Iran appeared to hold firm to its nuclear ambitions on Sunday as nuclear talks loom and reports emerge that the US and its European allies could demand that Iran halt its 20 percent uranium enrichment and close its Fordow nuclear facility.


Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, told Iran’s ISNA news agency that the Islamic Republic will not close its Fordow facility or cease enrichment.

However, Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert at the IDC Herzliya, said Iran’s stance ahead of the talks was a negotiating ploy, and that the Islamic Republic would likely bring its own set of conditions to the negotiating table, just as the West reportedly will.

“We are at the very beginning of negotiations, and we need to see how much leverage each side has,” he added.

Iran’s position could include a declaration regarding the Islamic Republic’s future rights to enrich uranium to any level it wishes, he said. A deal struck by Iran with Brazil and Turkey in May 2010 included such a declaration of Iran’s “right to enrichment.”

In turn, the West may negotiate placing Iran’s nuclear facilities under close inspection, Javedanfar said.

However, Javedanfar noted that time was not on Iran’s side in the negotiations, because economic sanctions are putting the regime under pressure, giving the West additional leverage.

“The West can walk away from any deal,” he said. “Iran is in a bad position.”

Financial and trade sanctions against Iran, designed to squeeze its nuclear program, have had severe social and economic effects, and have led to rampant inflation and increased cost of goods.

In December, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told the official Islamic Republic News agency that the country “cannot pretend the sanctions are not having an effect.”

Ultimately, Iran’s decision to accept any deal with the West would depend heavily on the position of its Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, and on how much pressure he was under internally, Javedanfar added.

“Iran is scared of the West and sees any US initiative as a regime change,” he said.

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that US President Barack Obama asked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to convey to Khamenei that the US would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program, if Tehran can prove that is what it is pursuing.

However, according to Javedanfar, Khamenei sees any improvement in US relations with Iran as an “existential challenge” to the Iranian regime.

While sanctions could also be an existential challenge, they are less threatening to Khamenei than improved US-Iranian relations.

Javedanfar added that the West could put additional pressure on Iran by offering to supply the Islamic Republic with medical isotopes needed to treat cancer patients. Twenty-percent enriched uranium is the level required for such medical isotopes.

Iran claims that its nuclear program is for both medical reasons and civilian nuclear power. On Sunday, the staterun Press TV quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying during a meeting with former Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama that Iran is not pursuing anything beyond the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

If Iran’s claims are true then a Western offer to supply medical isotopes would take away any justification for Iran to continue to enrich at Fordow, Javedanfar said.

Such a move would also help destabilize the Iranian regime, because it would improve goodwill between the Iranian people and the West. Iran would likely reject such an offer, Javedanfar added.

“But it would delegitimize its cause for continuing enrichment,” he said.




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