After P5+1 Talks |

U.S., U.K. Tell Israel: Iran Willing to Limit Uranium Enrichment

While Iranian offer is general and leaves many questions unanswered, it shows a new readiness to negotiate, Israeli official says.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Iran’s proposal at the Geneva summit meeting last week, though general and open to question, indicated Tehran’s willingness to scale back its uranium enrichment program and discuss issues it had previously rejected out of hand, according to a high-ranking Israel official who was briefed on the talks.

United States Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, who led the U.S. delegation to the talks, called National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror on Thursday and briefed him on the substance of the talks. In addition, members of the British delegation came straight to Israel from Geneva for talks with their Israeli colleagues.

The U.K. delegation met with Strategic and Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz and other top Israel officials on Friday. Prior to that, senior French and German officials spoke by phone with their Israeli counterparts about the talks.

Steinitz is due to head a delegation of senior Foreign Ministry and defense figures on a visit to Washington this week. Iran is expected to be the main item on the agenda of the meetings that the delegation is scheduled to hold with a team headed by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns. Sherman will also attend the meeting.

The U.S. and European diplomats all stressed to their Israeli colleagues that the talks with Iran are at an early, exploratory stage, the Israeli source said.

The Iranian proposal, as conveyed to Israel by the world powers was formulated as a two-phase plan, consisting of confidence-building measures by both sides, followed by negotiations toward a comprehensive agreement ending the nuclear crisis.

The Iranian representatives explicitly said Tehran was willing to cease uranium enrichment to 20 percent and to exchange its stores of 20-percent-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel for its experimental reactor in the capital, Tehran.

Iran expressed willingness to discuss the quantity and scope of its enrichment of uranium to 5 percent and the number of centrifuges running in its enrichment facilities. According to the Israeli source, the Iranians said they were open to discussing the future of the heavy-water reactor in Arak and the underground enrichment site in Fordo. “The Iranians said they can’t scrub the entire program but implied that a compromise was possible,” the source said, adding, “they’re not willing to completely shut down these sites but they are willing to greatly restrict and limit them.”

According to the source, the Iranian representatives did not rule out Tehran’s ratification of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to make unannounced inspections of suspicious nuclear facilities in Iran. “The Iranians told the international delegations in Geneva, ‘Don’t expect us to shut down our entire nuclear program, but we are willing to discuss measures that will reassure you.’”

The source said the international negotiators made it very clear during the talks that the sanctions against Iran will not be eased until Tehran takes meaningful steps to scale back its nuclear program. “The message of the West in the talks was that even after Iran carries out certain measures, the easing of the sanctions will be limited and that only as part of a comprehensive agreement will the European oil embargo or the sanctions on Iran’s banking system be lifted,” the Israeli officials said.

According to the Israeli source, the full significance of the Iranian offer is not yet clear to the six world powers, due to its lack of specificity. He said the proposal was less concrete and detailed than described by journalist Barbara Slavin on the Al-Monitor website. Quoting an Iranian source, Slavin said the Iranian proposal included two stages, each to last a maximum of six months. In the first, Iran would stop producing 20% enriched uranium and “try to convert the stock” it has amassed into fuel rods.

According to Slavin, Iran’s proposal was more detailed with regard to the Arak and Fordo installations. She reported that Iran agreed to provide information about the Arak facility and to permit UN nuclear inspectors to visit it. The reactor is slated to go on line at the end of 2014, and Israel and the West fear Iran will use it to produce plutonium that could be used to manufacture a nuclear bomb.

Slavin reported that the Iranians offered to agree to having UN inspectors remove spent fuel from which plutonium could be extracted from Iran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif categorically denied the authenticity of Slavin’s report over the weekend and insisted that no Iranian officials involved in the nuclear negotiations would speak off the record. Zarif’s denials came in an interview with Al-Monitor, on his Facebook page and in posts to his Twitter account.

The Fordo facility near Qom, as seen in this September 27, 2009 satellite photograph released by DigitalGlobe.Credit: Reuters
Delegations from Iran and other world powers sit before the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, October 15, 2013.Credit: Reuters