A senior U.S. official said that Iran was deliberately taking “inadequate and unworkable” positions regarding its nuclear program. The top-ranking Obama administration official, speaking on Saturday ahead of talks between Iran and world powers, warned the country that it would have to deal with strict limitations on its ability to produce nuclear fuel for at least a decade, if not longer.
The official, speaking to a large group of journalists on the condition of anonymity, is deeply involved in the negotiations over Iran’s rogue nuclear program. The press conference occurred only a few hours before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna for the talks. Although the official said that some progress had been made, his comments strongly indicated that a deal would not be reached by the July 20 deadline. Washington has warned that it will not look to extend the talks beyond the deadline if Tehran refuses to make serious concessions in the next few days.
The Islamic republic currently has approximately 10,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, and another 9,000 centrifuges that are prepared but not functioning fully. Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that the country intends to increase its enrichment capabilities by a factor of 19. He has similarly said that U.S. demands about Iran’s nuclear program only operating 10,000 centrifuges were “unworkable” as well. American officials have said that the number they would ultimately be satisfied with is in fact far lower than 10,000, though they refused to elaborate further.
U.S. officials downplayed the absence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from the summit on Sunday. France announced last week that Russia was distancing itself from positions it had jointly taken with the other world powers involved in the talks. Those countries included China, Britain and Germany, as well as the U.S., Russia and France. The Chinese foreign minister also decided not to attend the meeting.
In February 2010, the UN released a report declaring that the international organization possessed conclusive evidence detailing undisclosed Iranian efforts to produce a nuclear warhead. In June of that year, the UN enacted its fourth round of sanctions against Tehran, specifically targeting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. This shadowy arm of the Iranian military controls the country’s nuclear program. It has also been accused of committing acts of international terrorism, and aiding terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The UN sanctions also mandated that planes entering or leaving Iran must be searched in order to prevent the country from smuggling banned items.
The West stepped up its sanctions program against Iran in November 2011. Several countries, led by the U.S., announced a coordinated sanctions effort against Tehran’s financial system. The UN also released a report at the time stating both that it had evidence that Iran had worked on developing a nuclear device at its Parchin military base and that those activities could have been still going on.
Negotiations between Iran and world powers broke down in May 2012. An EU embargo on Iranian oil went into effect only a few weeks later. Tehran retaliated by announcing efforts to disturb traffic in a vital shipping lane in the Persian Gulf. It also began testing missiles in a transparent attempt to intimidate Israel and the U.S.
Western sanctions continued to take their toll on the country. In late 2012, Iran’s economy collapsed. Another round of American sanctions went into effect in February 2013, shortly after Tehran announced that it would deploy more centrifuges. The U.S. expanded its sanctions in May and June of that year. In January 2014, the two sides struck a deal on a temporary freeze of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for limited relief from sanctions. The terms of that deal end on July 20.
The fact that a U.S. official has said that Iran’s nuclear program was “unworkable” signals the deep division between the two sides at the start of Sunday’s summits. Even after years of political sabre-rattling and horse-trading, a long-term resolution to the stalemate remains elusive.
By Yitzchak Besser