Iran allows for compromise on uranium enrichment

Foreign minister says ‘right’ to enrich under NPT not part of the debate; Netanyahu downplays differences with Obama

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with the BBC on November 9 (photo credit: Screenshot BBC)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in an interview with the BBC on November 9 (photo credit: Screenshot BBC)

Iran’s foreign minister said Sunday that there was no need for world powers to publicly acknowledge Iran’s “right” to uranium enrichment, offering a potential way to sidestep another sticking point on a possible nuclear deal when talks resume later this week.

Mohammad Javad Zarif’s remarks appeared to give more latitude over previous demands — that the West declare that Tehran has international clearance to produce nuclear fuel — since Iran is a signer of a UN treaty governing atomic technology.

The US and others have balked at supporting Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium.

“Not only do we consider that Iran’s right to enrich is nonnegotiable, but we see no need for that to be recognized as ‘a right,’ because this right is inalienable and all countries must respect that,” Zarif told the ISNA news agency, implying that a possible compromise with the West had no bearing on his country’s right to enrich under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.

Iran’s uranium enrichment program is a key sticking point in negotiations to resolve Western fears that Tehran is working to develop nuclear weapons. The United States holds that under the terms of the NPT, the enrichment of uranium is prohibited to Iran, while the latter has insisted it will never completely give up its enrichment process.

Zarif explained that statements made by US officials about not accepting Iran’s right to process uranium do not directly clash with Iran’s point of view.

“These remarks do not mean that countries are not entitled to enrich uranium,” he said. “It is different from our position, based on which enrichment is our inseparable right. It does not mean that they are against Iran’s enrichment and do not recognize it.”

The minister further claimed that Iran has not been asked during negotiations to stop enriching uranium.

“We have not heard it during talks with P5+1,” he said. “No one wants a pause in enrichment. The issue has not been demanded by any side in general.”

Talks between the so-called P5+1 world powers — comprising the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany — and Iran have so far failed to produce even an interim agreement on capping the Islamic Republic’s ability to produce weapons-grade fissile material. In addition to “rolling back” uranium enrichment, the world powers also want to see a halt in ongoing construction of a heavy water facility that could produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

Iran is seeking a partial lifting of sanctions, which have crippled its economy, in return for some compromise on its nuclear program.

Earlier this month, negotiators were rumored to be close to signing a deal, but it eventually fell apart without a result and with both sides blaming each other for demanding too much.

Talks are set to resume later this week in Geneva.

“We want to reach an agreement and understanding,” Zarif said.

However, Israel has have repeatedly denounced the terms of the agreement, as it was presented in Geneva, saying it didn’t remove Iran’s ability to break out to a nuclear weapon. In an interview Sunday with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that the kind of deal rumored to be in the making with Iran was counterproductive.

“This is a bad deal,” he said. “And, in fact, if you do a bad deal, you may get to the point where your only option is a military option. So a bad deal actually can lead you to exactly the place you don’t want to be.”

Nonetheless, Netanyahu stressed that a diplomatic solution was always going to be Israel’s preferred route.

“I prefer a peaceful solution,” he said. “Who wouldn’t? Israel has the most to gain from a peaceful diplomatic solution, because we’re on the firing line, any way you look at it. So we need a good solution, and that’s the main point.

“The problem with the partial deal is that you reduce the sanctions. And in this case, you reduce the sanctions, let out a lot of pressure, and Iran is practically giving away nothing,” he continued. ” It’s making a minor concession, which they can reverse in weeks, and you endanger the whole sanctions regime that took years to make.”

Rather than the strategy of offering a compromise, Netanyahu called for increasing sanctions to squeeze Iran into submission.

“If you continue the pressure now, you can get Iran to cease and desist,” he said.

The unbending position of Israel compared to that of the US — that is, pushing for an interim deal with Iran as a way to slow down weapons development until a permanent solution is settled upon — has generated friction between Washington and Jerusalem. Asked just how far the differences ran between his point of view and that of President Barack Obama, Netanyahu asserted that, ultimately, they had the same goal.

“The best of friends can have different opinions,” he said. “We agree on a lot of things, and some things we disagree on… we all want the same thing.”

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