Serious Unresolved Issues - Seeking Ways to Resolve Them
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told reporters in Shanghai today that he was “optimistic” about the nuclear talks with P5+1 and that it was “very likely” the two sides reach a comprehensive agreement before the 20 July expiration date of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA).
However, two Western diplomats told the Associated Press after Rouhani’s news conference that they were not as optimistic. AP quoted them as saying the two sides were not much closer than they were in February, at the start of the talks in Vienna.
Meanwhile, IAEA is expected to report on Friday that Iran is honoring JPOA, including an end to its 20-percent enrichment program.
A number of key issues still need to be resolved before any comprehensive agreement could be finalized; starting with the number of centrifuges Iran could operate. As is, Iran has some 10,000 machines in operation, with some 9,000 installed but not operational. The West wants to limit the number to few thousands to prevent rapid breakout capability on part of Iran. With Iran arguing that it would need 4-5 times more centrifuges that it currently operates just to provide the fuel for a single nuclear power reactor it plans to build in future.
The difference on this issue is so wide that a new way of approaching Iran’s needs for enriched uranium should be found. There must be more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak! Numbers in 50,000-100,000 range will not be acceptable to the West. But significantly fewer numbers of advanced centrifuges might satisfy Iran’s needs, which could provide a possible compromise on the issue.
The duration of the comprehensive agreement has also become a matter of dispute; with Iran arguing for an agreement that could reach its goals in a much shorter period than the P5+1 is proposing. This is not a showstopper and a compromise could more easily be found. As is the case with Arak IR-40 heavy water reactor. The two sides have almost resolved this issue through changing the design of the reactor in a way to produce a minimum amount of plutonium, hence blocking an alternative route for the country to build a nuclear weapon.
The question of ballistic missiles remains a serious issue. The UN Security Council Resolutions 1929, passed unanimously against Iran, prohibits production and deployment of ballistic missiles designed to carry nuclear weapons. On 11 May, during a visit to IRGC’s ballistic missile exhibition in Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei made his strongest public comments on the issue, ridiculing the West for even suggesting a limit on the country’s ballistic missiles. The P5+1, however, wants to resolve the issue before lifting all UN sanctions as part of a final agreement. A compromise being floated is to limit the type of Iran’s missiles to medium range ballistic missiles (MRBM) that it currently deploys.
The post-agreement inspection regime of Iranian nuclear facilities by IAEA and the future of Fordo enrichment unit, are among other issues that still need to be resolved.
The collapse of the talks is an unwanted option for both sides. It will seriously hurt Rouhani politically inside Iran and could start a very serious economic downturn in the country. The failure of the talks could also lead to heightened military tensions in the neighborhood and a significant increase in Western military posture in the Persian Gulf. There are so much at stakes here that could force the two sides to compromise on all the unresolved issues, making Rouhani’s prediction today in Shanghai to be fulfilled after all.