Back in October, I noted that as the P5+1, IAEA and Iran all moved toward agreements on Iran’s nuclear technology, the usual pathway employed by those who wish to disrupt peaceful talk and agitate toward military solutions was remarkably silent. Here’s a bit of how I described that process and its apparent silence at that time:
I have remarked in many of my posts on the Iranian nuclear technology issue that “diplomats” in Vienna have a long history of leaking what they claim to be incriminating evidence against Iran to reporters there, primarily George Jahn of AP (look at the pretty cartoon!) and sometimes Fredrik Dahl of Reuters. Joby Warrick at the Washington Post often chimes in with information leaked from his sources who also seem to prefer a violent path. The intelligence is often embellished by David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. While there have been improvements lately by Jahn and Dahl in questioning the material leaked to them and providing alternative information available from other sources, much damage has been done to the diplomatic pathway by this process.
Remarkably, there is little to no pushback so far from this group to the progress made in Geneva. A story co-authored by Jahn late yesterday afternoon fits with most of the reporting on the meeting and his single quote from an unnamed source is innocuous
Dahl also has no disruptive quotes in the several Reuters stories to which he contributed. Completing their shutout from the trio of their usual helpers, the hawks planted no inflammatory language in Joby Warrick’s story in today’s Washington Post. The David Albright pathway to propaganda also hasn’t been activated, as the most recent post on his site at the time of this writing was dated October 3.
The dogs that aren’t barking now are the most encouraging sign of all that there is widespread optimism that diplomacy has a real chance of succeeding.
Sadly, Fredrik Dahl and Reuters have broken the silence from those who want to disrupt talks, but even within this blatant attempt to derail negotiations, there are elements of hope. Dahl has granted anonymity to “sources” who tell him that the IAEA last year considered putting together a new report on Iran’s nuclear activities similar to the annex included in the 2011 report that prompted much controversy. After making only vague hints about what sort of evidence might have been in the report, Dahl then goes on parrot the sources in saying the IAEA chose not to issue the new report because of warming relations between Iran and the negotiating countries. He also states the IAEA had no comment, but he completely ignores the likelihood that the IAEA did not provide the new report because the “evidence” in question was found not to be credible. Dahl and Reuters completely ignore the history of known false information being supplied to IAEA and the ongoing process of new bits of information from the “laptop of death” being leaked by the sources in question.
Here is how Dahl’s report frames the information being fed to him:
The U.N. nuclear watchdog planned a major report on Iran that might have revealed more of its suspected atomic bomb research, but held off as Tehran’s relations with the outside world thawed, sources familiar with the matter said.
Such a report – to have been prepared last year – would almost certainly have angered Iran and complicated efforts to settle a decade-old dispute over its atomic aspirations, moves which accelerated after pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.
According to the sources, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has apparently dropped the idea of a new report, at least for the time being.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA. The sources said there was no way of knowing what information collected by the agency since it issued a landmark report on Iran in 2011 might have been incorporated in the new document, although one said it could have added to worries about Tehran’s activities.
Dahl relies completely on his sources saying that the IAEA chose not to issue the report so as not to anger Iran without considering that the IAEA very likely found the “new” information to be neither new nor credible.
A bit further in the piece, we get a vague description of what the “new” information might have been: Continue reading
After several days of warnings from both sides not to expect too much from the current round of talks between the P5+1 group of countries and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program, we have word today that the two sides have agreed to the framework under which the negotiations are to proceed. Furthermore, the date for the next formal session has been announced and the head negotiator for the P5+1 side will visit Tehran a week before the full session.
Iran and six world powers ended the opening round of nuclear talks on an upbeat note Thursday, with both sides saying they had agreed on a plan for further negotiations meant to produce a comprehensive deal to set limits on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
In a joint statement, they said the next round of negotiations would begin in Vienna on March 17, continuing a process likely to take at least six months and probably longer.
Expectations had been modest as the talks started Tuesday, and the upbeat tone on a framework for future talks appeared aimed in part to encourage skeptics inside and outside Iran that the negotiations had a chance to succeed despite huge gaps between the Iranians and the six powers.
More from Reuters:
“We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.
“There is a lot to do. It won’t be easy but we have made a good start,” said Ashton who speaks on behalf of the six powers – the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Senior diplomats from the six nations, as well as Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet again on March 17, also in Vienna, and hold a series of further discussions ahead of the July deadline.
Tehran says its nuclear program has no military aims and has signaled repeatedly it would resist dismantling its nuclear installations as part of any deal.
“I can assure you that no-one had, and will have, the opportunity to impose anything on Iran during the talks,” Zarif told reporters after the Vienna meeting.
A senior U.S. official cautioned their discussions will be “difficult” but the sides were committed to reach a deal soon.
“This will be a complicated, difficult and lengthy process. We will take the time required to do it right,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We will continue to work in a deliberate and concentrated manner to see if we can get that job done.”
It is reported in multiple sources (including Fars News), that Catherine Ashton will visit Tehran March 9-10, ahead of the March 17-20 negotiations that will take place in Vienna. It appears that Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif will be holding monthly meetings as the talks progress.
There are a number of upbeat stories at Mehr News, Fars News and PressTV today about the agreement, although there also is still a story from the head of the IGRC noting that the negotiations are “prone to problems“.
Zarif spoke to reporters in remarks that appear to have been delivered after the press conference:
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated that Tehran and the world powers didn’t discuss military and scientific issues in their talks, and underlined that Iran will not dismantle any of its nuclear installations.
“We are focused merely on the nuclear issues and the negotiations don’t include defensive and scientific issues and everyone has accepted that Iran’s defensive capability is no the subject for the negotiations,” Zarif said, addressing Iranian reporters in Vienna on Thursday after meeting EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton who heads the Group 5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany) delegations in the talks with Iran.
“We won’t close any (nuclear) site and have announced that no one should prescribe anything or dictate a solution to the Iranian nation; the way to ensure the peaceful nature of our program is not closing the sites, rather its peaceful nature should be displayed openly, transparently and based on the international regulations and supervision,” he added.
From those remarks, it appears that Zarif feels that it has been agreed that Iran’s missile program will not be a part of the negotiations. Note also that Iran considers the Parchin site to be a defense installation, so this comment first referring to defense issues being off the table but then talking about openness and transparency seems to be dancing between keeping Parchin off limits to inspectors and opening it. Despite these uncertainties, though, another article from Fars News describing this part of Zarif’s comments has a very interesting passage:
“We agreed that no one ‘surprises’ the other side with new claims,” Zarif said.
That bit must come as a huge disappointment to the crews in Israeli and US intelligence operations who “find” new documents whenever they need to disrupt diplomatic progress.
Today, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has discontinued enrichment of uranium to 20%, and has complied with the additional steps required at the beginning of the historic agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations. By implementing the interim agreement, Iran has triggered the start of the six month period for negotiation of a final agreement that will be aimed at providing verifiable assurance that Iran does not seek to develop a nuclear weapon.
Fredrik Dahl reports:
Iranhas halted its most sensitive nuclear activity under a ground-breaking deal with world powers, a confidential U.N. atomic agency report reviewed by Reuters on Monday showed, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions.
Western states were expected to ease sanctions later on Monday after the United Nations nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran is meeting its end of the bargain under a November 24 interim accord to resolve a decade-old dispute over its nuclear program.
Thomas Erdbrink has more:
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, arrived in Tehran two days ago to begin validating the deal, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in a statement reported by the state-financed broadcaster Press TV.
In Washington, the State Department said in a statement on Monday: “Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency provided a report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear activities, focused on the steps Iran has committed to take by or on the first day of implementation of the joint plan of action. The United States, our P5+1 partners, and the E.U. are now studying this report. We will have further public comment after all parties have had the opportunity to review the report.”
The Washington Post reports that Iran confirms it has halted the most sensitive activities:
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and a former foreign minister, said in an interview on state television Monday that the deal with world powers over Iran’s nuclear activities was a victory for the Islamic republic.
Speaking of Western powers, and the United States in particular, Salehi said: “We know that they have power and do not wish us well. They wanted to put pressure on us with sanctions, but we were able to manage the situation well.”
Salehi, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Iran does not need to continue the 20 percent sensitive uranium enrichment program to maintain what he said are his country’s peaceful nuclear activities. The deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5 percent.
“Now the iceberg of sanctions is crumbling while our centrifuges are still also working. This is our greatest achievement,” he said.
Returning to Dahl’s report, we have more details on the report that was filed today by the IAEA (it is only two pages and can be read here):
The IAEA said Tehran had begun the dilution process and that enrichment of uranium to 20 percent had been stopped at the two facilities where such work is done.
“The Agency confirms that, as of 20 January 2014, Iran … has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose,” its report to member states said.
It was referring to Iran’s two enrichment plants, at Natanz and Fordow. Cascades are linked networks of centrifuge machines that spin uranium gas to increase the concentration of U-235, the isotope used in nuclear fission chain reactions, which is found in nature at concentrations of less than 1 percent.
Iran now stands to reap about $7 billion in sanctions relief that will phase in over the coming six months, provided that negotiations continue and that Iran continues to adhere to the terms of the interim agreement.
War mongers and backers of Israel are distinctly unhappy, but at least for now, peaceful negotiations have taken major steps toward making the world a safer place.
Although the P5+1 interim agreement with Iran was first reached in late November, ongoing talks have been required to fill in the details of just how the agreement is to be implemented. Those talks came to fruition yesterday with the announcement that on January 20, the six month period of Iran making concessions on enrichment in return for limited sanctions relief will begin. The hope is that this period of pausing progress in Iran’s development of nuclear technology and the loosening of some sanctions will provide a window to negotiate a broader agreement that provides verifiable prevention of Iran producing nuclear weapons.
US Secretary of State John Kerry noted the significance of the latest negotiating progress:
We’ve taken a critical, significant step forward towards reaching a verifiable resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
On January 20, in just a few short days, we will begin implementation of the Joint Plan of Action that we and our partners agreed to with Iran in Geneva.
As of that day, for the first time in almost a decade, Iran’s nuclear program will not be able to advance, and parts of it will be rolled back, while we start negotiating a comprehensive agreement to address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s program.
Because of the determined and focused work of our diplomats and technical experts, we now have a set of technical understandings for how the parties will fulfill the commitments made at the negotiating table. These understandings outline how the first step agreement will be implemented and verified, as well as the timing of implementation of its provisions.
Iran will voluntarily take immediate and important steps between now and January 20 to halt the progress of its nuclear program. Iran will also continue to take steps throughout the six months to live up to its commitments, such as rendering the entire stockpile of its 20% enriched uranium unusable for further enrichment. As this agreement takes effect, we will be extraordinarily vigilant in our verification and monitoring of Iran’s actions, an effort that will be led by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The United States and the rest of our P5+1 partners will also take steps, in response to Iran fulfilling its commitments, to begin providing some limited and targeted relief. The $4.2 billion in restricted Iranian assets that Iran will gain access to as part of the agreement will be released in regular installments throughout the six months. The final installment will not be available to Iran until the very last day.
That last bit is critical. While the war mongers will be crying about the US giving sanctions relief to Iran, that relief will be doled out over time and only provided as Iran continues to live up to its side of the agreement, with the final portion of funds only coming on the very last day of the six months. Central to this agreement, as previously reported, is that Iran will completely halt its enrichment to 20% uranium and, by the end of the six month period, will have no stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that is in a chemical form that could rapidly be enriched further to weapons grade.
Kerry appreciates that the six month period will provide a large window in which Congressional war mongers will be doing their best to disrupt the agreement:
We now have an obligation to give our diplomats and experts every chance to succeed in these difficult negotiations. I very much appreciate Congress’ critical role in imposing the sanctions that brought Iran to the table, but I feel just as strongly that now is not the time to impose additional sanctions that could threaten the entire negotiating process. Now is not the time for politics. Now is the time for statesmanship, for the good of our country, the region, and the world.
As I pointed out when Robert Menendez put together his bill for further sanctions, that particular bill goes far beyond a mere promise of further sanctions if a final agreement is not reached. Instead, it promises these sanctions even if a final agreement is reached that allows Iran to retain the right of enrichment of uranium below 5%. It has been clear to me from the start that Iran will insist on retaining the right to low level enrichment, and today’s Washington Post story on implementation of the agreement makes that point very strongly: Continue reading
On Tuesday, I posited that the threat of new sanctions kicking in if a final agreement on nuclear technology is not reached could serve as a strong incentive for Iran to bargain in good faith with the P5+1 group of nations. But then, on Thursday, an actual sanctions bill was introduced. Ali Gharib took the time to read it (he got an advance copy and posted about it Wednesday) and what he found is profoundly disturbing (emphasis added):
The legislation would broaden the scope of the sanctions already imposed against Iran, expanding the restrictions on Iran’s energy sector to include all aspects of its petroleum trade and putting in place measures targeting Iran’s shipping and mining sectors. The bill allows Obama to waive the new sanctions during the current talks by certifying every 30 days that Iran is complying with the Geneva deal and negotiating in good faith on a final agreement, as well as meeting other conditions such as not sponsoring or carrying out acts of terrorism against U.S. targets.
In accordance with goals laid out frequently by hard-liners in Congress and the influential lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the bill sets tough conditions for a final deal, should one be reached with Iranian negotiators. Among those conditions is a provision that only allows Obama to waive new sanctions, even after a final deal has been struck, if that deal bars Iran from enriching any new uranium whatsoever. The bill states Obama may not waive sanctions unless the United States and its allies “reached a final and verifiable agreement or arrangement with Iran that will … dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities.” (Congress could also block Obama’s waivers by passing a “joint resolution of disapproval” against a final deal.)
Although Gharib ascribes the war mongering aspects of this bill to positions advocated by AIPAC, the work (and funding money) of MEK, which advocates for (in my opinion, violent) regime change in Iran, seems to be just as likely, if not more likely, to be behind this hideous piece of legislation. The chief architect of the bill is Robert Menendez (D-NJ). He lists his cosponsors (Menendez’s original release claimed 26 cosponsors and the news stories linked below also cite 26, but Corey Booker was added to the list this morning while this post was being written. The press release was changed to add Booker to the list without changing the 26 to 27. The press release at the old URL was wiped out so that an empty page is returned. The date of December 19 for the release was also retained.):
The legislation was co-sponsored by twenty-six senators [sic], including: Senators Menendez, Kirk, Schumer, Graham, Cardin, McCain, Casey, Rubio, Coons, Cornyn, Blumenthal, Ayotte, Begich, Corker, Pryor, Collins, Landrieu, Moran, Gillibrand, Roberts, Warner, Johanns, Hagan, Cruz, Donnelly, Blunt and Booker.
Perhaps the only encouraging aspect of this long list of bipartisan backers of war is that back in June of 2012 this group got 44 signatures on a Senate letter calling for all negotiations with Iran to cease unless three conditions were met: Continue reading
Last Thursday, the US announced that it was adding more companies and more people to its blacklist of those banned from making deals with Iran as part of the overall sanctions aimed at Iran developing nuclear weapon technology. Iran responded the same day by withdrawing its personnel from the technical talks that were underway in Vienna that were aimed at implementing the interim agreement that Iran had signed with the P5+1 group of nations last month in Geneva.
Fredrik Dahl and Adrian Croft of Reuters described those developments in a Friday article:
The United States on Thursday black-listed additional companies and people under sanctions aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining the capability to make nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said. Iran says its atomic work is purely peaceful.
Treasury and State Department officials said the move showed the Geneva deal “does not, and will not, interfere with our continued efforts to expose and disrupt those supporting Iran’s nuclear program or seeking to evade our sanctions.”
The somewhat unexpected move by the US provoked anger in Iran:
One diplomat said the Iranian delegation suddenly announced late on Thursday evening – hours after Washington made its decision public – that it was returning to Tehran.
The Iranians said “they had received instructions from Tehran to stop the discussions and fly back to Tehran,” the diplomat said. “It was quite unexpected.”
It seems quite possible that the move by the US was meant to toss a bit of red meat to the war monger crowd. Rumors had been building for some time that new sanctions bills would be introduced in both the House and the Senate. Adding to the harsh economic sanctions on Iran just after they have signed a promising agreement would seem a sure-fire way to prevent a final agreement being reached. True to form, one of the leading war mongers, John McCain, appeared on CNN on Sunday and managed to get headlines such as the one in the Washington Post reading “McCain says Iran sanctions bill ‘very likely’“.
But, if we look a little closer, we see room for a bit of hope. It turns out that the sanctions bill McCain now advocates would not add new sanctions unless the six month negotiating period with Iran laid out in last month’s agreement expires without a final agreement being reached. By delaying any new sanctions so that they would only be implemented if the talks fail, McCain and the other war mongers actually have a chance to help rather than hinder the negotiations. Knowing that failed talks mean even worse economic hardships rather than merely continuing the current set of sanctions would seem to place more pressure on Iran to come to agreement with the P5+1 powers.
The weekend saw discussion by telephone between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. They discussed how to move the talks ahead.
There will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth by Bibi (Red Line) Netanyahu, war mongers John (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) McCain and Lindsey Graham and paid MEK shills throughout Congress today because an agreement was reached early Sunday morning local time in Geneva, culminating a process that has been over ten years in the making to seek a peaceful route to preventing any weapons development in Iran’s nuclear technology. Although this is only an interim agreement, it takes significant steps toward making it much more likely that any move by Iran to construct a weapon would be detected and would take longer. More or less simultaneously with the announcement of the agreement, AP reported that the US and Iran have been engaging in secret bilateral talks since March, well before Rouhani’s election this summer.
A fact sheet on the agreement is posted at the White House web site.
Concern over Iran’s nuclear program had ratcheted up in early 2012 when Iran significantly increased its rate of production of uranium enriched to 20%. That concern arose because 20% enriched uranium is technically much easier to take the remaining way to the 90%+ needed for a weapon. Before that point, most of Iran’s work had been directed toward uranium enriched below 5%. Netanyahu’s famous “red line” applied to the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium that would be needed to produce sufficient weapons grade uranium for one nuclear bomb. Significantly, the agreement reached today stops all of Iran’s enrichment to 20% and calls for Iran to either dilute back to below 5% or convert to a chemical form that makes it much harder to convert to weapons grade all of Iran’s stock of 20% uranium. In addition to halting enrichment to 20%, the agreement also prevents Iran from increasing its stockpile of uranium enriched to up to 5%.
Recall that when the IAEA’s latest report came out, I noted that Iran had been showing restraint since the beginning of 2012 by not committing any of the new centrifuges it was installing to actual enrichment activity. Further, no new centrifuges had been installed since Rouhani’s election. The agreement reached today includes a commitment by Iran to take steps to reduce the the number of centrifuges that are available for enrichment, among other restrictions on centrifuges. From the fact sheet:
Iran has committed to halt progress on its enrichment capacity:
· Not install additional centrifuges of any type.
· Not install or use any next-generation centrifuges to enrich uranium.
· Leave inoperable roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow, so they cannot be used to enrich uranium.
· Limit its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran cannot use the six months to stockpile centrifuges.
· Not construct additional enrichment facilities.
My initial understanding of the reductions in centrifuges would apply only to those centrifuges that had been installed but were not yet in use. By consulting the actual IAEA report (pdf) from earlier this month, I calculated that there are roughly 15,660 centrifuges installed at Natanz, with about 9048 of them in use. That means there are an excess of 6612 centrifuges installed but not being used. Half of those would be about 3306 centrifuges to be made unavailable. At Fordow, there are about 2976 centrifuges installed, with 744 in operation. Of the 2232 extra centrifuges there, 1674 are to be made unavailable. Combining the numbers for the two facilities, Iran would be giving up access to 4980 centrifuges under this understanding of the agreement.
However, the fact sheet states quite clearly that the reductions apply to all installed centrifuges. With that as the case, then the reduction is much more dramatic, with 7830 centrifuges being made unavailable at Natanz and 2232 at Fordow, for a total of 10,060 centrifuges being made unavailable. These numbers seem to reduce the centrifuges actually being used for enrichment at Natanz, with the number going down from 9048 to 7830. This reduction of 1200 or centrifuges does seem to match with the number shown in the graph in Annex II of the November IAEA report that are associated with enrichment to 20%, so it would appear that those centrifuges are being shut down entirely rather than being shunted back to enrichment to 5%.
Of course, promising these changes is one thing, but verifying them is critically important. The agreement comes with much greater access to Iranian facilities by IAEA inspectors. Returning to the fact sheet: Continue reading
Fars News reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, chief negotiator for the European Union, will meet for lunch tomorrow just before the next round of P5+1 talks with Iran kick off in Geneva later in the afternoon. But even though an interim agreement that would freeze Iran’s current nuclear work in return for a release of some impounded funds to Iran while a longer term agreement is finalized seems more likely than not, those who oppose any deal are desperately lashing out at the last minute. This morning, two bomb blasts near the Iranian embassy in Beirut killed more than twenty and injured well over a hundred. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ramped up his rhetoric even further, making the outrageous claim that Iran has on hand sufficient uranium enriched to 5% to make up to five bombs within a few weeks of a “breakout”. Meanwhile, US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry seem to have quelled for now any Congressional attempts to ratchet up sanctions ahead of this week’s negotiations, but should no agreement emerge this week, look for Washington politicians to race one another to see who can introduce the most severe new sanctions.
Although Beirut has seen several attacks back and forth recently with various Sunni and Shia groups attacking one another, the timing of today’s blasts suggest that the nuclear negotiations may be a target, as well. The Reuters article informs us that an al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility:
A Lebanese-based al Qaeda-linked group known as the Abdullah Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for what it described as a double suicide attack on the Iranian mission in southern Beirut.
Lebanon has suffered a series of bomb attacks and clashes linked to the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in neighboring Syria.
Security camera footage showed a man in an explosives belt rushing towards the outer wall of the embassy before blowing himself up, Lebanese officials said. They said the second explosion was caused by a car bomb parked two buildings away from the compound.
But the Syrian information minister goes further, blaming Israel and Saudi Arabia for supporting the attack:
Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi implicitly blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for supporting radical militants, who have been accused for previous attacks against Shi’ite targets.
Just as they have been working together to arm and fund Sunni fighters for Syria, Israel and Saudi Arabia have joined together to fight against any agreements between the West and Iran on nuclear technology.
Despite a near-miss last weekend on an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations, a report released yesterday by the IAEA shows that Iran has already carried out several of the steps that such an agreement would have called for. The news is good enough that Joby Warrick even opens with a hopeful tone:
Iran appears to have dramatically slowed work on its atomic energy program since the summer, U.N. officials said Thursday. The report could add momentum to diplomatic efforts to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iranian nuclear activities.
The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran all but halted the installation of new centrifuges at its uranium enrichment plants beginning in August, the same month that moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was sworn in as president. Work on a controversial nuclear reactor also slowed, the U.N. watchdog agency said. Iran continued producing low-enriched uranium, but at a slightly reduced rate, it said.
Similarly, the New Times also finds the report encouraging and associates the improvement with the election of Hassan Rouhani:
President Obama made a vigorous appeal to Congress on Thursday to give breathing space to his efforts to forge a nuclear deal with Iran, and the prospects for an interim agreement may have improved with the release of a report by international inspectors who said that for the first time in years, they saw evidence that the Iranians have put the brakes on their nuclear expansion.
The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that very few new advanced centrifuges had been installed since President Hassan Rouhani of Iran took office in June, promising a new start with the West, and that little significant progress has been made on the construction of a new nuclear reactor, which became a point of contention in negotiations in Geneva last week.
Note that one of the big pieces of news heralded by the Post and the Times is the halting of installation of new centrifuges. But buried in the back of the report (pdf), in the second annex, is a graph showing the total number of centrifuges installed, the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment of uranium up to 5% and the number of centrifuges dedicated to enrichment to 20%. I have reproduced that graph here, but I have added arrows pointing to two major discontinuities in the trends shown in the graph.
The early arrow, where we see a halt of nearly two years in the installation of new centrifuges and a loss of a number of centrifuges enriching to 5%, corresponds very closely to the release of the Stuxnet worm in early 2010 (although it looks like the loss of functioning centrifuges may have been in late 2009, so the actual release most likely was around that time).
Beginning in early 2011, Iran put more of its installed centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 5% and continued at a fairly steady pace throughout much of the year. At the beginning of 2012, the US and EU imposed much stronger sanctions on Iran. Although Iran did put some centrifuges into operation for enrichment to 20% around that same time, this graph shows that even though Iran restarted installation of new centrifuges in 2012, no additional centrifuges have been put into service for enrichment to either 5% or 20% since early 2012. This capping of enrichment capacity that is in actual operation has rarely, if ever, been noted in the press. Significantly, it predates Rouhani’s election by over a year. Perhaps it is a sign that the sanctions were effective in getting Iran to put the brakes on their program. Alternatively, it might suggest that Iran knew where Israel’s “red line” would be (a stockpile of around 200 kg of 20% enriched uranium might be enough to make a bomb after further enrichment) and made sure that the approach to this line would be slow. They also delayed its onset by converting some of the 20% enriched uranium to fuel plates so that it would be less readily subjected to further enrichment under a “breakout” scenario.
The halting of new centrifuge installation shows up in the graph, where we see the installed centrifuge line level off in the middle of this year, but this seems less dramatic than stopping the process of putting installed centrifuges into use for enrichment.
When we realize that significant steps were taken to slow advancement of Iran’s nuclear program before Rouhani was elected, it becomes easier to understand why his “moderate” stance and willingness to enter into negotiations have not met with significant resistance from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Kahmenei and other leading clerics.
Despite the near-miss over the weekend of an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries aimed at diffusing the crisis over Iran’s nuclear technology, an agreement was announced today in Tehran between Iran and the IAEA. The text of the agreement and its annex is quite short. Significantly, it grants access to and monitoring of the new heavy water reactor at Arak and to a uranium mine that has recently started producing yellowcake.
The Arak reactor is important because it was seen as one of the major sticking points in the P5+1 talks. Reactors of this type produce large amounts of plutonium that can be reprocessed into a nuclear weapon. France appeared to be insisting that this plant not begin operations. However, even those who accuse Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapon readily admit that Iran does not have the equipment or technology required for reprocessing spent fuel from this reactor into weapons-grade plutonium. Iran explains that this reactor is meant to take over for the aging Tehran research reactor in production of radioactive isotopes for medical applications. Presumably, IAEA monitoring of the reactor would be to confirm this process and to track the materials produced as they are shipped to hospitals for use in imaging and treatment.
No direct mention of the Parchin site is made in the document, and the New York Times speculates that Parchin is not part of the agreement. However, I suspect that Parchin will be the topic of an additional agreement to come, based on Amano’s comments in today’s press conference:
Amano, for his part, described the signing of the joint statement as “an important step forward,” adding that more work needed to be done.
“Under the framework of cooperation, Iran and the IAEA will cooperate further with respect to verification activities to be undertaken by the IAEA to resolve all present and past issues,” Amano said.
The IAEA chief said these “substantial measures” will be implemented in three months “starting today.”
There is no way that Amano would be talking of resolving “all present and past issues” if he didn’t believe there would eventually be agreement on access to Parchin.
Don’t panic on the bits in the document about laser enrichment or new enrichment sites. Although it hasn’t been discussed much, Iran’s previous efforts at laser enrichment of uranium (a separate technology from the centrifuge-based enrichment they currently employ) was known and appears to have been completely shut down in 2003 when all aspects of their nuclear work that could have weapons applications were shut down. Also, it is clear that the agreement only speaks of obtaining further clarification on already disclosed new enrichment facilities, so there is no disclosure of a previously unannounced facility.
Note also that the agreement makes reference to a “step by step” process. This is somewhat of a slap to France and the US (and of course, Israel), because the Russians first proposed a plan they called a step by step process back in July of 2011. And, of course, the agreement is significant because by signing this agreement, the IAEA is getting ahead of the US and the rest of the P5+1 group despite the Wikileaks cable that described Amano as eager to do the bidding of the US while running the IAEA.
The other huge news over the weekend out of Tehran is the assassination of Safdar Rahmat Abadi Sunday evening. PressTV reports that he was the Deputy Minister for Parliamentary Affairs in the Iranian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Mine. The Reuters article on the killing has this bit:
There was no immediate indication that the killing had anything to do with Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West.
However, there is this very interesting announcement just prior to the most recent round of P5+1 negotiations. On October 29, we learned this about an experts-level meeting that was to be held on October 30-31 which was meant as preparation for the high level meeting that wrapped up over the weekend: Continue reading