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Details emerge on Iran's priorities in nuclear talks

Iran says it is willing to lower uranium enrichment levels to end sanctions. But it also set out red lines in PowerPoint presentation at recent Moscow talks.

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Economic pain

The sanctions have damaged Iran's economy and have tightened in recent days, with a European Union oil embargo and more US measures coming into effect. Sanctions relief is not among incentives of the P5+1 package, and many of the escalating American measures imposed by Congress require more than Iranian movement on its nuclear case in order to be lifted.

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On the last page of the Iranian response document is a cryptic line in quotations marks, apparently referring to the P5+1 package, which reads with ellipses: "The United States is prepared to ... adjust its sanctions policy...."

Of the four main objectives listed at the top of Iran's PowerPoint proposal, the first is to "normalize Iran's nuclear file" at the UN and with its nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), "by termination of the UNSC, unilateral, and multilateral sanctions against Iran."

"We said we need a quick response.... We warned them that tomorrow it may not be the case that 20 percent [enrichment] is still the issue," says the Iranian official, noting some calls in Tehran to raise the level of enrichment – an unlikely and provocative step.

"We said closing Fordow is completely out of the question, and provided the explanation that it is not a military base and is under safeguard by the IAEA," he says. "So there is no need to close it, it is not a matter of concern."

That point is made in Iran's official presentations. Stating that there is "no limitation" to IAEA access at Fordow, the documents add that "sustained threats" against Iran's nuclear program and the assassination of a number of its scientists make protection of sensitive facilities "necessary."

Threats

"Facing constant threats, we need a backup facility to safeguard our enrichment activities," Iran's document states. Iran further suggested that it has plans for "at least four other research reactors," and therefore needed a steady supply of 20 percent enriched uranium to make fuel for them.

Iran further stated that there was no reason to ship its current stockpile out of the country, because it was already under IAEA "supervision" and "seal" inside Iran – and would be so anywhere else.

Underpinning the Iranian position, according to the PowerPoint presentation and document – a third, shorter PowerPoint about the legal implications of the fatwa by Iran's top religious authority rejecting nuclear weapons has not yet been made public – is that both sides move forward "step by step" in a reciprocal, simultaneous and balanced way.

The documents also say Iran is committed to both rights and obligations under the NPT, which include removing doubt about longstanding accusations of past weapons-related work, and accepting more intrusive inspections. While dismissing those charges as "baseless accusations and ambiguities," the PowerPoint says Iran will "transparently cooperate" with the IAEA to clear up "possible military dimensions."

Under the title: "A framework for comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation among 7 countries," Iran calls for top negotiators –  Saeed Jalili for Iran and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for the P5+1 – to meet every three months.

Barely mentioned is that the P5+1 also requires Iran to suspend all enrichment – including the bulk of its work, at 3.5 percent purity for nuclear fuel – in keeping with UN Security Council and IAEA resolutions. Iran has always rejected such a move.

Critical for "guaranteeing the success" of the talks, reads one Iranian PowerPoint slide, is that both sides "clearly set the ultimate outcome of the talks" up front – meaning, in Iran's view, that the P5+1 agree to lift all sanctions by the end of the process, and "normalize" Iran's nuclear efforts.

But many of Iran's official positions are unacceptable to the P5+1, just as many P5+1 proposals are unacceptable to Iran. Any common ground will be chewed over at the next meeting, between deputies of the top negotiators, on a date not yet specified.

"We've come up with a pretty good package with which, if they take it at face value, we could be trundling down a productive path for both of us," says the Western diplomat. "The most important carrot is a process toward rehabilitation, respect, and acknowledgment, of which the immediate steps are meant to get down the track to that wider, comprehensive arrangement."

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