. 18, 2006 to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov’s visiting delegation
            “No sir, we are not seeking to have nuclear weapons… [to] manufacture, possess or use them, that all poses a problem. I have expressed my religious convictions about this, and everyone knows it.”
            Nov. 5, 2004 in a Friday sermon
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran, based on its fundamental religious and legal beliefs, would never resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction," Khamenei said recently. "In contrast to the propaganda of our enemies, fundamentally we are against any production of weapons of mass destruction in any form.”
            October 2003, according to the San Francisco Chronicle
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
Photo credit: Khamenei.ir via Facebook

Iran Nuke Program 4: ABCs of Talks So Far

           The following is a rundown of key events in diplomacy on Iran’s nuclear program since President Hassan Rouhani took office in August 2013.

Sept. 26 – Foreign ministers from P5+1 countries (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States) and Iran met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly and agreed to hold a new round of talks in Geneva.
Sept. 27 – President Barack Obama called Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in what was the first direct communication between a U.S. and Iranian presidents since the 1979 revolution. “The two of us discussed our ongoing efforts to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program,” Obama said at a White House briefing.
Oct. 15-16 – Diplomats from P5+1 countries and Iran met in Geneva to solve the nuclear dispute. They committed to meeting in November to continue talks that were “substantive and forward looking.”
Nov. 7-10 – Iran and the P5+1 made significant headway but ultimately failed to finalize an agreement. Foreign ministers rushed to Geneva as a breakthrough appeared imminent. But last-minute differences, reportedly spurred by French demands for tougher terms, blocked a deal.
Nov. 11 – IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited Tehran. He and Iran’s chief of the Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, signed a Framework for Cooperation Agreement committing Tehran to take practical steps towards transparency within three months.
Nov. 24 – Iran and the P5+1 reached an interim agreement that would significantly constrain Tehran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for modest sanctions relief. Iran pledged to neutralize its stockpile of near-20 percent enriched uranium, halt enrichment above five percent and stop installing centrifuges. Tehran also committed to halt construction of the Arak heavy water reactor.
Dec. 11 – Iran and the IAEA met in Vienna to review the status of the six actions Iran committed to in November as part of the Framework for Cooperation Agreement.  
Jan. 9-12 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Geneva and reach an agreement on implementation. The delegations returned to their capitals for approval. On January 12, the parties announced that the Joint Plan of Action will be implemented starting on January 20.
Jan. 20 – The Joint Plan of Action entered into force. The IAEA also issued a report stating that Iran is complying with the deal after reducing their 20% enrichment stockpile and halting work on the Arak heavy water reactor. The United States and European Union announced they have taken steps to waive certain sanctions and release a schedule for releasing Iran’s oil money frozen in other countries.
Feb.18-20 – The P5+1 and Iran agreed on a framework for final negotiations on February 20 after three days of discussion in Geneva.  
March 3 – IAEA chief Yukiya Amano announced that Iran has implemented the six measures contained in the Framework for Cooperation Agreement but also notes that “much remains to be done to resolve all outstanding issues.”
March 19 – The P5+1 and Iran held another round of closed-door talks on a final nuclear agreement. Ashton and Zarif described their discussions on the Arak heavy water reactor and Western sanctions as “substantive and useful.”
March 20 – The IAEA released a report detailing Iran’s implementation of the interim nuclear deal brokered in November 2013. The report noted that Tehran has not enriched any more uranium to 20 percent. But it had not yet completed a facility to convert low-enriched uranium gas into an oxide, which would need to be reprocessed to fuel a weapon.
April 7-9 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna to continue negotiations on a final nuclear agreement. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton reported that they had “substantive and detailed discussions” on all relevant issues.
April 17 – The U.S. State Department announced that Washington had taken steps to release $450 million installment of frozen Iranian funds after the IAEA verified Tehran is complying with the interim nuclear agreement.
May 13-16 – The P5+1 and Iran meet in Vienna to begin drafting a final agreement. The talks end without any tangible progress. But both sides commit to another round of talks in June. 

June 9-10 U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns lead a team of officials to Geneva for bilateral talks with Iran to prepare for the next round of P5+1 talks.
June 16-20 The P5+1 met in Geneva and produced an outline of a draft agreement but did not make much progress on the core issue of uranium enrichment. They agreed to meet on July 2 and hold continuous talks until the July 20 expiration date.
July 3-19 The P5+1 began marathon talks on July 3, less than three weeks form the due date for a deal. After about a week and half of discussions, some foreign ministers, including Kerry, Zarif and Hague, went to Vienna to check on progress of the talks. On June 19, the two sides announced that the will extend the talks through November 24, eactly one year since the interim agreement was brokered. Iran agreed to take further steps to decrease its 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. In return, the P5+1 nations agreed to repatriate $2.8 billion in frozen funds back to Iran.
July 14 Update: Iran released the most detailed report to date explaining its practical needs for its nuclear program. It was posted on the quasi-official website NuclearEnergy.ir.
Sept. 18-26 – Iran and the P5+1 resumed talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York. Several meetings were held, including a one-on-one meeting between Kerry and Zarif, in which they also discussed the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The sides did not reach an understanding on major issues such as uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.

Oct. 14-16 – The P5+1 and Iran met in Vienna made a little progress. But disagreements over Tehran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and a timeline for implementing a deal remained. Officials emphasized that the sides had not given up on the November 24 due-date for a deal and that the talks focused on a “full agreement,” not just understandings of key issues.

Nov. 9-11 -- Kerry, Zarif, and Ashton met for two days of trilateral talks in Oman, followed by a day of meetings between Iran and the full P5+1. The removal of sanctions and levels of uranium enrichment were among the issues on the table, but officials did not report any significant progress from this round of discussions.


Photo Credits: EU External Action Service and  U.S. State Department via Flickr


Iran's Leaders on Syria Crisis

            Iranian officials are skeptical about U.S. intentions in Syria, casting doubt on both the motives behind U.S. air strikes against ISIS and the effectiveness of this strategy. Senior Iranian political and military leaders instead claim that strengthening Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s government is the key to defeating ISIS. Iran has been a stalwart ally of Syria since the uprising began in spring 2011, unwavering in its political and military support of Assad’s government. The following are excerpted remarks by Iranian leaders on the Syria crisis and U.S. military intervention against ISIS.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

            “This takfiri orientation - the thing that has emerged in Iraq, Syria and some other regional countries today and that confronts all Muslims, not just Shias - is the handicraft of colonialists themselves. They made something called al-Qaida and DAESH in order to confront the Islamic Republic and the movement of the Islamic Awakening. However, this product has become a burden for themselves.”
            Oct. 13, 2014, according to Khamenei’s website
President Hassan Rouhani

      Rouhani referred to Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard's remarks that certain western states are ready to fight terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, and said, “We are happy that the West has realized the clear truth on which Iran has always insisted. We hope that it would be serious on it.”

      Sept. 8,2014, according to  Iranian Student News Agency
      “First, stability must return to Syria, and that will not be possible without help from the central government, even though certain criticisms might be directed at it.”
            “We must uproot terrorism so that security could return to Syria and the conditions for the return of Syrian refugees from neighboring countries such as Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon would be provided.”
            Sept. 23, 2014, according to Mehr News

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
      “You cannot fight ISIS and the government in Damascus together.”
      Sept. 19, 2014, according to Kayhan
Supreme National Security Council Chief Ali Shamkhani
       “The principled stance of the Islamic Republic of Iran regarding full support for the friendly and brotherly country, Syria, which is on the frontline of the fight against terrorism, will continue with seriousness.” 
      “The formation of the so-called (U.S.-led) coalition against ISIL and the (concomitant) media hype by the West and its regional allies, which are in stark contrast with their previous measures in supporting the formation of terrorist groups, is an undeniable evidence of the accuracy of the principled policies of the Iranian and Syrian governments regarding incessant fight against Takfiri terrorists over the past three years.” 
            Oct. 1, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
            "In spite of the Syrian government's readiness to hold political dialogue with different Syrian groups, irresponsible behavior of certain Western and regional countries as well as arming the opponents and provoking them to kill people has been the main obstacle to the establishment of calm in Syria."
            Oct. 20, 2014, according to PressTV
Revolutionary Guards Corps Commander Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari
      “The Islamic Republic of Iran’s policy is to support Syria and this U.S. action is from a bullying position and is condemned and if it does so, it will regret it.”
      “The U.S. is disappointed with any influential role to be played by the ISIL and similar groups and it is calling for this so-called coalition. We doubt if their serious objective is to annihilate the ISIL.”
      Sept. 16, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
      “Iran’s reaction to the Syrian issue has only a political dimension, and we do not intervene directly or military-wise. We will, however, continue our support of the Syrian government and condemn the U.S. attempts at mobilizing the rebel groups.”
            Sept. 16, 2014, according to Mehr News

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Marziyeh Afkham
       “The U.S. move in invading Syria that was made outside the internationally-recognized barriers was breaching the national legitimacy of that country and the international rules and regulations and will beyond doubt have numerous negative aftermaths in the international scene.”
      “The responsibility of the new U.S. move, including getting killed and wounded of innocent (Syrian) citizens is on the shoulders of those who have paved the path for entering of weapons and terrorists into Syria and some other countries in the region and with their financial and military support for the extremist groups expand the dimensions of the Syrian and regional crises.”
            Sept. 23, according to Islamic Republic News Agency
            “The (U.S.) operation is in line with previous interventionist measures in the region which made regional issues more complicated.”
            Sept. 24, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
            “Kobani is part of Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity and if the Syrian government makes a demand, we will be ready to provide any assistance it wants.”
            Oct. 10, 2014, according to Fars News
Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir Abdollahian
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that the best way to battle ISIL and terrorism in the region is to help Iraqi and Syrian states, which are fighting terrorism in practice.”
            Sept. 15, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
            “They can carry out serious terrorist operations anywhere in the world. The U.S. has now realized this and called for cooperation with Iran...But we have doubts about their intention to fight terrorism.”
            Sept. 22, 2014, according to Kayhan
            “Although it was the U.S. that decided to intervene militarily in Syria and violate its sovereignty with the help of certain regional states, it is not the U.S. that decides to put an end to this.”
            Sept. 25, 2014, according to Islamic Republic News Agency
            “The illegal and manic attacks of the U.S. on Syria will bring nothing but more extremism in the region.”
            Sept. 30, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran will take any necessary action to help the Kurds in Kobani in line with its support for the Syrian government in its fight against terrorism.”
            Oct. 10, 2014, according to Fars News
            “Iran will not allow terrorists to overthrow Bashar al Assad.”
            Oct. 10, 2014, according to Tasnim News
            “We do not mean to say that (President) Bashar al Assad should be the lifetime president of Syria, but we will not permit the anti-ISIS terrorists’ coalition to topple that country’s government, or to harm the resistance axis.”
            “We have properly conveyed this message to Washington that if there is going to be a regime change scenario in Syria from the campaign against terrorism then the Zionist regime, too, will be deprived of security.”
            “We have differences of opinion with some of our friends in the region, including Turkey, on such issues as Syria; Turkey says Bashar Assad should go. We tell them that either the staying or the going of Bashar Assad is none or our, your, nor U.S. business, as decision making in that respect should be left up to the Syrian nation.”
            Oct. 10, 2014, according to Islamic Republic News Agency
            “Iran sees serious contradictions in the US and its allies’ intentions in regard to the Syrian issue and fighting terrorism, as well as ISIL in the region, and it seems they do not intend to learn from their repeated mistakes in the past.”
            “Resolving the Syrian crisis is only possible through assuming a real and serious fighting stance against terrorism, sending international humanitarian aid, making endeavors to help misplaced citizens settle back into their country, and respecting the people’s decisions and the territorial integrity of Syria.”
            Nov. 2, 2014 according to the press
            “If there weren’t the strong resistance of the Syrian government under leadership of President Bashar al Assad and the support of the Syrian people to the campaign against the Takfiri terrorists, the world would have witnessed dominance of terrorists on Damascus.”
            Nov. 6, 2014 according to the press
Deputy Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Massoud Jazayeri
            “The U.S. and its allies are manipulating the fight against the ISIL as a tool to topple the legal government of Bashar al Assad in Syria.”
            Oct. 17, 2014, according to Fars News
            "Using the largest current of state terrorism in the past three years, the U.S. has attempted to take this chain of regional resistance off the track, but the resistance of the Syrian government and nation prevented the U.S. and its partners from achieving this evil goal."
            Oct. 18, 2014, according to PressTV
United States
Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS, General John Allen
            "No, we haven’t invited Iran into the coalition but we have welcomed Iran’s constructive role in Iraq and, of course, Iran is very attentive in terms of what we are doing and saying in terms of Syria as well. So it is important, once again, to be very clear that we seek a political outcome where there will be many voices that contribute to that political outcome [in Syria]. That political outcome will not include Assad and I don’t want to get into the details of interim governments and all of those measures that are on the table. However we recognize that Iran is a key influence in Iraq, in Syria and in the region. As we continue to move forward we are going to continue to listen very carefully to the things they [Iran] have to say and we will see where that goes."
            Oct. 25, 2014 according to the press
Bashar al Assad
      “Syrian nation welcomes readiness of Iran and other friendly countries for rebuilding Syria.”
      Sept. 6, 2014, according to Iranian Student News Agency
      “Syria appreciates Iran which has stood by Syria in the face of challenges targeting all regional states’ interests.”

       Sept. 3, 2014, according to Islamic Republic News Agency



Syrian Minister of Foreign Affairs Walid al Moualem

            “Let us together stop [ISIS] ideology and its exporters, let us, simultaneously, exert pressure on the countries that joined the coalition led by the United States to stop their support of armed terrorist groups…Only then combating terrorism militarily becomes viable.”
            Oct. 1, 2014, according to Al-Bawaba News
Shiite militia and political movement in Lebanon
Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah
            “We are against American military intervention and an international coalition in Syria, whether that [action] is against the regime or IS.”
            “U.S. military intervention, whether under the guise of an international coalition or under the cover of NATO or under the guise of multinational forces: we have a principled position based on basic rules and norms.”
            “America is, in our view, the mother of terrorism and the origin of terrorism.”
Sept. 23, 2014, according to Reuters
Photo credit: Bashar al Assad by Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom / ABr [CC-BY-3.0-br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons




Vienna Nuke Talks: A Little Headway

            The world’s six major powers and Iran have made some progress in nuclear talks, but disagreements remain over the scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities and a timeline for implementing a deal. A U.S. official, however, suggested that an agreement is still possible by the November 24 deadline, and discussions of an extension are premature. In a State Department briefing, a U.S. official emphasized that these talks focus on "a full agreement - not only the understandings, but all of the annexes that go with those understandings." Negotiations were “very difficult,” but there “was progress in all fields,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to Reuters. E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif on October 15.The following are remarks by U.S. and Iranian officials and a State Department briefing on the state of diplomacy.

United States
Secretary of State John Kerry
            “I am glad that all of the pundits and speculators are doubting whether [agreement] can be reached.”
            “But we have some tough issues to resolve. I am not going to prognosticate. We need to continue to have some serious discussions and see where we are.”
            “I don't believe it's out of reach, but we have some tough issues to resolve.
            Oct. 14, 2014 according to Al-Monitor and AFP, following a meeting with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
Senior State Department Official

I just told Deputy Foreign Minister Araghchi that that I was coming down to do a backgrounder, and I said, you know, “You’ll know what I’m going to say.”  And his suggestion was that I simply hand you the transcript from the last one, and that would probably do the trick.  (Laughter.)  So we thought that was pretty funny.  Obviously, you don’t think that’s so funny, but we all thought it was pretty funny.

As [Moderator] said, the Secretary, the high representative, and Foreign Minister Zarif are still meeting.  They began again at 8:30 this evening after having met for some hours this afternoon.  Let me say in general that you all know that Iran has said that they don’t want a nuclear weapon, have never wanted a nuclear weapon, never will have a nuclear weapon, including in a fatwa by the Supreme Leader.

What these negotiations are about is whether Iran is willing to take verifiable actions to show the world that their program is indeed exclusively for peaceful purposes.

Yesterday we met bilaterally for the day with the Iranian negotiating team at the deputy foreign minister level, having included Helga Schmid and the EU team who also had their own bilateral meeting as well, but we included them in ours because everything that we do is in the context of the P5+1 or E3+3 or E3+3+EU meetings – (laughter) – whichever moniker you choose to use.  And so we think as we are coming down the road here, we think it’s quite important to stay very, very tightly coordinated, and so we were very glad that Helga Schmid could join us and her team could join us.

We met yesterday probably for both at the political level...So we met both at the political level and our experts met in parallel for several hours yesterday.

We went over every issue, but Iran thinks it’s important to meet with the United States from time to time because not only do we hold a number of the sanctions that are of greatest interest to them, but we – they are also very interested in our views on what needs to be accomplished.  But they have bilaterals with every member of the E3+3 and so we have them as well now on a regular basis.

Today, Secretary Kerry, Baroness Ashton, and Foreign Minister Zarif met trilaterally for about four hours this afternoon, and then they started again this evening.  Tomorrow, the High Representative and the Foreign Minister will convene a meeting with all of the P5+1 political directors.  One of the things that we try to do is whenever anyone has a bilateral, either by phone, by SVTC, by meeting – and this time it’s meeting – we want to debrief each other, we want to stay well coordinated, we want to discuss next steps.  So we will have a debriefing session with the High Representative and the Foreign Minister, and then we will have some internal meetings to discuss how we’re going to proceed next as a group.

Everyone’s been working incredibly hard.  You all know – those of you who have lived this life with all of us know that these are incredibly complex negotiations.  The detail is extraordinary.  Every line of any political agreement has pages of annexes that are attached to it because the detail absolutely is critical to all of this.

The discussions remain very intense, very focused, very concrete; continue to cover every issue that needs to be part of the comprehensive agreement, because again, you all are tired of me saying but it is true:  Until everything is agreed, nothing is agreed, and you can get 98 percent of the way there and the last two percent may kill the entire deal.  So you’ve got to get it all or you don’t have an agreement, so you constantly are getting closer and then you move away because you have to manage another element, and then you find your way back again until all the pieces come together.  So I know it gets frustrating for the press to want to say, “Well, have you made progress?  Where are you?”  But it’s really an amoeba that sort of moves in and out until all of the pieces lock into place.

We’ve been very deliberately working through all the technical issues.  Our expert team and all of the experts at the E3+3 are simply extraordinary, do amazing work.  We’ve been chipping away at some of the issues.  Everyone has put ideas on the table to see if we can move the ball forward.  We have and continue to make some progress, but there is still a substantial amount of work to be done.

Many people, including the President of the United States in his UN General Assembly speech, have said what a historic opportunity this is.  We agree, obviously, with the President.  And as the President also said, we hope Iran decides to take advantage of this historic opportunity.  We can foresee a way forward through a verifiable agreement that both resolves the international community’s concerns about the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program and also provides the Iranian people with more economic opportunity and an end to isolation, and a time certain after duration of the agreement when Iran will be treated as any other non-nuclear-weapon state under the NPT.  But the question remains, and we will know when we get to the end of this process, whether Iran’s leaders can and will seize this opportunity.

Could you talk about what the biggest hangups are right now, what are the big sticking points that still need to be resolved?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  You’re not going to like my answer.  It’s sort of everything, in the sense that we have a lot of detail on every single subject.  We know where we are headed.  We know what we each want the objective to be and we’re trying to narrow those gaps.  But we have to do so in a way that ensures that all of the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down.

So the pathway to using weapons-grade plutonium, which is best evidenced by the Arak reactor – and we have some possible solutions to that.  I think most people know that we’ve been discussing some technical ways to deal with this.  But they are substantial and they are detailed, and so you have to know every one of the details to know whether you can get there or not.  We have to shut down the enriched uranium path, and that’s Natanz and Fordow.

We obviously hope that we can deal with both of those, but there are many elements to each of those facilities that have to be dealt with.  And then we want to make sure we shut down the covert path, and that is largely done through very specific and very meaningful and concrete verification and monitoring mechanisms.

And each one of these pathways has layers and layers of detail, and you have to understand every one of those layers to know whether what you think you’ve gotten really works.
QUESTION:  Michele Kelemen with NPR.  Can you give us a sense of just what the mood is here?  Do they feel like they’re really at the end point, or is there talk of moving it on?  I mean, even Lavrov today – yesterday was saying that this November 24th date isn’t sacrosanct.  It’s –

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Well, we’re all still focused – those of us who are working on this day by day – on November 24th and getting to an agreement by November 24th.  We’re not taking the pressure off ourselves or this process.
QUESTION:  Is that partly because of U.S. politics?

  No, that’s because if you take the pressure off yourself, then you never have to make hard decisions.  And deadlines help people to make hard decisions, and there are hard decisions to be made here.  And we must.  So we are all keeping the pressure on ourselves, and that includes Iran.

In terms of mood, in a professional way, we all know each other pretty well now.  You can tell when the Deputy Foreign Minister jokes.  He reads the transcripts of these backgrounders, and when he can joke, “Why don’t you just hand over the last one?  You’re going to say the same thing,” it’s reached a level of we know each other well enough to make jokes.
But that, of course, will not get an agreement done.  The discussions are very serious.  They’re very direct.  They’re very detailed.  All of us, even those of us at the political level, have learned more about this process than we ever imagined we would know.  I’m very lucky, because I have this fantastic team and more who stand behind them, both here, back in Washington, and in our labs in Los Alamos, for instance, who help me every single day to figure out what to do here.

QUESTION:  Was there any talk or consideration at all given to an extension, and would you rule that out?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  We have not discussed an extension.  We believe on keeping the pressure on ourselves.  I have said in previous backgrounders that I’m – know enough about negotiations that you never say never, but today we are focused on November 24th and November 24th only.

QUESTION: It seems increasingly unlikely that you’re going – and I think few people expect you to come up with a full-fledged comprehensive settlement of this issue by November 24th.  And so what most people think is going to happen is you’ll either negotiate another version of the Joint Plan of Action, perhaps with some enhanced measures.  If you – keeping the November 24th deadline, is it – would it be sufficient in your view to negotiate an accord that continued the terms now in place for the Joint Plan of Action, or do you have to get something more than that just to address the concerns of the American Congress?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  So what we are working on now is a full agreement – not only the understandings, but all of the annexes that go with those understandings.  This is a situation where unless you have the detail, you do not know that you have the agreement you think you have.  It’s just as simple as that.  They are not – they are inseparable.

QUESTION:  Since you said the goal is a full agreement with all of the annexes, does that rule out a sort of – I don’t want to say another interim agreement, but an agreement that moves the ball forward by the end of November but doesn’t go to – doesn’t include all of the legal reservations, all of the understandings, and that work could continue past that deadline with some sort of interim agreement?

  Let me repeat what I say:  We are only focused on one thing right now, and that is having a full agreement done by the 24th of November.
QUESTION:  Could I ask what the schedule is looking like for the next few weeks coming up towards November 24th?  Are you going to repeat what happened in July when you met (inaudible) in Vienna for a period of weeks?

  One of the reasons that all of the political directors are getting together tomorrow first to hear the debrief from the High Representative and the Foreign Minister, and then to have an internal discussion among ourselves, is to decide what makes sense in terms of the next step forward.  I would imagine that out of the meeting that the High Representative having – hosting right now with Minister Zarif and Secretary Kerry, they may have some ideas they want to present to us about how they think we should go forward.  But this is a decision for the E3+3, not just for the United States, so – or even the high representative or the Iranians.  It is a decision for all of the E3+3 and we will discuss that tomorrow.

QUESTION:  On November 12th of last year, in a similar setting in a neighboring country – (laughter) – we were made to understand that agreement on the P5+1 was four or five words away.  Has it been the same four or five words for 11 months, or are there different words now?

Who said it was four or five words?

MODERATOR:  That was before the JPOA was finished, though. 

QUESTION:  How close are you to a final?  Three – roughly three quarters of the way there, or --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  I can’t – I know people want to put percentages on this, but I have said and I will say it again – this is where you get tired of listening to me – you can’t put a percentage on it, because even if you thought you were 75 percent of the way or even 98 percent of the way there, that last two percent may be the most important 2 percent there is, may be the glue that puts it all together.  So can’t put a percentage on it. 
            Oct. 15, 2014, according to the U.S. Department of State
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
            “Our will is that in 40 days the matter will be resolved. But if other things happen and we are not able to solve all the problems, the two camps will find a solution.”
            Oct. 10, 2014 on state television
            “We are tired and we have to finish this issue.”
“Either way, a solution to the nuclear issues will be found and certainly the two sides will reach an agreement.”
            “This shows that the situation has changed.”
            Oct. 14, 2014 to Al-Monitor
Ayatollah Khamenei


Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
            “Reaching an agreement in this round is very unlikely because there are issues that still remain that need to be resolved.”
            “On the agenda is the volume of uranium enrichment and the timetable for lifting the sanctions.”
            Oct. 14, 2014 according to Al-Monitor
            “All the negotiations that we have had so far have been sensitive and this round of negotiations can level the path to a final agreement.”
            “Of course, it will be much unlikely to achieve a deal in these negotiations because the issues which need to be settled are still too many.”
            "As our president has said there is a general understanding over the bases of issues, but these are details like the volume of enrichment, and the manner and the time-table for the removal of the sanctions which are of vital importance and which have been under discussion in the last several rounds of the talks."
            Oct. 14, 2014 according to Fars News
            “We hope that the opposite side would accept both the realities that exist at regional and international levels, and the realities of Iran’s nuclear program, which is an advanced peaceful program, to be able to find a solution which would benefit all.”
            Oct. 14, 2014 according to Press TV
            “We will make our utmost effort to make the best use of the negotiations in these days in Vienna to settle problems”
            Oct. 15, 2014 according to Press TV
            “It was very difficult, serious and intensive…but instead of focusing on problems, we discussed solutions as well…There was progress in all fields.”
            “We still need serious discussions over various issues.”
            Oct. 16, 2014 according to Reuters
Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi
            “Iran and Western powers are very determined and serious to reach a result. Issues like enrichment and lifting of sanctions will be discussed in Vienna.”
            Oct. 10, 2014 according to Reuters
            “The negotiations will be held on issues like sanctions, the ways to remove them and enrichment and we hope that it will be a path to the settlement of the problems between Iran and the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany).”
            “We are not pessimistic about reaching results by the November 24 and if we don’t reach sufficient results in this round of talks (in Vienna), we will definitely be unable to attain the final result by November 24 either.”
            Oct. 11, 2014 according to Fars News
            “The Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to speed up resolution of issues through cooperation with the Agency, and is prepared to resolve all these issues with the Agency one after the other.”
            Oct. 14, 2014 according to the Eurasian Review

             “Neither of the negotiating parties is interested in the extension of the talks. All sides are determined to achieve an agreement prior to the deadline. Therefore, extension is not on the agenda of any of the parties.”
            Oct. 19, 2014 according to the press


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