Nuclear deadlock



International efforts to resolve the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear programme has suffered a setback after a deal which was considered to be acceptable to all parties has run into trouble. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany (P5+1) and Iran, after hard negotiations, had come close to an agreement which had originated in the US but underwent changes in the course of talks. It would have answered temporarily the West’s questions about Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and served as a confidence-building measure. According to the plan Iran was to give custody of its 1,200 kg of low enriched uranium at its plant at Natanz to the International Atomic Energy Agency  (IAEA). The IAEA would get it further enriched in Russia and fabricated into fuel rods in France and send back to Iran for production of medical isotops which Iran claims it is meant for. The deal was acceptable to the West because it would have deprived Iran of the reason to enrich its uranium to higher levels.

It seems there is opposition within Iran to the deal and the reasons could be partly political, arising from the fact that President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad is yet to consolidate his position after winning the recent elections. The wisdom of sending the whole stockpile of accumulated uranium out of the country is being questioned. Many in Iran also do not like the idea of the fuel rods being made in France. The only country, other than America, which can make the fuel rods for Iran is Argentina, which in unwilling to do it. But these problems do not seem to be insurmountable. Iran would also like to get more credible guarantees about the return of its uranium. Argentina may be taken on board with some persuasion.

If the deal is further modified to assuage Iran’s concerns it can be a win-win agreement. Iran is happy with it because it does not involve suspension of the enrichment programme and the West accepts it because it is sure of the end use of the uranium. Efforts seem to be under way behind the scenes to get around the problems that have come up and the West, especially the US, would do well not to take recourse to the usual aggressive and counter-productive rhetoric against Iran.

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