There is “absolutely no indication that Iran has any intention of making a strategic U-turn” on its nuclear ambitions, an arms control expert told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday, as the November 24 deadline for talks between Tehran and the international community approaches.
Emily Landau, a senior research fellow and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, noted that Iran is at the nuclear breakout point already. She cast a doubtful look at the effectiveness of negotiations held thus far by the P5+1 countries, which are seeking a diplomatic solution with the Islamic Republic.
She spoke days after Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who is in the US on an official visit, expressed concern over the direction of negotiations between Iran and the world powers. “No deal is better than a bad deal,” Ya’alon said this week.
While Iran is not increasing uranium stockpiles, Landau noted, “it is retaining the vast stockpile of LEU [low enriched uranium] that it had on the eve of the interim deal [signed in November 2013]. And it is continuing research and development on more and more advanced centrifuges.”
“If it decided to make a dash to the bomb, it could have the fissile material [HEU – high enriched uranium] in a matter of months, and it would take some more months to create a warhead,” Landau said.
“Talks are not going well,” she added.
“What we hear from Iran on almost all the issues is ‘no’: No dismantlement of centrifuges [Iran wants to increase them ten-fold]; no ceasing of enrichment; no closing the Fordow [uranium enrichment site] or Arak [heavy water plant that can be used to create plutonium]; no discussion of weaponization aspects of its nuclear program, and not cooperating with IAEA on outstanding questions,” Landau said.
Iran also refused to discuss its ballistic missile program, which can be used to produce a delivery mechanism for a nuclear weapon, she said.
“Iran has only said it is willing to introduce more transparency – it’s not clear to what degree – and there is talk about reconfiguring Arak so that the rate of possible plutonium extraction down the line would be much slower, but it would not eliminate this route to a future bomb,” said Landau.
Since October 2013, Iran’s bargaining strategy has been to get a maximum level of sanctions relief in exchange for the absolute minimal nuclear concessions, she noted, and “so far it is doing not badly from its point of view.”
The US has unsuccessfully offered various concessions in recent weeks to tempt Iran into a final deal, but Iran is not biting. “From Iran’s point of view, why should it? The minute Iran realizes that the other side is eager for a deal and is starting to back away from previous demands, Iran is, not surprisingly, waiting for an even better offer,” she said.
Additionally, the P5+1 countries have failed to effectively leverage the biting economic sanctions placed on Iran, and have even strengthened Iran’s position in negotiations.
With Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani on the same page “as far as working for a deal that would maintain Iran’s breakout capability while achieving sanctions relief,” Landau said she saw no sign at all of an Iranian willingness to make any real compromises.
Iran’s unrelenting position is strengthened further by the P5+1 group’s refusal to “squarely confront Iran with evidence of its past military work,” a move that could help force Iran’s hand, she continued.
“Letting Iran off the hook in this regard means giving up this important source of leverage,” Landau warned.
Looking ahead, Landau said a very likely scenario would involve another extension of the talks.
Asked to comment on the mysterious explosion that tore through Iran’s Parchin military complex this month, where, according to reports, nuclear weapons-related experiments are carried out, Landau said, “It’s not yet clear what happened, although satellite imagery shows that the explosion… was in two separate locations.”
Iran has denied the IAEA access to Parchin, and the last time inspectors from the atomic watchdog were allowed at the site was 2005.
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