President Mahmud Ahmadinejad says his country is now ready to send its
low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment -- as requested by the United
Nations -- under a deal aimed at easing concerns about the Iranian nuclear
program. Does Ahmadinejad's announcement reflect genuine change in Iran's
position or is Iran trying to prevent the adoption of more sanctions? A
nonproliferation expert tells RFE/RL that the devil is in the details. Shannon
Kile, a senior nonproliferation expert and researcher at the Stockholm
International Peace Institute, discusses Iran's apparent shift with RFE/RL
correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari.
RFE/RL: Iran seems to have changed its position regarding the offer to send it
uranium abroad for further enrichment. How genuine do you think the shift is?
Shannon Kile is
a senior nonproliferation expert at the Stockholm Peace Institute
Shannon Kile: I personally think that President Ahmadinejad
genuinely wants to reach some sort of fuel-exchange deal. I think part of the
problem in reaching the deal with the 5+1 states [Editor's Note: permanent UN
Security Council members plus Germany] has in fact been the inability of
President Ahmadinejad to get all of the leadership in Tehran on board, in
particular the conservatives in the Iranian parliament.
So I think it remains to be seen whether this latest statement by President
Ahmadinejad will actually enjoy full domestic backing inside of Iran. I think
that is something we need to look at first before we can reach any kind of
conclusions about what the likely prospects of the deal would be with the 5+1
RFE/RL: In the past, President Ahmadinejad and other officials who are
in charge of the nuclear case had objected to the offer. Now President
Ahmadinejad is saying that Iran has nothing against the deal. What does the
statement indicate and what does it mean?
Kile: Well, I think they had objected to the original offer
that was submitted in October 2009. President Ahmadinejad had supported it but
later it ran into opposition, especially inside the Iranian parliament, but also
elsewhere within the Iranian leadership.
I think we need to look at what President Ahmadinejad's recent statement
indicates. First of all, how much low enriched uranium is Iran willing to ship
out of the country? The original October agreement indicated that Iran would
send out about 70 percent of its existing inventory of low-enriched uranium and
of course, for the Western powers, that was one of the main reasons to enter
into the deal because it would effectively mean Iran would not be able to use
that low-enriched uranium stockpile to make a nuclear weapon, if indeed it has a
secret nuclear-weapon program.
The other thing we should look at is whether Iran is willing to actually ship
this fuel, at least in the initial stages, out of the country. We heard some
reports earlier this month that Iran would be willing to engage in the
fuel-exchange deal that at least in the initial stages would only be on Iranian
territory -- Kish Island has been mentioned. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki
said that was necessary as a way to establish confidence that the Western powers
were acting in good faith, so I think that remains to be cleared up as well.
RFE/RL: Why do you think President Ahmadinejad is interested in reaching
a deal. Is it because of the threat of tougher sanctions?
Kile: I think it's also in part because the Tehran research
reactor is actually going to be running out of fuel in 2010, approximately, so
the reactor ought to shut down and that's the only facility in Iran that makes
No one thinks that reactor has any sort of clandestine weapon use at all, and
again I think that we'll simply have to see what President Ahmadinejad means in
practical terms. Is he really willing to send the fuel out of the country in the
initial stages or will it be reverting back to the plan that was put forward
last month by Foreign Minister Mottaki?
RFE/RL: Could the reports of U.S. deployments of a missile-defense
system in the Persian Gulf countries be the reason for Iran's apparent shift?
Kile: No. I think this is something that is probably
independent of that, I don't think the Iranians would take the deployment of
missile defense too seriously. Now, having said that, there are indications and
reports that Iran has today test fired a new satellite carrying rocket but I
don't think that those two issues are really connected.
RFE/RL: If the change in Iran's position is genuine, what's next? Should Iran
officially inform the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?
Kile: Yes, that's correct, the deal would be done through the
auspices of the IAEA. It sounds like what is happening here is Iran is looking
for some sort of arrangement with the IAEA where the exchange would take place
on an accelerated time schedules so that instead of the low-enriched uranium
being out of the country for one year, it would be out of the country for four
to five months.
As a practical matter it would be very difficult for France and Russia to
fabricate the fuel needed for the Tehran research reactor in that time frame, so
that's one of the details that will have to be discussed.