Iran Ready for 'Final Step' in Nuclear Deal, but Rifts Remain

Rohani says Iran just needs West's commitment to recognize its right to nuclear program for peaceful purposes, but disagreement rife over number of centrifuges the Islamic Republic will be allowed to keep.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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Iranian President Hassan Rohani gestures as speaks during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani gestures as speaks during a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Iran will be ready to take the "final step" toward resolving the nuclear issue if the world recognizes Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, Iranian President Hassan Rohani said on the third day of a critical round of nuclear talks in Vienna between Iran and six world powers.

"If the international community recognizes Iran's right for peaceful use of nuclear energy, Tehran will be ready to take the final step towards resolution of the issue," Rohani told a large crowd in the Iranian city of Khorramabad on Wednesday, Iran's Fars News Agency reported.

The Islamic Republic and major powers are still at odds over significant issues that would be included in a final deal, however, namely the number of centrifuges Iran will be allowed to keep in its possession, conversion of various nuclear facilities, and the period of time in which the country's nuclear program will be under international supervision.

The fifth round of talks on a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear program began in Vienna on Monday, with a meeting between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, followed by trilateral talks that also included U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and lead U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman.

The Iranian delegation said it wants to reach a first draft of the final agreement by the end of the current round of talks Friday. "If we reach a preliminary text at the end of this round, that will be good progress," said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Araghchi said the sides were trying to minimize disagreements so they could start drafting the preliminary text. He said there was general willingness to try to reach an agreement by July 20. Araghchi said does not see "any sign" Washington is trying to prolong negotiations, adding: "Americans are serious."

All the same, the disagreements remain significant, primarily centering around the level of uranium enrichment capability Iran will be allowed to maintain once an agreement is reached.

The six world powers are prepared to let Iran keep a few hundred centrifuges only for the purpose of enriching uranium on Iranian territory. The powers are demanding that Iran dismantle almost all of the 20,000 centrifuges currently in its possession and agree to limit its inventory of enriched uranium.

Iran, however, is demanding to expand the number of centrifuges in its possession from 20,000 to 150,000, some of which are planned to be more advanced than those it currently has.

As far as the powers are concerned, dramatically reducing Iran's ability to enrich uranium – in such a way to make it impossible for the Islamic Republic to make a "forward breakthrough" to nuclear weapons – is an essential part of any permanent deal.

There are, however, other disagreements. The powers are demanding that Iran convert its fortified underground facility in Fordow from a uranium enrichment plant to a different kind of facility altogether. The Iranians are refusing to accede to this request, and are demanding the right to continue enrichment.

The powers are also demanding that Iran redraft its plans for the heavy water reactor in Arak and turn it into a light water reactor, in which it would be impossible to make plutonium for a nuclear weapon. The Iranians are prepared to implement technical changes in the reactor that would restrict how much plutonium could be created, but will not agree to convert the reactor into one for light water.

The two sides are also in disagreement over the timetable dictating when the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will be lifted. The United States has demanded that as part of the agreement, Iran be prepared to restrict its nuclear program for up to 20 years. Within the first 20 years, Iran's nuclear facility would be under tight supervision, and the limits would be gradually lifted over the course of the final 10 years. The Iranians, however, are prepared to agree to a timetable of just 15 years, and want the lifting of the restrictions to begin within just a few years.

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