RFE/RL: With both sides adamant on their positions, what possibilities do you think there are for bringing them together?
Aleksei Arbatov: I think that Iran is playing its own game. It understands that there is very strong opposition to the Iranian plan to acquire a full nuclear-fuel cycle, because that technology is very close to the acquisition of nuclear weapons. So it is bargaining for as much as it can gain. In particular, Iran has already made a concession, saying 'OK, Iran will not aim for full-scale industrial enrichment capacity, but it would like still to retain a research, experimental enrichment capacity -- smaller, not sufficient for the large-scale enrichment of uranium but important for us to keep on top of technology and expertise.' If that is not given to it, it will go on bargaining for other things.
"The position of Iran depends on its assessment of the unity of the United States, the EU, Russia, and China in opposing what Iran wants to gain. It doesn't depend on technical, nitty-gritty things."
RFE/RL: Iran has responded in contradictory fashion to the Russian offer to enrich uranium in Russia on Iran's behalf and seems to be dragging its feet in order to avoid being referred to the United Nations' Security Council. How much weight do you therefore give to Tehran's negotiations this week?
Arbatov: Well, I think the position of Iran depends on its assessment of the unity of the United States, the EU, Russia, and China in opposing what Iran wants to gain. It doesn't depend on technical, nitty-gritty things. So, if Iran feels that Russia, the United States, the EU, and China -- and India -- are determined not to let it get away with [developing] enrichment capabilities, it will eventually forego that. But not before Iran feels that the opposition is really strong and really tough. The complicated problem here is that legally -- or legalistically -- the Iranian position has some serious merits, because the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) does not prohibit any country from having a full nuclear-fuel cycle, provided that this technology is under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran says that it is willing to acquire this technology and provide for this control, for the IAEA safeguards. So, from this point of view, the position of the countries that do not want to let Iran to gain [a uranium-enrichment capacity] is to a very great extent based not on the letter of the NPT but on an assessment of the danger that may emanate from the Iranian regime. Because this is a regime that may withdraw from the NPT and openly opt for nuclear weapons, just as North Korea did two years ago. So, in this sense, Iran saying that it should not be segregated, that the fact that it is disliked by the United States does not mean that it does not have the same rights to a full nuclear cycle as other NPT member-states have, for instance Japan, for instance Germany, the Netherlands, Brazil and a number of others that have uranium enrichment [capacities] while being non-nuclear states. This position is legalistically very strong -- and Iran is going to play it to the full.
RFE/RL: But given the international pressure, how much longer is Iran able to hold on -- and what then?
Arbatov: Well, if Iran feels that the leading powers are determined not to let it have [an] enrichment [capacity] no matter what the NPT permits or does not permit, if it feels that this political position is really strong and that the leading states are willing to go to the UN Security Council and to pass a resolution providing for sanctions against Iran and providing for the possible use of military force to deprive Iran of its nuclear infrastructure, then Iran will certainly make a concession, at least for some time. And besides, do not forget that Iran is also following a parallel path, which is not a uranium but a plutonium path. It has started building a heavy-water production plant, it has started building a heavy-water natural uranium reactor, a reactor that works from natural uranium and does not reach any enrichment but produces a lot of plutonium as burnt, irradiated nuclear fuel. Which may be a path that, in parallel, Iran may have as, so to say, an alternative option…That is exactly the path that was followed by North Korea.
Hans Blix (CTK)
SECURITY GUARANTEES On January 26, RFE/RL Radio Farda correspondent Fatemeh Aman spoke with former UN chief weapons inspector HANS BLIX about the confrontation between Iran and the international community over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Blix urged the United States to participate in direct negotiations with Tehran and to offer Iran security guarantees that are similar to those being discussed with North Korea...(more)
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An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.