But next week’s bilateral discussion will only be the premise for talks between Iran and the entire P5+1, which are not set to occur until November. This being the case, it is possible that this set of discussions will be the last to take place before a concluding session on or near the November 24 deadline that has been set for a final agreement.
As that deadline closes in, prospects for a deal seem dim, according to most observers of the process. This fact is largely attributable to high Iranian demands that have not wavered over the course of the talks, but have, if anything, grown more unrealistic. The US, by contrast, has softened its position repeatedly, recently conceding to allow Iran maintain a large proportion of its current uranium enrichment infrastructure, which may fear could facilitate a nuclear weapon breakout for the Islamic Republic.
Iran not only refuses to accept this latest proposal, it demands a roughly 20-fold expansion of its current enrichment capabilities. Such figures are not viewed as sensible by independent observers. Fewer centrifuges are considered adequate to serve Iran’s domestic energy needs, and its nuclear fuel is currently supplied by Russia, in an arrangement that could almost certainly persist long into the future.
Iran itself sometimes gives signs that its desired uranium stockpiles cannot truly be necessary for domestic purposes. The state-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Iranian Vice President for Science and Technology Affairs had attended the Innovation for Cool Earth Forum in Tokyo and declared that Iran is moving toward “energy consumption optimization.” If, as this implies, Iran’s domestic energy needs will be reduced in the near future, it eliminates some of Iran’s claimed need of very high levels of nuclear energy.
Nevertheless, the demand for greatly expanded enrichment was reiterated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in a statement on his personal website, which coincided with the announcement of the latest round of negotiations. The Rakyat Post refers to this statement, an infographic that includes ten other demands including the preservation of the heavily fortified Fordo enrichment site and the continuation of full-scale nuclear research and development.
Zee News suggests that some of this research may be specifically related to weaponization of Iran’s nuclear program, hidden from the eyes of inspectors. The article quotes a representative of the National Council of Resistance of Iran as claiming that the regime has moved the center piece of the Iran nuclear weapons program, the Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, in order to hide its operations from nuclear inspectors.
This would be in keeping with Iran’s further behavior regarding those inspectors. The Islamic Republic has failed to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in recent months, as the UN agency attempted to probe the possible military dimensions of the nation’s nuclear work. The IAEA has criticized that non-cooperation despite other statements that expressed optimism about Iran upholding its obligations and agreements. The latest criticism refers to Iran’s refusal to grant a visa to a UN nuclear expert who was meant to enter the country as part of a team of IAEA investigators.
As Reuters pointed out on Wednesday, the IAEA has stated that access is essential for any person designated as having the requisite expertise to complete inspections. Iran, for its part, did not explain the denial of the visa, which has occurred on three separate occasions with the same unnamed individual. Rather, Iranian officials merely asserted a right to full control over whom they allow into the country, even amidst ongoing negotiations with the West.
Such apparent efforts to stonewall full inspection of Iran’s nuclear program may be another major tripping point in those negotiations. Responding on Tuesday to an Atlantic reader who advocated for the US accepting a nuclear deal in order to avoid losing access for inspections, David Frum agreed about the importance of vigorous inspections but also pointed out that the West has insufficient access at present, and is unlikely to obtain more from a willing Iran.
Frum wrote: “[The rulers of Iran] are looking for the maximum economic benefit consistent with not abandoning their pursuit of a nuclear weapon. Any inspection rights the U.S. may ultimately obtain will be inspection rights within the context of persistent and profound Iranian rejection of the goals of an inspection regime.”