Jeffrey LewisParis Negotiations Update 10: Iran breakdown?

A couple of days ago, I noted that Iranian negotiator Hossein Mousavian was deviating from the talking points by declaring a “preliminary agreement” when everyone else was keeping to “considerable progress.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi joined Mousavian in lauding the “preliminary agreement”—leading the The New York Times’ Elaine Sciolino to speculate that the divergence “seems to indicate the desire of the Iranian officials to push the agreement through Iran’s murky political leadership…”

Now, an “official close to the talks” has told Reuters that “The decision-making process has become very complicated as some high-ranking officials (in Tehran) don’t think Iran’s points of view have been considered in this proposal.”

At issue is this paragraph from the IAEA Board of Governors resolution:

[The Board of Governors] considers it necessary, to promote confidence, Iran immediately suspend all enrichment-related activities, including the manufacture or import of centrifuge components, the assembly and testing of centrifuges, and the production of feed material, including through tests or production at the UCF, under Agency verification so that this could be confirmed in the reports requested in paragraphs 7 and 8 below; [p.2, My emphasis.]

“Feed material” refers to uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment to fuel for power plants or weapons. But does it include uranium tetrafluoride (UF4), a precursor to UF6?

“Iran wants to continue making UF4 but the Europeans are opposed to this,” a diplomat told Reuters, “Neither side wants to back down.”

One diplomat “close to the IAEA told Reuters that “the European demand goes beyond the IAEA resolution,” but a member of the Board of Governors claimed “this was an overly narrow interpretation of the term feed material.”

The bottom line: Diplomats do not expect Iran to announce a suspension of enrichment prior to the distribution of the Director-General’s report on Iran.

On that happy note… Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen G. Rademaker told reporters that Washington is “very skeptical of Iran’s long-term intentions, and we do not expect Iran to comply over the long term with any commitment not to develop nuclear weapons.” Rademaker then compared Iran to North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003.

Perhaps on his own, Sirus Naseri—a member of the Iranian negotiating team—waxed poetic about the North Korea approach, telling an Iranian news agency that “If they start to pressure or threaten us, then we will put aside the [Nuclear Nonproliferation] Treaty and go underground. “In that case,” he argued “after one or two years, America and the EU will send mediators to talk to us and find a solution.”

Ah, grown-ups.