“We will negotiate about the volume, levels and the methods of enrichment, but shipping out the (enriched) material is a red line for Iran,” Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, told Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Sunday, two days before talks between Iran and the P5+1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
The comments may disappoint Western diplomats and officials, who have pressed Iran to ship its stockpile of the 20-percent-enriched uranium abroad prior to talks and shut down its enrichment facility at Fordow, in return for the lifting of some of the extensive economic sanctions on the country.
Uranium enriched to contain 20 percent of the U-235 isotope is commonly used to make isotopes used in some medical treatments, but is also easier to convert to the 90 percent plus typically used to make atomic bombs. However, if it is formed into reactor fuel, this becomes much more difficult.
Under the terms of a previous deal brokered in 2009 by Brazil and Turkey but rejected by the US, a portion of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium was to be shipped abroad in return for an equal amount of fuel for Tehran’s research reactor, theoretically leaving Iran without enough uranium suitable for a nuclear weapon.
According to latest figures released by the UN nuclear watchdog in September, Iran has a stockpile of 6,774 kilograms of uranium enriched to the low level commonly used for reactors generating electricity, and nearly 186 kg enriched to 20 percent.
Although Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, suspicions persist in the US and elsewhere about Iranian intentions in pursuing nuclear technology.
Meanwhile, Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Saturday that the country’s negotiators will put forward a new three-stage proposal in the upcoming meeting with the P5+1, scheduled for Tuesday.
The package will automatically commit the other party to “the recognition of the right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil,” the ISNA report says, though it does not name its source.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said recently that his country has prepared an “accurate proposal” for upcoming nuclear talks.
“We hope a full agreement will be reached over this proposal, or the outlines could be agreed upon,” Rouhani was quoted as saying on October 2 by IRNA news agency.
He did not give details of Iran’s latest nuclear proposal, but said “the Iranians need to be sure that the principle of [uranium] enrichment inside Iran and [possession] of nuclear technology is non-negotiable.”
The new round of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers, the first since Rouhani took power in early August, has taken on more importance for both sides, with both sides hoping for a breakthrough in light of the election of a moderate new president with a mandate for new negotiations with the P5+1.
Meanwhile, Rouhani and his team face big challenges both domestically and in the international arena in making progress on the nuclear issue.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is also Iran’s top negotiator in nuclear talks, has called for national consensus ahead of the nuclear talks to be held this week.
“A great job awaits us next week, and it needs internal consensus and national rapport more than anything,” Zarif said in a message posted on his Facebook page on Friday.
In the meantime, Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said on October 8 that Iran is serious about resolving the dispute over its nuclear program in the near future.
“From Iran’s side, I can say that we are ready,” Larijani told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.