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Iran: Changing Positions in Nuclear Talks?

Over the weekend, the US put forward a new proposal on the nuclear issue, aimed at securing the Iranian cooperation that has been less than forthcoming. The Obama administration has already been widely criticized for softening the US position repeatedly, and thus making any possible final deal unrecognizable compared to what the US seemed to be pursuing in the first place. These criticisms are only growing in light of the latest proposal, which shifts focus away from asking the Iranian regime to disassemble any of its uranium enrichment centrifuges, and instead merely demands that it disconnect the piping that links them together.

Fox News reports that Republic lawmakers have expressed grave concerns about the new trajectory of the negotiations, with 31 of them doing so in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry. Meanwhile, writing at Commentary Magazine, Jonathan Tobin puts these concerns in stark terms, accusing the administration of “waving the white flag” on the Iran nuclear issue. Tobin suggests that the pipe-removal proposal indicates how desperate President Obama is to secure a deal at any cost, and also how emboldened the Iranian regime feels by recent developments, so that it is unwilling to give anything up to the West.

This unwillingness is very much on display in the latest change in the Iranian negotiation position, which has moved in exactly the opposite direction as the US stance. The New Zealand Herald reports that Iran has dug in its heels on the issue of the Fordo nuclear site, which the West has thus far demanded be converted into a non-nuclear facility, due to the fact that it is built into a mountain, out of range of even bunker-busting bombs.

To justify its explicit refusal to convert the site, Iran made reference to last month’s incident involving the downing of an alleged Israeli drone aircraft. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps declared that the drone was on a mission from Israel to conduct surveillance of the Natanz nuclear site. Israel has not commented on the incident, although independent analysts have raised questions about the Iranian account, pointing out that Natanz is out of range from the alleged point of origin for a round trip mission by the type of drone that Iran claims to have shot down.

Regardless of the veracity of the threat to Natanz, the fact remains that Iran is attempting to use the existing threat to its above-ground nuclear sites as an argument for retaining its below-ground site, which was deemed unacceptable specifically because it could not be seriously threatened by a bombing mission.

The bold Iranian nuclear stance is also demonstrated by the fact that, according to the International Business Times, Iran is still demanding flexibility on the nuclear issue as a prerequisite for any assistance that it gives to the West in the conflict against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The White House explicitly rejected any notion of linking the two issues, as reported by Yahoo! News. But Republicans are clearly concerned that the latest bargaining position signifies that these denials are not entirely sincere.