A new round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, namely the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, is upon us. Based on the failures of previous talks, the upcoming discussions scheduled for April 14 have had an air of pessimism hanging over them.
But not all hope is lost.
A recent proposal by the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), as well as a leaked report about U.S and European demands for the upcoming talks, suggest some common ground may be emerging between the two sides.
The report, leaked to The New York Times, find the U.S and European position in the upcoming talks is centered around demands that Iran ceases uranium enrichment of 20 percent at the Fordo nuclear site near the city of Qom. This is in addition to a demand that Iran transfers its existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.
Meanwhile, according to a proposal by Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, who is the current head of the AEOI, Iran “could eventually stop its production of the 20 percent enriched uranium needed for a research reactor, used for medical research and treatments.” Davani then goes on to add: “Iran would continue enriching uranium to lower levels of about 3.5 percent for power generation.”
It’s not clear whether Davani’s view represents that of Ali Khamenei, and it’s certainly the supreme leader who has the final word on nuclear matters. Still, his proposal that Iran could eventually stop production of 20 percent enriched uranium deserves attention.
There are, of course, gaps between the current U.S and European position on the one side, and Davani’s proposal on the other. For example, Davani’s proposal doesn’t include the transfer of existing stock of Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium. However, despite the differences, the proposals on each side show two important areas of common interest.
One is the U.S and European proposal that shows there’s tacit agreement to Iran enriching at lower levels on its own soil. This is a departure from previous Israeli demands, as well as those under the administration of George W. Bush, that enrichment in Iran must stop altogether. This overture also happens to chime with Davani’s proposal that Iran continues with lower level enrichment on its soil.
The other area of common ground is the idea of ceasing enrichment at Fordo. The difference between the two sides is a matter of timing – the U.S and European position calls for immediate cessation, while Davani’s proposal calls for “eventual” cessation.
In terms of areas of concern on both side, the Iranians during previous deals have expressed concern that if they transfer all their enriched uranium abroad in large batches, they will be left with no leverage if the West doesn’t comply with its own commitments. At the same time, the Iranian government is most probably extremely concerned about the current unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States and the EU against its central bank. This is in addition to sanctions imposed by the international SWIFT clearing system against transactions with Iran’s other banks.
Meanwhile the P5+1 is for its part concerned about continued enrichment of 20 percent at Iran’s nuclear site in Fordo, as well as Iran’s existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium.