Earlier this month Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and his delegation had suggested, in the long-awaited Geneva talks, an unexpected deal with the West regarding shipping much of its so far produced stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further enrichment to about 20%. It should then been returned to Iran in order to fuel Tehran’s research reactor for the production of medical isotopes. Many commentators were just surprised about completely new perspectives of international collaboration with the decade-long isolated pariah state. Possible motivations for Tehran’s seemingly constructive turn were quickly analyzed. Severe contamination of LEU, which had been produced in Natanz, with molybdenum had been identified as a major problem for further uranium enrichment at that site. But if Iran actually wants to master the full nuclear fuel cycle, reprocessing LEU in Esfahan’s uranium conversion facility should not be regarded a serious obstacle.
After further talks at the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Iran has missed in the meantime a deadline, set by the outgoing IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, of responding to a proposal which suggested that most of Iran’s LEU is exported to Russia and France. The issue is delicate, and Ali Ashgar Soltaniyeh, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, has definitely to get approval in Tehran which has signaled already that the country prefers to simply purchase the needed uranium for the research reactor from Russia. Soltaniyeh has promised to provide the IAEA with a final answer next week.
There are definitely heavy disputes within the complicated ruling hierarchy, in particular when considering the tremendous emphasis the possibly illegitimate President Ahmadinejad has given to Iran’s nuclear program in the past, which has allegedly only peaceful purposes. The proposed UN deal which has been agreed already by the US, France and Russia may there be regarded as lopsided debilitation of Tehran’s position; and a hastily set deadline by ElBaradei might have been a grave diplomatic mistake, indeed. Iranian delegations are usually competent chess players who easily rumble intentions of their western counterparts.
At the same time, IAEA inspectors are right now underway for a visit of the newly disclosed enrichment site near Qom which has been revealed to the public only last month, first in a letter by Iran to the IAEA dated September 21 and a couple of days later during a press conference by President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and President Nicolas Sarkozy in Pittsburgh at the G20 meeting. It is not clear whether the past few weeks had enabled Iran to remove revealing evidence that the site has already been operational. Some commentators have pitied that the West has not insisted on immediate inspections after the site had been made public.
There is fear that mutual trust and confidence building has come to an end already. Iran’s illegitimate government, in particular its hard-line president, may be in need of keeping the country in its pariah state, sad to say.