Seven days before the opening of the next round of Iran nuclear talks, the pressure is on, as the media spins every trickle of information leaked about Iran. Troubled by a possible deal between Iran and the world powers, Israel views the talks, set to take place on May 23 in Baghdad, with some bitterness, perhaps even with hopes that they will fail completely.
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The leak concerning the facilities for nuclear fuse testing at the Parchin military base, published by the Associated Press on Sunday, added to the tension surrounding negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program between the six powers – the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain – and the Islamic Republic..
The interest behind leaking the information could belong to one of the powers who wishes to push Iran further into a corner and force the Islamic Republic into making more concessions in the negotiations.
Alternatively, the leak could benefit Israel, as Israel tries to make it clear to the world powers that only partial demands on Iran will not put a stop to the county’s military nuclear program.
Added to all of the leaks of information about Parchin was a message from the Iranian opposition group, People's Mujahedin of Iran, which was issued over the weekend. The organization, which was first to uncover Iran’s Natanz facility in 2002 and has connections with various western intelligence organizations, released a statement claiming that 60 Iranian nuclear scientists are working as part of a secret Iranian Defense Ministry unit, charged solely with the task of producing a nuclear bomb.
As the date of the Baghdad talks approaches, the feeling in Jerusalem is that Iran and the world powers are striving to reach a preliminary agreement concerning the nuclear program, which could forge a base for a permanent agreement between Iran, the U.S. and the other powers.
Wednesday's visit to Jerusalem by Catherine Ashton, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which included a long meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior officials in his cabinet, only enhanced that feeling. Ashton, who led the negotiations on behalf of the six world powers, said to Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz that she is not nave about Iran’s intentions.
When she returned to Brussels, however, Ashton told reporters that she hoped that the upcoming round of talks in Baghdad will be the “beginning of the end” of Iran’s military nuclear program.
According to the evidence, Iran and the world powers are on their way to an “intermediate agreement.” Such an agreement would allow Iran to enrich uranium to the high level of 20%, approaching the levels for a nuclear weapon. Iran however, would be forced to stop enriching the uranium at the underground, fortified facility at Fordo, near the city of Qom, as part of the agreement. Iran would also have to rid itself of 100 kilograms of enriched uranium already it already possesses.
In return, the world powers will suspend some of the sanctions already leveled on Iran. The EU oil embargoes as well as the American sanction against Iran’s central bank are set to go into effect on July 1; however no further sanctions will be implemented. Iran will also receive a shipment of nuclear fuel rods to power its nuclear reactors.
The U.S. and the other powers explain that such an intermediate agreement would effectively halt Iranian progress toward a nuclear weapon, even if it will not completely solve the Iranian nuclear issue. Such an agreement will buy time for more talks, and tie Israel’s hands in terms of carrying out a unilateral strike.
Israel completely rejects any kind of intermediate agreement. Up until this point, the Israeli position has not held even an inch of flexibility on the subject. Most likely, any outcome from the next round of talks, save for failure, will garner furious reactions from Jerusalem.
It was enough to listen to Ehud Barak’s remarks this morning, to understand just how much Israel dreads such an agreement. “The powers must demand that any deal accepted by Iran will include a stop in progress on Iran’s nuclear capability,” said Barak in an interview with Army Radio.
“If the demands are expressed in the minimalistic manner which we suspect, Iran could agree to all of them, and still be able to continue progressing toward a nuclear weapon. In such a case these talks will not help in stopping Iran,” said Barak.
A few weeks ago, however, Barak demonstrated willingness to allow Iran to continue enriching Uranium at the low level of 3.5%. On Monday morning, Barak fell in line with Netanyahu, and pointed out that Israel made it clear to Ashton, the U.S., Germany, France, and Britain that the demand on Iran must be to stop all enrichment of uranium, not just enrichment to 20%.
“Enrichment to 3.5% must be stopped, and all uranium, or almost all uranium already enriched to 3.5% must be taken out of Iran, so that after the talks, Iran will not be able to continue toward its goal of a nuclear weapon,” said Barak on Monday morning. “If less than those demands are made at the start, China and Russia will dilute them further the result would be too little, and won’t accomplish the goal, leaving the issue completely unresolved. I’m afraid that that’s the situation,” said Barak.
A senior Israel official involved in the Iran issue summed up the issue. “Israel’s main concern is if the talks lead to the stop of Iran’s nuclear program, or create a platform that buys Iran time, while eroding sanctions, said the official.
“As far as we know, there has been no strategic decision among Iranian leadership to change directions on the nuclear program. The recent positive statements made by Iran are meant to create an impression of moderation and a bolster relations with the world powers, but there is no real fundamental change in Teheran,” continued the official.