The publication of the report by the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee comes as negotiators from Iran and six world powers, including the UK, continue to struggle to finalize an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in talks in Vienna before a July 20 deadline.
The committee, made up of 11 legislators from the UK’s three largest political parties, conclude in the report that “there is probably no prospect of a lasting deal which does not allow Iran to enrich uranium.”
It continues: “Enrichment capacity should be limited to a level which Iran would not reject outright but which would still allow enough time for any attempt at breakout to be detected and referred to the UN Security Council—we suggest six months as an absolute minimum.”
Iran’s possession of facilities to enrich uranium has been a key sticking point in the talks between Iran and the P5+1 world powers.
The US was previously opposed to Iran’s possession of uranium-enrichment technology, but is now seeking to put limits on Iran’s overall “breakout capability,” in a bid to make it more difficult for the country to build a nuclear bomb, should it choose to do so.
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, but also insists that its right to develop the full range of nuclear technologies be accepted by the US and its allies. As an example, last week Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a statement saying Iran needed to be able to enrich uranium on an industrial scale in order to meet its long-term needs.
The British report states: “We believe that the primary reason for Iran’s decision to build such a capacity to enrich uranium and to amass stocks to current levels was to give itself the option to develop a nuclear military capability. That has almost been achieved.”
However, it adds: “We are not aware of any unequivocal evidence that Iran has taken a decision to push ahead and develop a nuclear weapon.”
Nonetheless, the report concludes: “We do not believe that alternatives to negotiation offer a realistic prospect of a long-term, sustainable solution to current concerns over the Iranian nuclear programme.”
The report contrasts with a number of proposals from members of the US Congress, who have periodically sought to impose tougher conditions on Iran—including the suspension of all uranium enrichment and the dismantling of its nuclear facilities—in return for reducing sanctions.
On Monday, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Robert Menendez, and Senator Lindsay Graham of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote to the White House demanding that any nuclear deal with Iran include international inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities for “at least 20 years.”
On the same day, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the New York Times that Iran had presented a proposal that sought to limit inspections over and above those required by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to less than a decade, while maintaining uranium enrichment at levels equivalent to a “breakout capacity” of over one year.
After the agreement expires, Iran would be able to produce as much nuclear fuel as it desired, which is unlikely to be well received in the US, which may press for permanent limits on Iran’s program. US negotiators are also reported to be pushing for an intrusive inspection regime lasting at least a decade.
The issue of sanctions relief is also a major issue, with Iran seeking a step-by-step lifting of US and European sanctions on its oil sales and financial system. However, in order to lift US sanctions, the White House will have to work in partnership with Congress, which has often taken a more hard-line position on Iran than the Obama administration.