An agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that would effectively end its weapons development efforts has already been reached, according to Washington Post columnist David Ignatius.
“Iran is following the script for a gradual, face-saving exit from a nuclear program that even Russia and China have signaled is too dangerous,” he writes in a column published on Wednesday. “The Iranians will bargain up to the edge of the cliff, but they don’t seem eager to jump.”
According to Ignatius, the “mechanics of an eventual settlement are clear enough” following Saturday’s first round of talks in Istanbul, Turkey, between the “P5+1” group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — and Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.
Under that settlement, Iran would agree to stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and to halt work at an underground facility near Qom built to enrich uranium to even higher levels.
Iran would also export its stockpile of enriched uranium for final processing to 20 percent, to be delivered back to Iran for use in medical treatments.
Enrichment raises the concentration of uranium-235 in a uranium supply, which in natural uranium is just 0.71 percent by weight with the rest being uranium-238. Uranium in which uranium-235 comprises 5 percent of the weight can be used in some reactors. Research reactors use uranium enriched to about 20 percent. Nuclear weapons usually require at least 85 percent enrichment, although a crude weapon can be made with much less enrichment.
Ignatius asserts that the basic framework for the agreement was set weeks ago in an exchange of letters between Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 group, and Jalili.
The columnist, who has received a lifetime achievement award from the International Committee for Foreign Journalism, observes: “In the language of these talks, the Iranians could describe their actions not as concessions to the West but as ‘confidence-building’ measures, aimed at demonstrating the seriousness of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s public pledge in February not to commit the ‘grave sin’ of building a nuclear weapon.
“And the West would describe its easing of sanctions not as a climb down but as ‘reciprocity.’”
The Iranian regime appears to be preparing the public for a deal that limits enrichment, Ignatius says, adding that “the smart money in Tehran is betting on a deal” — indicated by a huge surge in the Iranian stock market the day after the talks opened.
Word of an agreement “may sound like wishful thinking,” Anshel Pfeffer writes in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “But it probably reflects accurately the hopes of the senior U.S. State Department diplomats directing the negotiations with Iran.
“If indeed Iran can be persuaded to agree to such an outcome, in the guise of ‘confidence-building’ measures, without actually relinquishing its right to enrich uranium to 20 percent but in practice not doing so, then [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu may have no choice but to go along with it.”
But Pfeffer cautions that “there are numerous foreseeable pitfalls. For a start, verification. Whatever Iran says, Israel and the Western powers will be justifiably suspicious of a clandestine enrichment program continuing.
“Following the complete failure of the U.S.-North Korea nuclear deal, less than two months after it was signed, will the administration be willing to risk another diplomatic humiliation?”
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