Iran and IAEA Go Separate Ways as Agreement Seems Close: Interview with Hassan Beheshtipour
Although Iranian officials and the experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) went to the negotiating table in Tehran last week with smiling faces and hope-inspiring promises about agreement on a new modality, smiles were wiped off their hopeful faces after negotiations were over. While Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative in IAEA, noted that agreements had been reached over specific items of the modality, the head of the IAEA negotiating team, Herman Nackaerts, said more time was needed to reach a final agreement on the modality. However, neither side has mentioned a date for renewed talks on Iran's nuclear energy program. Iranian Diplomacy has explored various dimensions of negotiations between Iran and the IAEA with Hassan Beheshtipour, expert on international issues, the text of which follows.
Q: It seems that despite early optimism about achievement of an agreement over the modality, the negotiations between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency have not reached a favorable result. What, do you think, is the cause of this failure?
A: Negotiations of this kind usually take a lot of time because they are concerned with a very complicated and technical issue. Therefore, nobody can expect either side to agree on a solution for all their problems in a single session. The important point is to see if the general process of negotiations has been going forward or backward. It seems that the negotiations have been progressing. At present, there are two different stories regarding the negotiations. According to one story, which has been told by Mr. Soltaniyeh, Iran and the IAEA have reached an agreement over certain items, but other items, possibly including the IAEA's demand to inspect Iran's military site at Parchin, have not led to an agreement. There is also a second story, which is that of Mr. Nackaerts. Back in the Austrian capital city of Vienna, he was quoted by the Western media as saying that the negotiating parties had not been able to finalize an agreement. Perhaps his remarks do not contradict those of Mr. Soltaniyeh; that is, they may have reached agreement on certain items, but have failed to finalize an agreement document. Therefore, we must wait and see what happens in their next meeting.
Q: Don’t you think the fact that no date has been specified for the next round of talks is indication of the failure of the negotiations between Iran and the IAEA?
A: Basically, the word “failure” is not fit to describe the outcome of Iran's talks with the IAEA. Negotiations need time. It is true that eight rounds of talks have been already held, but only three last meetings were serious and discussions were held within a well-defined framework. Therefore, there is still hope that an agreement may be reached in the forthcoming meetings. Of course, it is also possible that the other party [the IAEA] may have appeared obstinate because they did not want Iran to go to the negotiations with the P5+1 in [Kazakh city of] Almaty with its hands full. If Iran had reached an agreement with the IAEA, its hands would have been full when it entered into negotiations with the P5+1 group on February 26, 2013. If Iran reaches an agreement with the P5+1, it would be more probable to forge a deal with the IAEA as well. The Reuters news agency recently reported that the Western side is planning to propose in the next round of talks with Iran that if Tehran agreed to close down its nuclear site in Fordow, they would lift sanctions on the delivery of precious metals to Iran. If this report were true, it would be very disappointing indeed.
Q: You mean imposing sanctions on trading precious metals with Iran will in no way change the Islamic Republic’s situation?
A: The Western side had already come up with three demands. However, those three demands have been currently reduced to one which is shutdown of Iran's nuclear activities at Fordow nuclear site. Since Iran is currently enriching uranium to 20-percent level at Fordow, when they talk about closing down Fordow, they actually mean to achieve their primary goal, which is suspension of 20-percent enrichment in the country. This would happen [in case Fordow is closed down] unless part of Natanz nuclear facility is once more dedicated to enriching uranium to 20-percent level. Secondly, the issue of swapping Iran's enriched uranium in order to convert it into nuclear fuel plates is actually out of the question now. Therefore, there is no legal ground for closing down Fordow and this is asking too much from Iran. Fordow works under the supervision of the IAEA and the Agency has eyes in that facility day and night. As a result, [I must reiterate that] there is no legal reason for Iran to close down Fordow facility. However, to prove its goodwill, Iran can only conduct 5-percent enrichment in that facility.
What the Western countries promise Iran in return for closing down of Fordow is not remarkable. The sanctions which they promise to lift [if Fordow is closed] are, in fact, the same sanctions which entered into force on February 4, 2013. What kind of logic is this? They do not respect the principle of proportionality between points which are given and taken by the two sides. Such positions prove that they do not want negotiations to reach a solid result.
Q: One of the issues discussed before the IAEA inspectors flew to Iran was the installation of new centrifuges at Natanz facility. How different is the efficiency of the new centrifuges from their predecessors and why they have aroused sensitivity of the European countries?
A: When Iran observes that they are bent on pursuing the past policy of pressure and negotiations, it reaches the conclusion that it would be more expedient if it revealed its progresses. The Western countries keep escalating the level and scope of sanctions against Iran. Then, when it comes to negotiations, they take the same sanctions as basis for political bargaining and use them as leverage to put pressure on Iran. The Islamic Republic, in return, has no choice, but to boost its bargaining power in a different way by increasing the number of centrifuges it is operating or elevating the quality of their operations.
The efficiency of the third-generation centrifuges is two to three times that of the first- and second-generation centrifuges. By doing so, Iran is actually increasing the speed of uranium enrichment on its soil. This will, in turn, boost the country’s bargaining power. This policy is pursued by Tehran in the face of the policy that they [Western negotiators] have adopted. If they want a real change in the situation, they have to change their policy and should also remember that Iran's measures are by no means against the rules of international law.
Q: As you said before, Mr. Soltaniyeh has noted that the two negotiating parties have reached agreement on certain items related to the new modality. Why more emphasis is not put on such agreements?
A: They do not want to become victim of the [Western] media hype. One of the main issues, which have led to the prolongation of negotiations, is the media hype that the Western countries have launched around it. When their interests call, the Western media aggrandize certain aspects of this issue. In order to prevent any possible obstructionist effort by those media, both parties are willing to publicize their agreement only when it has been totally finalized.
*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour was born on June 22, 1961 in Tehran. He received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.
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