Nuclear negotiators still waiting for Iran RSVP

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The government of Iran has still not gotten back to international negotiators about a prospective date and venue for a new round of nuclear talks with six world powers, a diplomat told the Back Channel Sunday.

“No news,” a spokesperson for the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told the Back Channel by email Sunday in response to a query.

Ashton’s deputy Helga Schmid held a telephone call with deputy Iran nuclear negotiator Dr. Ali Bagheri on December 12th to propose possible dates and the venue of Istanbul for a new meeting. Although one date proposed was December 20, several western diplomats said their expectation was that a new meeting would not materialize until January.

Meantime, Iran is due to host a senior team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Iran on January 16th.

Amid the uncertainty on when nuclear negotiations will resume, the Obama administration gave a somewhat upbeat assessment to the New York Times last week about Iran’s having held flat its stockpile of higher enriched uranium last summer.

The IAEA reported in August that Iran had coverted almost half its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium for medical use, thus keeping its stockpile of the higher enriched fuel steady at 91kg between May and August, during a time when the P5+1 held three rounds of talks with Iran. “One American official said the move amounted to trying to ‘put more time on the clock to solve this,’ characterizing it as a step ‘you have to assume was highly calculated, because everything the Iranians do in a negotiation is highly calculated,’” the New York Times’ David Sanger and James Risen reported Thursday (Dec. 27).

However, the subsequent IAEA Iran report from November showed that Iran’s diversion of 20% fuel for medical purposes had not continued in the fall. Rather, Iran resumed adding to its 20% stockpile, which had grown to almost 135 KG by November 18th.

Former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian said the reason for the temporary diversion is simple: Iran has now produced enough 20% enriched uranium to build the fuel rods needed for the Tehran Research Reactor that produces isotopes to treat Iranian cancer patients. Thus, “from now on and as a confidence building [measure], Tehran [can] try either to convert or to slow down the production amount,” Mousavian told the Back Channel last week.

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