Tehran's No. 1 demand for Iran nuclear talks in Moscow

In the buildup to next week's Iran nuclear talks in Moscow, Tehran has demanded that Western powers formally acknowledge its right to enrich uranium.

Vahid Salemi/AP
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili speaks in a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, unseen, in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 13.

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Heading into Iran nuclear talks next week, Tehran's top demand is that Western powers acknowledge its right to uranium enrichment, reports the Tehran Times.

That is one of five Iranian proposals will be on the table at next week's Iran nuclear talks in Moscow, the third round in negotiations that were renewed this spring. The Moscow talks, held June 18-19, will be crucial in determining whether any headway can be made on the diplomatic track before a European oil embargo that is due to take effect next month.

A drumbeat of comments from Iranian officials in recent weeks – all insisting on Iran's "inalienable right" to enrich uranium – seem to be trying to build a case for blaming Western powers if the talks in Moscow fail by making their opening position clear.

Earlier this week Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said that Iran is "very serious and prepared" for the negotiations. "Grounds for the success of this meeting depend on the manner of cooperation and positive and constructive approach of the [P5+1]," he said, according to Fars News Agency. "The more seriously they will be ready to enter the talks and recognize our inalienable rights, the more the grounds will be for the success of the talks."

While Iran in principle has the right to enrichment as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the West has insisted that it suspend all enrichment activity until it can assuage international concerns that it is conducting nuclear weapons-related work under the guise of a civilian nuclear power program.

Article IV of the NPT does make reference to the "inalienable right of all the Parties to the Treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination" – but under the condition that that right is exercised in conformity with Articles I and II, which prohibit the development and/or transfer of nuclear-weapons technology.

"Under NPT, uranium enrichment is a definite right of the Islamic Republic of Iran and any other NPT member. There is no prohibition under NPT over any kind of enrichment for peaceful purposes," Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, told parliament yesterday, according to Bloomberg. "It's possible that we may need higher or lower enrichment for other peaceful applications. This is our right, and we must be able to exercise this right."

Iran has enriched uranium not only to the 5 percent level required for nuclear energy, but also to 20 percent, which it says is necessary for a medical research reactor.

But Western powers involved in negotiations – comprised of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, and known as the P5+1 – are concerned because enriching to 20 percent is a process that is technically close to enriching to weapons-grade of 90 percent or more.

The P5+1 has suggested that Iran cease enrichment and ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country in exchange for a promise from the West to provide it with any 20 percent enrichment uranium needed for civilian purposes.

But Iran sees such proposals as biased and stemming not only from security concerns but also antipathy toward the Iranian government.

Javad Jahangirzadeh, a member of the parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, chastised the P5+1 in parliament yesterday for its "double-standard" when dealing with Iran, saying, the P5+1 "has no right to treat us outside norms." 

The chairman of the committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, described the West's demands as "politically motivated" and issued a direct warning: "Undoubtedly, the US and the West have been the losing sides of this game and they had better not continue this game," he said, according to Iran's Fars News Agency.

For any concessions on the right to enrich uranium, Iran has demanded a lifting of Western economic and oil sanctions.

Yesterday Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, said that the Iranian negotiating team should show no "leniency" on the issue of uranium enrichment, according to a separate report from the Tehran Times. 

“The nuclear negotiating team has no right to show leniency in regard to the Iranian nation’s rights,” said Mr. Larijani, who was formerly Iran's top nuclear negotiator. “In relation to the degree of enrichment, Iran can determine the degree as it wishes, and this issue is no obstacle to the progress of our nuclear technology [program].” 

Iran announced earlier this week that it is preparing to produce a nuclear-powered submarine, which would require weapons-grade fuel. The Wall Street Journal reports that the US, Israel, and UN nuclear watchdog "have long worried" that Iran would do something like this that would give them a reason to enrich uranium to 90 percent or more.

But Iran is seen as far from capable of producing a nuclear submarine at this point and some analysts see the announcement as simply an attempt to gain negotiating leverage for the Moscow talks.

"One of the few if only civilian pretexts for weapon-grade uranium are nuclear submarines, so it was fairly predictable that Iran would announce its desire to build them," Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the WSJ. "The gap between Iran's bluster and its capabilities, especially prior to negotiations, is wider than the Strait of Hormouz."

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