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Unreasonable Redlines for Iranian Negotiators

Sadiqi declared certain key points to be non-negotiable. He said that Iran would accept no limits whatsoever on the number of centrifuges that the nation is permitted to keep in operation. These devices are used to enrich uranium so that it can be used either for energy production or for nuclear missiles. The United States reportedly wants to see Iran reduce its number of operational centrifuges to less than 5,000. But Iran is currently seeking to expand its supply to more than ten times that figure. Additionally, many of the newly installed centrifuges would be updates on previous models, and capable of more enrichment, at a faster pace.

The lower figure is considered sufficient for Iran’s realistic capacity for civilian uses of nuclear materials. The intended Iranian expansion, however, would significantly reduce the amount of time that it would take for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon.

In theory, the number of centrifuges is not of crucial importance if Iran is fully transparent about the extent of its enrichment and the destination of those nuclear materials. It would be impractical to expect the International Atomic Energy Authority to conduct inspections on a virtually unlimited scale, however. And to date, Iran has not provided anything like the sort of transparency that would allow such extensive inspections.

Spokespeople for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran have explicitly rejected the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which, if accepted, would give the IAEA the kind of unfettered access that would be absolutely necessary if Iran retained a low breakout time for a nuclear weapon. Additionally, on Thursday Iran missed a deadline for providing the IAEA with information to explain the country’s ongoing work on detonators that could be used for a nuclear weapon.

But even if none of these failures of transparency had been made by the Iranian regime, there would still be no benefit to tracking its enrichment activities, because Sadiqi also declared in his Friday speech that the level of enrichment was a non-negotiable redline, and that negotiators would be expected to rebuff any foreign attempts to restrict that enrichment to levels that would not further shorten Iran’s breakout period. 

Statements such as these make it difficult to conceive of what goal Western negotiators could possibly hope to pursue through talks with an increasingly intractable power. At the same time that Sadiqi’s remarks signify unwillingness to compromise on the topic of enrichment capability, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has made statements of his own that preclude the P5+1 from going after the other aspect of the nuclear weapons program, namely Iran’s weapons delivery systems.

This week, Khamenei rejected any and all attempts to place limits on the number of ballistic missiles in Iran’s arsenal. Calling such attempts “stupid and idiotic,” Khamenei set yet another redline that has contributing to the slowing progress of negotiations. Observers no longer take the success of those negotiations for granted, although many already objected to the perceived progress of the talks over the course of the past months.


Members of the United States congress, for instance, expressed concerns that they were not being consulted by President Obama on the topic of agreements that allowed Iran to enjoy the benefits of sanctions relief without being compelled to give up anything very significant related to its nuclear program, much less its domestic abuses or aggressive regional policies.

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