Iran expected to offer restrictions at Geneva on the country’s nuclear programme
Complexity of proposals means completed deal unlikely at the end of two days of negotiations
Iranian foreign minister and lead negotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif posted a message on his Facebook account saying that the Geneva talks kicking off today were “the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward”. Photograph: John Moore/Getty Images.
Iranian negotiators are expected to offer restrictions on the country’s nuclear programme in return for at least a partial lifting of sanctions, at a round of international talks starting in Geneva today, diplomats said.
The complexity of the proposals means that a completed deal is unlikely at the end of two days of negotiations, as there will remain significant gaps between the Iranian and western negotiating positions. However, diplomats pointed to a new level of engagement at the talks not seen for several years.
The Iranian foreign minister and lead negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, posted a message on his Facebook account saying the Geneva talks were “the start of a difficult and relatively time-consuming way forward”.
“I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a road map to find a path towards resolution,” he said. “But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reach agreement on details and start implementation will likely require another meeting at ministerial level.”
The Iranian road map was described in vague terms on Friday by Mr Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araqchi, who said Tehran would negotiate “the form, amount, and various levels of [uranium] enrichment” but would not agree to shipping enriched uranium out of the country.
Plants in Natanz
Elements of the plan were floated in more detail during a visit to the UN in New York last month by Mr Zarif and the newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani. Iranian officials said Tehran would be prepared to limit its enrichment programme to two facilities, possibility both at Natanz, suggesting a readiness to suspend enrichment at a sensitive underground site at Fordow.
Iran is also prepared to suspend production of 20 per cent enriched uranium – another major concern for the international community as it is relatively straightforward to convert it into 90 per cent weapons grade material.
Tehran will not agree to surrendering its existing stockpile of the 20 per cent medium enriched uranium, about 190kg, but compromises are possible that would make it less of a proliferation concern. It could be kept under international monitoring in a remote corner of the country, or it could be turned into reactor fuel, a form which is harder to enrich further.
Among other proposals, Iran is also prepared to negotiate on the number of centrifuges it uses to make 3.5 per cent enriched uranium, suitable for fuel for nuclear power stations, and on how much each centrifuges makes. If the elements floated in New York are set out in Mr Zarif’s road map, it would represent the most substantive Iranian offer in a decade.
However, there would still be significant points of difference with the six nations represented at the Geneva talks: the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, chaired by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
The group has demanded the underground facility at Fordow be closed down entirely as part of a confidence-building deal. Iran is likely to accept suspension of enrichment there, but not permanent closure.
Western powers had called for the transfer of the total stock of 20 per cent enriched uranium out of the country, and it is unclear whether its conversion to reactor fuel or warehousing inside Iran would satisfy Washington and its allies.
The US is also reluctant to declare Iran’s right to enrich uranium openly as early in the process as Tehran would like, fearing it would set a precedent forother nations to start building centrifuge plants, multiplying the risk of proliferation.
Last, there is a gaping divide between the scale of sanctions relief Iran is demanding, involving the lifting of oil and financial embargoes, and the much more limited concessions offered by the West, covering aircraft parts, gold and petrochemical exports.
– (Guardian service)