With the deadline for a nuclear agreement less than two weeks away, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a statement on his website on Monday, in which he complicated the talks by further raising Iranian demands for enrichment capability. In it, he insisted that his officials had determined that the nation requires 190,000 separative work unites (SWUs) – the equivalent of 190,000 first-generation centrifuges – to fulfill its domestic enrichment need.
The West has categorically rejected the idea that Iran needs even its current quantities of domestic enrichment for civilian purposes. It has called for Iran to reduce its stockpile of centrifuges to about 3,000 or fewer. Nonetheless, Iran has formerly maintained that it must be allowed to keep 50,000 centrifuges operational – a five-fold increase from its current number. Apart from increasing this demand, Khamenei’s statement falsely boasts of forcing Western concessions, claiming that negotiators are now willing to accept an operational capacity of 10,000 centrifuges.
Khamenei’s escalating demands reinforce the point made by Telegraph blogger David Blair. He writes approvingly of the close relations between Iran and the United States amidst ongoing negotiations, but argues that even such well-intentioned diplomacy may be incapable of securing a deal, because the gap between the opposing positions is simply too wide. Blair suggests that Iran will be entirely unwilling to reverse its nuclear program, as the US would require it to do.
Writing in the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin emphasizes that the two sides have agreed to nothing of any value, and she suggests that that failure should be used as an opportunity for the US to get tough with Iran by reauthorizing sanctions and supporting Israel in a possible military response. “The U.S. has already given up far too much for nothing,” she writes, after pointing out that there is no possible peaceful use for tens of thousands of centrifuges.
In another, less explicit commentary coming from a place closer to the negotiations, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius implied that the prospects for a deal had worsened in recent days because of elements that support the overly demanding Iranian side. Fabius remarked that there were growing differences between the Western nations and Iran’s traditional ally Russia over their approaches to the talks.
Amidst such pessimism about the negotiations, reports indicate that US Secretary of State John Kerry may join the talks along with foreign ministers from the other nations involved. Rather than helping to secure a deal by the July 20 deadline, these senior figures may fill the role of setting the terms of an extension to the talks.
Sanctions Relief and Defiance
At the same time that the US has failed to stand up to Iran by defending its organized opposition, the overall soft approach of the Obama administration, including temporary sanctions relief, has apparently helped Iran to diminish some of its economic problems. According to Tehran Times, the Iranian government has initiated new plans for the petrochemical industry that may have the effect of increasing output by some two million tons this year. Sanctions relief is credited for the country’s ability to invest billions of dollars in these efforts.
Tehran Times specifically notes plans to turn Chabahar Port into a petrochemical hub that will make it easier to reach the Indian market. This may be indicative of Indian incentives to deal more closely with Iran. Trade Arabia points out that India has just paid a second installment of 550 million dollars that it owes to Iran and can now pay under the terms of the interim nuclear deal that released frozen Iranian assets. This goes to show that Iran is still benefiting considerably from that interim agreement, even as the failure of a final deal appears imminent.
But as reported earlier, the easing of sanctions may have already motivated many international businesses to seek access to the Iranian market, regardless of whether doing so has been made legal. Following immediately upon the news that French bank BNP Paribas has arranged to pay nine billion dollars in penalties to the US for similar offenses, it is now being reported that Germany’s Commerzbank may soon pay 500 million dollars in penalties and avoid criminal charges for illegally dealing with Iran and other US-sanctioned countries.