Yes, we’ve all had a big helping of TRR lately, but this extra tidbit is just too juicy to pass up. Other topics again soon, I promise.
A friend of the blog who shall go nameless points out that just as the envoys of Iran and the P5+1 were meeting in Geneva on October 1, the website of the French weekly Bakchich Hebdo published a remarkable and authentic-looking document: a French Foreign Ministry strategy paper produced in advance of an earlier meeting in New York between representatives of the P5+1.
Or as the paper calls them, les Six.
That meeting, scheduled for September 23, shortly before the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh, appears to have ironed out the differences between les Six in advance of the Iran talks. The paper deals with the prospect of a LEU–TRR bargain at some length:
4. The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), for which fuel is made from 19.7% enriched uranium, will run short of fuel in the second half of 2010. The Iranians have therefore asked the IAEA about the possibility of enriching their uranium to this level (Iran’s uranium is currently 3.5% enriched); should the Agency refuse, they [the Iranians] could use this pretext to enrich their uranium [themselves] to 19.7%.
The Americans envision proposing that Iran export 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium for additional enrichment and conversion to fuel abroad before being returned to Iran. The enrichment would take place in Russia and the fuel fabrication in France (Argentina and France are the only countries whose industries have the necessary expertise).
We have given the United States our agreement for this operation, with conditions. In particular, it seems essential that this operation be integrated with the strategy and the schedule of The Six and that the entire 1,200 kg of uranium leave Iran on a short deadline (Iran should be asked for an answer in principle by the end of October; the uranium should exit before the end of the year).
The paper later adds that “we are not prepared to commit ourselves if the operation involves a lesser quantity of uranium.”
If the claims in this passage are accurate, then an Iranian inquiry, an American idea, and a French technological near-monopoly helped bring about the agreement-in-principle of October 1—the one that Iranian spokesmen have yet to acknowledge publicly. Note, however, that President Ahmadinejad signaled his agreement in the days before the Geneva meeting.
It’s open to question whether continuing to operate TRR is really all that important to Iran; when it comes to Tehran’s motives for doing this deal, you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. For what it’s worth, the same anonymous analyst who spotted this item also observes that the LEU deal seems to combine aspects of past Russian fuel offers with Scott Kemp’s idea that conversion of Iranian LEU to fuel could be an important confidence-building measure.
But Wait, There’s More
Now, as if fuel fabrication weren’t enough of a French role, Mark Hibbs reports in the October 8 Nucleonics Week that it now appears that the LEU from Iran would travel first to France for some cleaning up before heading to Russia for enrichment. The reason? Our friend molybdenum. Mo, for short. (See: Fun with Molybdenum, October 7, 2009; TRR Tradeoffs, October 6, 2009; and most of all, Geneva: The TRR and Enrichment Abroad, October 1, 2009.) Score another one for James Acton.
There are also many other good bits in the paper, which is three pages long and dated September 14. Notably, it depicts the E3 as taking a tougher line with Iran than China, Russia, or the United States. My reasonably adequate(?) translation of the whole thing, faute de mieux, is in the comments.