Russia and Iran Strike Tentative Nuclear Deal

Russia and Iran announce a tentative joint uranium enrichment deal. Kim Murphy, Moscow bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, talks to Debbie Elliot about possible roadblocks to a final agreement. It's hoped the deal will ease international pressure on Iran over its restarted nuclear program.

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DEBBIE ELLIOT, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliot.

Negotiations between Iran and Russia over Iran's nuclear program ended today on what appears to be a hopeful note. Iran's nuclear chief announced that the two countries would create a joint venture to enrich Iran's uranium in Russia. Such a deal could calm international fears over Iran's nuclear ambitions and prevent a showdown at the United Nations Security Council that could result in sanctions against Iran. Kim Murphy is the Moscow bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. She joins us now, welcome.

Ms. KIM MURPHY (Moscow bureau chief, Los Angeles Times): Hello.

ELLIOT: Is there really a deal here?

MURPHY: Well, I think that even Iran was calling it a deal in principle and in fact, the Russians were saying much less than that. They were expressing optimism that talks are scheduled to continue, but I think the Russians feel threat there still are quite a few details to work out and in fact, they're the same details that have prevented a deal from the very beginning.

ELLIOT: Now, are the two sides caught up on ideological issues or are the biggest stumbling blocks to a signed deal more practical matters, like say how to get uranium out and then back into Iran?

MURPHY: I think that the practical issues are pretty well worked out. They've got a logistical plan whereby the uranium for Iran's civilian reactors would be enriched in Russia, transported to Iran. They've got a financial agreement worked out, apparently. But what's holding up a deal are the number one issues, that Russia and the rest of the world have continued to insist that Iran observe a moratorium on all uranium enrichment.

ELLIOT: In their own country.

MURPHY: In their own country, obviously. The details, as I've been told over the last few days, is that Iran wants to continue what's called conversion activities. That is taking uranium from its original state, when it's mined and converting it to a form in which its ready to be enriched. But it's not really considered enrichment and in fact, many international experts believe that that might not be such an awful thing for Iran to do. The other stumbling block has been Iran's insistence on what it calls negative security guarantees. IT wants a promise that it's not going to be attacked if it goes along with all these deals on the enrichment in Russia. And Russia, obviously, cannot promise that the United States or some other country is not going to attack Iran. That's why many analysts here believe that a final deal, if it's ever reached, is not going to be reached between Iran and Russia, but the United States and Europe are going to definitely have to be a part of the program.

ELLIOT: Now, the International Atomic Energy Agency will be meeting again on March 6th. That's one week from tomorrow. What would be enough, short of a signed deal, to impress the international community that progress is being made?

MURPHY: I think, right now, it's going to take a pledge by Iran to agree to a moratorium on enrichment activities. Period. Full stop.

ELLIOT: Kim Murphy is the Moscow bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times. She joined us from Moscow. Thank you.

MURPHY: Thanks a lot.

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