Joshua PollackAn Alternative View of the ZFS

(As in “Zombie Fuel Swap.”)

Late Update | 7 pm, May 21. A2 has asked me to add some clarifying remarks. See below.

At this late date, there might be reason to believe that the LEU/TRR deal was a bridge too far; if the P5+1 wanted to prevent Iran from enriching uranium to just under 20%, they should have offered to supply 19.75% enriched LEU fuel through the IAEA and left it at that.

Of course, there also might be reason to suppose that any such offer would have been turned down on one ground or another, the entire point being salami-slicing from the get-go. In that case, it probably was never worth the effort.

And then of course, there are the criticisms that it has assumed a life of its own, it’s become the tail wagging the dog, and it has become counterproductive.

However you look at it, it’s easy to be down on the ZFS, either in its latest incarnation or in general.

And Now for Something Entirely Different

The Friend of Blog whom we’ve previously called Anonymous Analyst (henceforth A2) writes in to offer a defense of the LEU/TRR deal, the Brazil-Turkey-Iran initiative, and the whole embattled idea of diplomatic engagement.

A2’s take:

A lot of people are missing what ought to be goal of this agreement. The amount of LEU to be removed has always been secondary — Iran’s not going to break out of the NPT for 1-2 weapons, and concerns about Israeli strikes need to be addressed in Jerusalem. The benefit of the agreement would be to get Iran talking.

I also think that those Iranians who wish to bargain — yes, I think there are some — should be rewarded so that they can sell it domestically. So far, it’s working a bit. It is not trivial that Larijani has said good things about this agreement after he previously criticized it.

This agreement also gets Iran to do two things that we have wanted: turn their LEU into reactor fuel and use an international fuel supply mechanism.

True, it doesn’t address the 20% question and it gets proportionally less of the LEU out of the country, but whatever: the agreement doesn’t leave us worse off.

A2 goes on to suggest that the sanctions track can be pursued in parallel to the LEU/TRR track. although we would have been better off not trying a dual-track policy in the first place.

A2 also adds that the Iranian enrichment program seems to be stagnating, which suggests that we could be seeing the start of a climbdown.

Whether or not you agree with everything, that’s a thought-provoking view.

The Decoupling Problem

As you may imagine, I think A2 is being too sanguine about the 20% question; just the act of separating the question of enrichment to nearly 20% from the question of refueling TRR has been damaging. Whatever the purpose of a negotiation ought to be, it shouldn’t be actively increasing mistrust and insecurity. Either the heightened level of enrichment is for refueling TRR, or it’s for something else.

A2 adds:

I don’t advocate ignoring the 20% problem. I think this [i.e., the ZFS] might be a way to address that issue down the line.

Also, I think that Obama should have put additional sanctions on hold for a while – not that we never should have done a pressure track. I thought that the existing mechanisms of pressure were sufficient for the time being.

For what it’s worth, the Iranian side seems to have realized that its position was untenable a few days ago; on Monday, AEOI chief Salehi was asserting that the fuel swap would not put an end to enrichment to the almost-20% level, and the Foreign Ministry spokesman was saying something similar. But by the next day, the spokesman had adopted a posture of studied ambiguity, by one account refusing to answer repeated requests for elaboration.

Iran’s promised statement to the IAEA would be a singularly good opportunity to clarify this question.

Late Update | 11:37 pm, May 24. It’s a missed opportunity.


  1. yousaf (History)

    A good write-up of nuclear politics in Iran is given in this very recent NDU report

    Re. sanctions, the US State Department said on Monday that the administration is not willing to hold talks with Iran unless it agrees to a complete halt in uranium enrichment.

    As has been expressed many times on this blog by several commentators, if that is the goal of sanctions, it is not clear that that goal is legitimate.

    In itself, enrichment to 19.75% is not in violation of the NPT as long as the material is tracked and accounted for. It may not make sense if Iran is to get the enriched material from abroad anyway, but it is certainly not illegal for Iran to enrich to 19.75% under safeguards.

    If doing something that is allowed by the NPT actively increases “mistrust and insecurity” then perhaps it is a deeply flawed treaty :

    Signatory nations (such as Iran) are allowed by law to enrich uranium – ostensibly for peaceful uses – and thus collect the raw material needed, should they wish, for a bomb.

    Instead of the selective application of United Nations sanctions to nations perceived to be unfriendly or unco-operative by the west (eg, No to Iran, Yes to Brazil for uranium enrichment), it would make more sense to overhaul the 1970 NPT, or to enforce it less selectively.

    As both the US-India and China-Pakistan deals have shown, it is far from clear if the NPT is working. How much of the non-proliferation over the last decades can be attributed to the NPT versus natural unwillingness or obstacles to proliferation is debatable.

  2. Alan (History)

    Josh – that is really interesting. It looks more and more as though Iran is being subjected to some serious pressure, but this time by its friends. The big kids on the block are kicking the little kid into line.

    If the stepping back from the 20% claim is true, in addition to demonstrating total ineptitude by Iran, it may also show they’re not really calling the shots any more.

  3. Josh (History)


    Two points.

    First, the statement you attribute to the State Department doesn’t appear in the Monday press briefing, which contains bits like this:

    QUESTION: Are you ready to sit down with the Iranians to discuss this agreement?
    MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have been willing to sit down with Iran for months to follow up on the meeting that we had in Geneva on October 1st. It has been Iran that has failed to come back and be willing to engage the P-5+1 in a serious and sustained way.

    Also, the draft resolution circulated at the Security Council and leaked to the press reaffirms the willingness of the P5+1, including the United States, to negotiate without preconditions.

    Perhaps you are thinking of this passage from the press briefing:

    MR. CROWLEY: We remain prepared to engage Iran anywhere, anytime as – provided Iran is prepared to address the international community’s concerns about its nuclear program. It is Iran that has failed to do that for the past many months.

    In context, what this appears to mean is, we want to talk about the nuclear program, not a medley of miscellaneous themes.

    The same concern was reflected in the recent White House statement noting the unwillingness of Iran to schedule a return to the Geneva talks.

    Regarding what the NPT does and doesn’t permit, I’m going to invoke the principle of common sense. Many courses are open to people and nations. Not every single choice can be set out for us in advance by treaties. If we want to get along with each other, though, we have to make an effort at it.

    We tend to infer intentions from words and actions; they’re all we have to go on. That’s why everyone is talking about “confidence-building measures.”

    Note to commenters: there will be a delay in moderation. Your patience is appreciated.

  4. andrew

    “A2” makes some ‘thought-provokingl arguments that seem much more like common-sense.

    So far, diplomacy can apparently get LEU out of Iran and get Iran to partially subscribe to the idea of an internationally guaranteed fuel bank.

    Why should Iran stop enriching to 20% before it recieves the promised fuel? The U.S. (or France/Russia) should offer to give Iran the fuel more quickly (or to sell it outright) to get Iran to reduce enrichment faster.

    If we in turn throw out an offer, it will put the onus back on Iran. Getting Iran to talk, and then putting pressure on it to move in a positive manner, would seem to be the best way to limit the Iranian program. Unless we want sanctions for sanctions sake.

  5. hass (History)

    Look Josh, there is just no longer any question at all on the fact that the US is trying to totally deprive Iran of enrichment. That’s just a given now.

    Furthermore A2 doesn’t seem to remember that the Iranians offered, amongst other things, to turn their LEU into reactor rods way back in 2006

    – Immediately convert all enriched uranium to fuel rods, thereby precluding the possibility of further enrichment;

    Anyway, the Iranians would have been happy to purchase the fuel for the TRR on the market. Had they been permitted to do so then they wouldn’t be enriching to 20% now.

  6. Nick (History)

    Per Salehi’s comments yesterday, it seems that 20% enrichment is an insurance, in case US prevents the swap agreement from happening. He admitted that making the fuel rods requires careful work that could takes months, due to concerns about safety and not having ample experience in this technology.

    20% enrichment issue could be resolved. One simple method is to provide TRR’s fuel from other sources (plenty of LEU around and that should not be a problem) and not use IRI’s LEU directly. This way the exchange will happen immediately after the transfer to Turkey. The second option might be if US removes the fourth proposed sanction from UNSC, and engages in bilateral negotiations with IRI. This second approach is unlikely, becasue the Dems have to deliver at least one UN sponsored sanction before the November election, or they are even more in trouble when it comes to fully support state of Israel and ME security.

  7. Arnold Evans (History)

    What does “serious and sustained way” mean? It seems that the West has defined “serious” to mean “willing to give up enrichment”.

    Everything Yousaf said in that case is still valid.

  8. Azr@el (History)

    “ It looks more and more as though Iran is being subjected to some serious pressure, but this time by its friends. The big kids on the block are kicking the little kid into line.

    If the stepping back from the 20% claim is true, in addition to demonstrating total ineptitude by Iran, it may also show they’re not really calling the shots any more.”

    This is symptomatic of the attitude infecting the Obama administration. They’re talking themselves into believing they’ve scored a major victory and that pressure works. Maybe pressure will work with Teheran, but Allah knows we haven’t brought it to bear upon the IRI yet. The latest round of sanctions are more than an slight embarrassment, they are cause for national shame; a reflection of the near bankruptcy of American diplomacy. The cost in terms of tangible policy favors dished out to the the Ruskies and the PRC in return for bloody peanuts is the height of diplomatic buffoonery. The only purpose served by this slowball of a sanctions push was to give the Iranians a chance to knock one out of the ballpark. A) We accept, Iran basically gets it’s 3.5% LEU enrichment accepted as the norm. B) We push thru sanctions, and we serve ourselves an own-goal that pretty much undermines our creditability on the Iran portfolio. C) We stall, and look like ineffectual gits, which is probably the most apt descriptor for Obama’s foreign policy team. No offense, I actually liked Clinton, thought he wasn’t half bad as POTUS, felt sorry for his wife when the allegations came out, but now having her as the shrill, undiplomatic SECSTATE for the last couple of years, I sympathize with him far more. May god bless the Union, we’ll need the help with these clowns at the steering wheel.

  9. Andrew


    1. What exactly are sanctions supposed to be producing again? We’ve already passed three sets of sanctions, so why wasn’t the job already accomplished by any of the previous sets of sanctions?

    2. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees signatories the right to peacefully use nuclear technology, including nuclear enrichment. A partial listing of countries which have or have had some type of enrichment include Australia (laser enrichment), Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, potentially Israel, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, South Korea (though microscopic), the United Kingdom, and the United States. Indeed, thirty-five to forty states could have the knowledge to develop nuclear weapons. When over 30 industrial nations have operable nuclear power plants, about any indsutrialized nation could develop nuclear weapons within a short time frame if it decided to do so.

    With current breakthroughs in enrichment, it is getting easier and easier to hide an enrichment program. (see “Stop laser uranium enrichment”, by Francis Slakey and Linda R. Cohen, in: NATURE Vol.464 No.7285, 4 March 2010, pp 32-33)

    Focusing on sanctions and unilaterally demanding Iran cease all enrichment is unrealistic, and more importantly missing the point. The dangers are both capability and intent.

    The entire discussion is far too reactionary. What happens when it is harder to detect enrichment? What happens if or when any of the other already existing nuclear enriching states or industrialized nations becomes ‘bad’?

  10. yousaf (History)

    here is the transcript I was referring to.

    “…continues to enrich uranium and has failed to suspend its uranium enrichment program, as has been called for in the U.N. Security Council resolutions: that’s our core concern”

    My point is simple: pressure may be applied to force NPT signatory nations to comply, but not to suspend enrichment altogether.

    It is a “feature” of the NPT that it permits a nuclear weapons capability.

    If the zero-enrichment goal is desirable than a new treaty should be entered into.

    Lastly, “mistrust and insecurity” is a two-way street. e.g. Having an NPR that did not target NPT signatory states with nuclear weapons may have been a useful confidence building measure.

  11. Azr@el (History)


    Sanctions are the stick we wield when war cannot garner a consensus. The US gov’t represents several different interests groups and the ones clamoring for war; the Israel lobby and a few others, simply can’t get convince everyone else to get onboard. But since our system works thru compromise we’ve got to toss them a bone and that bone is sanctions. That’s how we got here and that is also completely separate from our sanctions push as much as deciding to kill a man and the mechanics of a pistol are. Our gov’t often does things for the wrong reasons, so what , it happens. The point I’m lamenting is not the justness of our gov’t‘s actions but rather their ineffectual incompetence in achieving these goals.

    I’m familiar with what the NPT states, in my opinion, the IRI has stayed in the greeen of their obligations but what does that have to do with anything? Next you’ll be arguing that there were no WMD’s in Iraq. We often have to wrap our self interested actions in the veneer of law and ideology. Do you think we are honestly bringing liberty and freedom every time we support a junta in central america or look away from the abuse of human rights when committed by our moderate arab allies? This is the world, it is not pretty, there are some fellows whose job it is to make all these contradictions come out smelling like roses, i.e. the guys who mix the kool-aid. Have fun debating them.

    As far as proliferation goes, we are already un-funding and contemplating the outright banning of certain disruptive technology in the fields of fusion and microbiology. We are in decline as a nation state, and new technology scares us just like it scares all declining states. This doesn’t change anything, Byzantine fell for 4 hundred years and life wasn’t too bad ‘till the end. The Edo period consisted of 250 years of technological stagnation and political decline and is remembered fondly as a period of liberalism and fine art.

    IF the US can get it’s act together we can manage our decline gracefully and deal with the occasional upstarts.

  12. yousaf

    I think Roger Cohen has it about right

    “If all the mistrust needed further illustration, it has just been provided by the Brazilian-Turkish deal on Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU), the peevish U.S. reaction to it, and the apparent determination of the Great Powers, led by the Obama administration, to burrow deeper into failure.

    I believed Obama was ready to think anew on Iran. It seems not. Presidents must lead on major foreign policy initiatives, not be bullied by domestic political considerations, in this case incandescent Iran ire on the Hill in an election year.”


    “Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the “sincere efforts” of Brasilia and Ankara.

    The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative…”

  13. China Hand (History)

    I have been following the “Iran defiantly continues enrichment” angle with interest and some skepticism. The case can be made that Iran’s primary intention is to assert its continued right to enrich to 20%, not continue enrichment activities at the present time and give tsuris to the arms control fraternity.

    Salehi’s statement is open to the same interpretation. In fact, there is an interesting amount of misinterpretation on this issue.

    The “continuing enrichment story” first came out on CNN.

    As CNN spun the agreement on its its homepage: Iran to resume uranium enrichment”, linking through to a story entitled “Iran to resume uranium enrichment despite Turkey deal”.

    The original version of the article, which grew wings and circulated all the way to China (it was apparently also the basis for a report in the Chinese language media), implied that Iran had bookended announcement of the Turkey deal with an intentionally defiant statement that it would be enriching more LEU.

    However, when CNN updated the story (including a passel of disparaging comments on the deal from the UK, France, and Israel) it transpired that what the Iran foreign ministry spokesman had really said was this:

    “We are not planning on stopping our legal right to enrich uranium,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told CNN by telephone.

    So, it would appear that asserting Iran’s legal right to enrichment is the priority here.

    As to what’s actually going on, last I heard, the IAEA was monitoring Natanz. The implication was that they could observe the centrifuges but wanted more cameras to make sure diversion wasn’t taking place. So what’s the story? Are the centrifuges spinning right now? Is Iran 1) enriching and continuing to enrich? 2) recommencing enrichment after a halt? 3) not enriching? Enlightenment, please.

  14. Andrew

    The AEOI Director has said “We have the capability to enrich uranium to any percentage we wish, but we asked the [International Atomic Energy] Agency to ask other countries that could supply the 20-percent [enriched uranium] because we did not want to go beyond five percent. But they did not respond.”

    He has also said “the deal is still on the table. If they come forward and supply the fuel, then we will stop the 20-percent enrichment.”

    Iran will most likely tie any ceasing of 20% enrichment to the time it takes it to recieve fuel for its cancer patients. If the U.S. makes a point of getting the fuel to Tehran it would make it hard for Iran to continue justifying enrichment to 20%. Until then, Iran is working to help its cancer patients.

  15. Josh (History)

    China Hand, Andrew:

    I would urge you to click through on the links in the second-to-last paragraph, above. It’s no longer February, and we have to consider the most recent statements.

    Unfortunately, the text of the letter to the IAEA doesn’t address the issue. That’s a missed opportunity.

  16. yousaf

    The views of this former vice chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the CIA ought to be heeded in DC.

    “Similarly in the world, international checks and balances are valuable safety valves. When Washington moves into its fourth decade of paralysis and incompetence in handling Iran, still unable even to speak to it – just as it cannot bring itself to talk to Cuba after 50 years – it has exacerbated the problem, strengthened Iran and the forces of radicalism in the Middle East, polarized emotions and, worst, failed in all respects. Shouldn’t the world welcome the actions of two significant, responsible, democratic, and rational states to intervene and help check the foolishnesses of decades of US policy? That is what checks and balances are all about and why the center is shifting.”

  17. China Hand (History)

    I did not gain enlightenment from the Salehi soundbite. Instead, I went to the FAS blog for information and risked succumbing to the siren song of the TRR swap in the process. Hopefully, ACW continue to fulfill my wonk-related needs so I won’t wander astray again.

    According to the FAS
    , Iran is producing—or produced—20% LEU at a single cascade in the above-ground pilot plant at Natanz.

    If I understand this correctly, the centrifuges at the underground plant would have to be re-piped to produce 20% LEU.

    There are some IAEA cameras there that might catch this (barring insidious Iranian legerdemain).

    Instead of a live feed, the cameras store images on media that has to be physically extracted at site (parenthetical question: why is this? Are they afraid somebody will splice into/intercept the feed? What happens if someone hangs a photo of an undisturbed facility over the camera lens, as I believe happened in a recently declassified episode of Mission Impossible?).

    The IAEA can also go in and perform a physical inventory to weigh the casks and see how much stuff has been produced. It normally does this once per year, but can also perform an interim inspection. I’m assuming they infer the enrichment of the stuff by the cascade configuration, not by picking up the cask and shaking it or looking at the label. I believe the IAEA did this twice at Natanz and the regularly scheduled annual inspection should have happened in February 2010, but didn’t.

    To return to my question, 1) is Iran enriching LEU to 20% at this moment? 2) Don’t we want to know if they are currently enriching to 20%? 3) How many cascades are piped for 20%? 4) If we don’t know, why doesn’t the IAEA go to Natanz and have a look? Iran is taking great pains to play the role of IAEA good citizen at this stage, so they would find it difficult to refuse 5) Isn’t this preferable to parsing the tongue-tied, misleading, and mistranslated babble of Iranian government spokespeople?

  18. Andrew


    First of all, I would like to point out a piece by Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists which points out that Iran “isn’t yet serious about producing 20 percent enriched uranium and domestically manufacturing fuel for its research reactor”, that “its actions are likely intended to gain political leverage over the fuel deal and not meant as a leap toward a nuclear weapons capability at this stage”, and that “20 percent enrichment is legal under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”. Oelrich and Barzashka concluded 20 percent enrichment is likely only a show of force in an attempt to speed up a favorable fuel deal.

    I can also find snippets in the Iranian media suggesting contradictory reactions to the Iran-Turkey-Brazil fuel swap agreement by the western countries. (contradictory responses sound familiar?) I can also find snippets in the Iranian media suggesting the US is exploiting the ambiguity on 20% enrichment, and intentionally “stalled the talks” knowing Iran cannot afford as it is about to run out of 20-percent-enriched uranium. (craftily stalling and exploiting to avoid negotiating, sound familiar?) I can find a press statement of a US admiral welcoming the deal, or of France saying that it could delay sanctions, but these may not be representative of their governments’ official stances. Extended set of inconsistencies being found over time and by different officials is inherent to many bureaucracies, and they are more likely to be meaningless noise than masterful planning.

    Many analysts within Iran have suggested the Iranians are producing uranium at 20 percent because of the fears that it will not get the fuel that it needs the fuel for Tehran reactor. Indeed, Iran has sought other sources for the fuel as well. And another recent statement in Iranian media said if the swap occurs Iranian enrichment wouldn’t be necessary since the reactor will have the fuel it needs. The Iranians have further welcomed the need for elaboration on further details of the exchange leading to conclusion of a written agreement.

    If the U.S. is seeking to remove half of Iran’s LEU supply, end 20% enrichment, and increase Iranian confidence in international fuel banks, then it would seek to either have the swap take place more quickly or find someone to sell the material to Iran outright. The worst-case scenario of such an option is Iran reneging on the offer and being exposed in front of the Organization of The Islamic Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, nonpermanent members of the UN Security Council, etc. On the other hand, passing a fourth round of sanctions which won’t stop the sale of S300’s, Busheshr, or Chinese involvement with Iran could get Iran to completely give up its investments in nuclear energy.

  19. Nina Salzer (History)

    I would like to offer one more perspective on one further aspect of the issue of Iran and a military Nuclear Program. We, a student’s media-initiative, just produced a number of interviews with Diplomates and NGO-leaders on the current Non-proliferation-Treaty Review Conference, amongst others speaking to Rebecca Johnson of the Acronym Institut about possible sanctions against Iran. You’ll find it at

    Rebecca Johnson, Executive Director of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy, comments on possible reasons for the seemingly miscalculated timing of the announcement of UNSC-sanctions on Iran, possibly torpedoing the whole RevCon itself.

  20. Andrew

    The perspective of a few others:

    Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, says sanctions can be most effective before they go into force when the target of those measures fears their impact most. Despite the Obama administration’s tough line against new talks with Iran, Allison said the United States could build on the Turkish-Brazilian deal. “I would say, ‘Watch this space,’ ” he said.

    Farideh Farhi, in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii, has said Washington’s negative response to the uranium enrichment deal might stem from “the kind of theatrics that the United States feels necessary to engage in prior to engaging in negotiations with the Iranians” and has also written that “one perhaps can also think about what the Iranians are doing as an attempt to boost their position before negotiations begin. Farhi has also suggested that the Obama administration should negotiate in good faith.

    Antonio Ramalho, Professor of International Relations at the University of Brasilia, has written that that “the very fact that the Iranians have agreed to sign an agreement has already diminished Iran’s maneuverability.” He continued that “if we impose further sanctions, that will only increase the secrecy in Iran and increase the military orientation of this program.”

    Michael A. Levi, Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change, has said “the right choice for the United States may ultimately involve welcoming the announced fuel swap.”

  21. Josh (History)

    China Hand:

    Both FEP and PFEP (the two enrichment facilities at Natanz) are under safeguards. The fine details of monitoring arrangements are not spelled out, although things can be gleaned from IAEA reports and occasional news reports. Monitoring arrangements at PFEP have been a very contentious matter, since the Iranians gave very limited notice to the IAEA that the new operations were starting, and actually started feeding UF6 into the centrifuges before the inspectors showed up.

    Yes, the Iranians are still enriching to near-20% at PFEP; in fact, they appear to have started expanding those operations recently. We’ll learn more in a couple weeks, when the next IAEA report is expected.


    This may shock you, but I’m sympathetic to the views put forward by Oelrich and Barzashka in their latest piece at the Bulletin.

    (I read just about everything on nuclear proliferation and nuclear weapons that appears at the Bulletin.)

    Unfortunately, Ivan’s and Ivanka’s piece appears to leave off at some point in February, when the AEOI’s Salehi was still drawing a connection between enriching to near-20% and making fuel for TRR. In his last statement on the subject that I’ve seen, from earlier this month, he rejected any such connection, apparently for the first time.

    His timing was exquisitely bad and unfortunately disrupted the point that Ivan and Ivanka were trying to make; you can’t really get leverage towards doing a deal if the item in question is ruled out of the deal.

    Just to be clear, Salehi’s statement was not some isolated remark; the MFA spokesman said something similar on the same day, and Iran’s UN ambassador reportedly told Security Council representatives the same thing a week or so previously at the dinner that was in the news at the time.

    Also to be clear, since then, the MFA spokesman has become completely opaque on the subject. And the letter to the IAEA submitted on Monday was, unfortunately, completely silent on the matter.

    This point is a serious hang-up. The Iranians have voluntarily discredited everything they said previously about why they were enriching to nearly 20%. Now they have no public rationale whatsoever. This is why I called it a “confidence demolition mechanism.”

    As Ivan and Ivanka put it earlier, discussing a scenario in which in the U.S., France, and Russia would take up Iran’s version of the swap idea:

    Having taken away the raison d’être for enriching to higher degrees, if Iran does not stop production of 20 percent uranium and ship out their LEU after having received TRR fuel on their terms, it will be clear to the most skeptical observer that Iran’s program is motivated by a bomb.

    I also agree with Ivan and Ivanka that current operations at PFEP do not pose an urgent proliferation threat. The problem is this: the Iranians have now set a precedent wherein they can, with almost no notice, arbitrarily raise enrichment levels at their facilities. And they no longer appear willing to affirm that they will not do so, even if we accept their proposal on refueling TRR.

    That is a real problem. Whatever the intention may have been, it makes reaching an agreement less likely, not more likely. Let’s say that it requires clarification.

  22. Alan (History)

    Josh/Andrew – I think it is clear that Salehi’s “exquisitely bad timing” was a diplomatic faux pas, corrected within hours. It still appears to me that Iran does see the 20% as leverage, and their corrections seem to be reconnecting it with the TRR deal.

    The real issue appears to me to be whether Iran ships out the LEU. They have said they will do it within a month. Erdogan has said if they don’t they’re on their own. If they do, it cannot be too difficult to plot a path to a deal that permits a happy level of enrichment for everybody.

    It seems the US does want to talk – Davutoglu has said Erdogan has a letter from Obama authorising a 1200kg swap in Turkey, and his officials have said he was talking to the Americans 3 times a day during negotiations.

  23. Josh (History)

    No, I don’t believe Salehi’s remark was some isolated accident, and I don’t believe it was corrected. If the Iranians have reverted to their old position, that would be an important development.

    Of course the U.S. wants to talk to the Iranians about their nuclear program. This has been the President’s position since the campaign. The State Dept. spokesman has reiterated this point on a nearly daily basis lately.

    Unfortunately, I think our dialogue is going in circles. So, enough.

  24. Andrew

    It is quite strange to be willing to recognize one set of comments by Salehi/MFA as the sole authoritative ones, and disregard previous comments and even more recent opaque comments by similar sources. I would emphasize that extended set of inconsistencies being found over time and by different officials is easy to demonstrate in many bureaucracies, and they are much more likely to be meaningless noise than part of some masterful design (really?).

    Indeed, quite recent Iranian media reports still say waiting a few months for the material is a luxury of time that Iran cannot afford as it is about to run out of 20-percent-enriched uranium and that if the statement on exchange of 20-percent uranium with 3.5-uranium is implemented then the research reactor will have the fuel it needs (I will spare further recent reports which make the same point). Iran has shown this perspective in action by seeking other sources for the fuel as well. The piece by Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is also dated May 19, 2010.

    So if the U.S. is seriously interested in seeking to remove half of Iran’s LEU supply, end 20% enrichment, and increase Iranian confidence in international fuel banks, then it would not rely on one particular reading of Iranian comments (which might be somewhat unreliable, depending upon whom you ask). Rather, it would explore expediting the implementation of the swap. It could accomplish this through either having the swap take place more quickly or finding someone to sell the material to Iran outright. The opportunities of the swap have been recognized by Graham Allison, Farideh Farhi, Antonio Ramalho, Michael A. Levi, Norman Dombey, etc.

  25. Alan (History)

    Josh – OK, I just think the point being missed is the pressure Iran is under – i.e. that it wasn’t “isolated” or an “accident” but a mistake that was possibly corrected by Turkey et al getting on the phone and telling him to button it.

    And the apparent complicity of Obama in it all in circulating the draft resolution two days BEFORE the Tripartite deal, his letter to Erdogan approving the deal, and in Daryl Kimball’s analysis of how he sought to defer US unilateral sanctions.

    But I agree, let’s leave it and see what happens.

  26. Andrew


    Obama also wrote to Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva just two weeks ago that “from our point of view, a decision by Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium abroad, would generate confidence and reduce regional tensions by cutting Iran’s stockpile”. So from the U.S. perspective, the proportion of LEU to be sent out of the country would seem to have been just fine a week before the deal was announced.

    The U.S. should heed the advice of Ivan and Ivanka from May 19, 2010 and see if Iran will respond “after having received TRR fuel on their terms”.

  27. Josh (History)

    Look, Andrew. I wouldn’t have posted this post if I didn’t think there was some potential in the ZFS worth considering.

    In a triumph of hope over experience, I’m going to try once more to see if I can get my point across to you. You wrote:

    It is quite strange to be willing to recognize one set of comments by Salehi/MFA as the sole authoritative ones, and disregard previous comments and even more recent opaque comments by similar sources.


    Is anybody even reading what I write here?

    The line from Tehran changes like the weather in London. To go back to February to pick out the policy statement we like best would be a form of cherry-picking. We have to deal with the situation as it is now. And the situation is — as I keep saying — something that really needs clarification.

    Specifically, what appears essential for a deal to get done is a positive affirmation that the >20% enrichment operations at PFEP are intended to meet the needs of refueling TRR, and if it is refueled by other means, that activity will cease and not resume.

    That’s based on my reading of statements coming out of the State Dep’t and White House. They also stress the importance of resuming the talks that started in Geneva in October 2009, but even if just the first point above were satisfied, I believe it would help immensely.

    And with that, I’m going to close the thread.