Iran Nuclear Negotiations Try To Hurdle Impasse As Deadline Nears
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. Iranian and American diplomats are facing a July 20th deadline to come up with a nuclear agreement. A deal could prevent any Iranian attempt to build a bomb. Failure could bring back the mutual hostility of the past. As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Vienna, nuclear fuel, uranium, is the crucial issue.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: For the better part of a year, Iran has slowed and then stopped producing its most sensitive high-enriched uranium, and has given UN inspectors unprecedented access to its nuclear facilities. Iranians, meanwhile, have enjoyed a modest economic rebound as no new sanctions were imposed by the West. Experts say it's been the best period for nonproliferation involving Iran in almost a decade. And it could all come to an end if negotiators can't come up with a comprehensive deal in a couple of weeks. A six month extension is possible, but both sides view it as opening new problems. Analyst Farideh Farhi with the University of Hawaii is in Tehran, where expectations for a deal are running high. But, she says, officials there are starting to prepare people for the possibility of failure.
FARIDEH FARHI: So far they have been successful in portraying to the domestic audience that Iran is making every effort possible to reach a compromise. And if it does not happen, it's essentially because the other side wanting too much.
KENYON: Iran's Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, released a video statement echoing a recent warning by Secretary of State John Kerry that time is running out.
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MOHAMMAD JAVAD ZARIF: We are willing to take concrete measures to guarantee that our nuclear program will always remain peaceful. We still have time to put an end to the myth that Iran is seeking to build a bomb.
KENYON: Zarif warned that Iran will never kneel under pressure. Iran has not been preparing its public for what the West says it has to do - agree to significant cuts to its enrichment program. Iran has called for up to 50,000 centrifuges spinning away, enriching uranium, while a senior U.S. official in Vienna says Iran's program should be very limited - a fraction of what they currently have, which analysts say is roughly 9,000 centrifuges in operation. Mark Fitzpatrick at the Institute for International and Strategic Studies says it's a huge sticking point, but he was struck last month by the way both Russia and China, the two countries most likely to take a more pro-Iranian position, went out of their way to call on Iran to accept a smaller enrichment program. That makes him think that there may be a small chance of a deal after all.
MARK FITZPATRICK: Now when I see Russia and China firmly in league with the West, presenting a united front, I think Iran is now getting the idea that stalling won't be to their advantage. If they're going to strike a deal, they ought to try to do it quickly.
KENYON: Experts say there are ways to get around the enrichment impasse, if the sides are willing. Colin Kahl at the Center for New American Security says since Russia is contracted to provide the fuel for Iran's lone nuclear power plant for the next several years, Iran might be convinced to keep only a small enrichment program now, with the possibility of increasing it after that contract expires. To counter Iran's argument that it shouldn't be at the mercy of foreign fuel supplies, Kahl says the deal could permit Iran to ramp up its own enrichment, should the outside supply be threatened.
FITZPATRICK: You know the danger of that is that it might give Iran an excuse to wiggle out of the agreement. So it would have to be crafted very careful. But it would incentivize the international community to make sure that Iran got its fuel requirements met by the international market. So you may be able to use some combination of time and conditions to bridge what seems like an unbridgeable gap.
KENYON: Such a deal would require that Iran agree to monitoring and verification regime that no other country has been asked to follow. In addition, all these suggested compromises share a common denominator - Iranian acceptance of a much smaller enrichment program immediately. Analysts say that's what American officials mean when they call on Iran to seize this moment in history and reach a landmark nuclear accord. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Vienna.