Report: US mulls letting Iran keep uranium enrichment facilities in nuclear deal

Israel: Peaceful nuke programs don't require uranium enrichment.

Obama in New York 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Obama in New York 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
US President Barack Obama is considering the possibility of allowing Iran to keep uranium enrichment facilities on its soil, presumably for peaceful purposes, as part of a deal with Tehran over its disputed nuclear program, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
The report came as talks between Iran and world powers on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program were set to resume in Geneva on Tuesday morning.
Both Israel and Saudi Arabia oppose allowing Iran to enrich uranium on its soil, fearing that it would be used to produce nuclear weapons.
The Wall Street Journal quoted a senior US official as saying that Washington was willing to talk to Iran "about what President Obama said in his address at the UN General Assembly, and that is that he respects the rights of the Iranian people to access a peaceful nuclear program." The official stated that what this entails is exactly the matter that is up for discussion.
Israel's security cabinet released a statement prior to the start of talks on Tuesday, saying that Jerusalem "does not oppose Iran having a peaceful nuclear energy program. But as has been demonstrated in many countries, from Canada to Indonesia, peaceful programs do not require uranium enrichment or plutonium production. Iran's nuclear weapons program does."
A country that can enrich uranium to about 3.5% will also have the capability to enrich to 90%, the security cabinet said, warning the West against prematurley easing sanctions. "Having fuel cycle capability virtually means that a country that possesses this capability is able to produce nuclear weapons."
A bipartisan group of US senators wrote to Obama on Monday, saying that if Iran first suspends all uranium enrichment, the US Senate will then agree to suspend its work on new sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The 10 signatories, among the most influential members on foreign policy in the upper chamber, proposed the “suspension for suspension” offer just as the P5+1 – the US, Russia, the UK, France, China and Germany were set to sit down for talks with Iran for the first time since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
“The onus is on the Iranians to fulfill and implement a host of action items to include enrichment suspension, and in return, the senators are ‘willing to match,’” one congressional aide familiar with the letter told The Jerusalem Post. “But enrichment suspension remains paramount and [a] US military threat remains on the table.”
Iran entered negotiations last month with the goal of getting existing sanctions lifted. But for several months, Congress has worked to close loopholes in those penalties with new legislation.
“The intent of sanctions is to force Iran to halt and dismantle its nuclear weapons program. Once this goal has been accomplished in a real, transparent, and verifiable way, we will be prepared to remove existing sanctions in a measured, sequenced manner,” the senators wrote.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that now is the time to strengthen sanctions against Iran, not weaken them. Accordingly, Netanyahu has worked in the last weeks to sway the international community – including those in the P5+1 talks – not to accept any half-measures, asking them not to ease sanctions until Tehran halts its enrichment of uranium and removes the material from the country.
In addition, he said, Iran must dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
At the Knesset on Monday, the prime minister warned that a nuclear Iran was dangerous for Israel, the region and the world.
But, he noted, once Iran had nuclear weapons “it will direct them first and foremost at us. The Iranians have openly declared that this is their intention and therefore Israel cannot allow Iran, which has championed our destruction, to acquire nuclear weapons.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif has said a possible deal on the nuclear program with the West might include strict international oversight over low-level enrichment within Iran’s existing plants. But Iranian officials have said they will not remove enriched uranium from their country.
“If the Iranian government takes these steps in a verifiable and transparent manner, we are willing to match Iran’s good-faith actions by suspending the implementation of the next round of sanctions currently under consideration by Congress,” the letter said.
The bipartisan group of senators who penned the letter include Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina); Charles Schumer (DNew York); Roy Blunt (RMissouri); and John McCain (R-Arizona).
“If Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran,” the letter reads.
A resolution passed by the House of Representatives last August tightens sanctions against Iran significantly, by disallowing the continuation of waivers for companies within allied countries buying Iranian oil. The goal of the bill is to bring Iranian oil exports down to zero.
Similar language is being considered in the Senate, which is likely to address the bill in committee next month for a vote by the end of the year, barring any agreement with the Iranians.
“The critical test will be Iran’s proposal to the P5+1 this week in Geneva,” the letter reads, calling on Iran to abide by the rules of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty and all resolutions passed by the UN Security Council regarding its nuclear program.
The senators call for a “convincing threat of the use of force” to support the administration’s “sincere demonstration of openness” to peace talks.
“We reaffirm that a credible military threat remains on the table and we underscore the imperative that the current sanctions be maintained aggressively, and call on you to increase pressure through sanctions already in place.”
As the White House prepares for talks this week, a senior administration official says the US wants to achieve a deal with Iran that will allay the fears of all parties directly impacted by the country’s expanding nuclear program.
“No one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” a US official said. He added that Washington was ready to offer Iran rapid relief from economic sanctions if Tehran moved quickly to address concerns that the ultimate goal of its nuclear work was to make bombs.
Any potential sanctions relief, the official said, would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table.”
“I’m sure they will disagree about what is proportionate,” the official said. “But we are quite clear about what the menu of options are and what will match what.”Tovah Lazaroff and Reuters contributed to this report.