World Powers Look for Rigid Restrictions on Iran’s Centrifuge Development in Talks

Senior German official tells Haaretz that ‘R&D is a big deal,’ so that breakout time for bomb isn’t too quick.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
A technician checks valves at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, Iran, February 3, 2007.
A technician checks valves at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, Iran, February 3, 2007.Credit: Reuters
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The six world powers negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran want the agreement to include rigid restrictions on Iran’s research and development work on advanced centrifuges, both during the agreement’s first 10 years and for some years thereafter, a senior German official familiar with the talks told Haaretz.

“R&D is a big deal,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous due to the diplomatic sensitivity of the negotiations. “The final deal must include clear restrictions on R&D, so that enrichment capacity does not go through the roof.”

The official said the German government is in regular contact with its Israeli counterpart over the nuclear negotiations, at the level of both experts and politicians. National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen will arrive in Berlin today for talks, with Iran top of the list.

The issue of research and development is one of Israel’s primary concerns about the emerging nuclear deal, which is supposed to be finalized by June 30. Iran’s research on advanced centrifuges could significantly shorten its breakout time – the time it would need to build a nuclear weapon if it decided to eject UN inspectors and start enriching uranium at full speed, to the necessary level of 90 percent.

Currently, Iran’s breakout time is about two to three months. Under the emerging deal between Iran and the P5+1, its breakout time is supposed to be at least a year for the next 10 years.

Most of Iran’s centrifuges are older models, though it has a few newer models that can enrich uranium three or four times faster. Under the emerging deal, Iran would be able to use only its older centrifuges for the first 10 years.

But the Iranians are currently developing even more advanced models that could enrich uranium six to eight times faster than the older ones. Tehran is demanding that its R&D work on new centrifuges be allowed to continue unhindered. But the six powers fear that if R&D continues at the pace it has until now, then when the agreement expires, Iran will have highly advanced centrifuges that would let it enrich enough uranium for a bomb very quickly.

Two weeks ago, the nuclear negotiations resumed in Vienna for the first time since a framework deal was reached in Lausanne last month. Tehran had been furious over the fact sheet the White House distributed on the Lausanne framework. Consequently, the P5+1 had feared domestic pressure might cause the Iranians to renege on some of the understandings, the German official said. But that didn’t happen. “The last round of talks in Vienna was positive,” he said. “There were concerns that the Iranians might backtrack on some of the understandings from Lausanne, and they didn’t.

“Lausanne was a big step forward and we closed many gaps, and we have a good basis for the last steps toward a comprehensive agreement,” he added. “The feeling in Vienna was that everybody wants to get a deal by June 30, and that this is possible.”

But R&D isn’t the only unresolved issue. Another is what powers International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors will have. “Inspections and transparency are crucial,” the official said. “This must not be a deal that gives Iran the benefit of the doubt. That is why IAEA inspectors will get far-reaching access. However, the Iranians know that we have red lines and that we will not give up our principles just to get a deal,” he added. “The Iranians also need a deal, they must deliver to their people.”

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