Centrifuge technology an obstacle in technical talks with Iran

Geneva talks freeze over new model of advanced nuclear centrifuge Iran says it has installed.

Centrifuges Natanz 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Centrifuges Natanz 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Technical discussions between Iran and world powers over the implementation of an interim nuclear agreement have taken longer than anticipated, in part due to disagreement over Iran’s desire to continue research into centrifuge technology.
Iran has already installed nearly 1,500 IR2Ms – a new generation of centrifuges that are up to five times more efficient at enriching uranium than older models, according to nuclear experts.
Since November 24, when the interim deal was forged, Iranian government officials have said publicly that their scientists continue to research ways to advance their centrifuge technology.
“This issue [centrifuges] was among the main factors in stopping the previous technical discussions on December 19-21,” a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Other Western diplomats confirmed that centrifuges remained a “sticking point” in the talks with Iran, but said that last month’s discussions were understandably adjourned ahead of the December holidays – not because of the centrifuge issue.
“As part of the [November 24] agreement, Iran is permitted to engage in R&D, but that is tempered by the fact that it is prohibited to install new centrifuges, except as required by wear and tear,” the first diplomat said.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday that nuclear negotiations with world powers had revealed US enmity toward the Islamic state.
“We had announced previously that on certain issues, if we feel it is expedient, we would negotiate with the Satan [the United States] to deter its evil,” Khamenei told a gathering, reported by the official IRNA news agency. “The nuclear talks showed the enmity of America against Iran, Iranians, Islam and Muslims.”
Talks between Iran and the EU started in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the practical details of implementing a nuclear agreement reached in Geneva in November, an EU spokeswoman in Brussels said.
“I hope during the two-day talks we can resolve the remaining technical issues which are based on our different interpretation of text of the November accord,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told state television in Geneva.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by telephone on Thursday, discussing Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West and aspects of “carrying out agreements reached on the Iran nuclear program,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
They discussed the conflict in Syria, Iranian media reported.
Iran is under UN, US and European Union sanctions for refusing to heed UN Security Council demands that it halt all enrichment- and plutonium-related work at its nuclear sites.
Khamenei said international sanctions imposed on Iran had not pressured the Islamic state to enter negotiations with major powers.
“Our enemies do not know the great Iranian nation. They think that their imposed sanctions forced Iran to enter negotiations.
No, it is wrong,” Khamenei said.
The experts have to work out when the accord will be implemented.
Western diplomats and Iranian officials say the six powers and Iran want to start implementing the deal on January 20.
“First the interim agreement needs to be implemented. I think that by the end of January, or at least I hope, it will be implemented.
That’s the interim period,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was keen to see the interim deal implemented, though she declined to predict the outcome of the latest talks.
She said US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman would be in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the issue with her European Union counterpart, Helga Schmid, and Iran’s negotiator, Araqchi.
Centrifuges are one of the primary tools used to enrich uranium to weapons-grade material.
The more advanced the tool, the more quickly the material can be enriched from harmless degrees – less than 5 percent, as outlined in the Geneva deal – to over 90%, which is enough for a warhead.
The interim deal forged by Iran and the P5+1 – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – requires Iran to freeze enrichment above 5%, and to begin degrading its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%.
Enriching the material to 20% is the hardest part of the process.
US officials told The Jerusalem Post that the goal is to wrap up the technical talks by the end of the weekend, but familiar obstacles remain. Upon their completion, the parties are to have six months to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear treaty.