Iran nuclear talks: What happened to the nuclear fuel-swap deal?
Movement on a fuel-swap deal with Iran stalled after two days of nuclear talks in Istanbul ended in stalemate.
But the two days of talks ended in stalemate. Negotiators from the so-called P5+1 nations ‚Äď US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany ‚Äď could not move beyond Iranian preconditions that the group recognize Iran‚Äôs ‚Äúright‚ÄĚ to enrich uranium and agree to drop sanctions before substantive talks could begin.
So what happened to the nuclear fuel-swap deal?
And how did the P5+1 revise the deal first put to Iran ‚Äď and rejected by it ‚Äď in October 2009? In that proposal, Iran would have exported the bulk of its homemade low-enriched uranium (LEU) for further refinement in Russia, then made into fuel rods in France, for a small research reactor in Tehran.
The short answer is that the deal was barely discussed. But the ‚Äúupgraded‚ÄĚ version of the deal, which was laid out for the Iranians at the Istanbul talks, requires that Iran export a ‚Äúgreatly increased quantity,‚ÄĚ according to Western diplomats engaged in the talks.
The long answer depends on whom you ask.
After the talks ended Saturday, Iran‚Äôs chief negotiator Saeed Jalili made no mention of the fuel-swap proposal in lengthy comments to journalists until asked specifically about it.
Speaking in the future tense, Mr. Jalili said a fuel deal ‚Äúcould be one of the most important areas for cooperation,‚ÄĚ and that during talks in Istanbul on this point ‚Äúwe very openly put forward what we want.‚ÄĚ
After the Istanbul sessions ended without progress, and while most press coverage cited Iran‚Äôs preconditions for the breakdown, Jalili‚Äôs deputy on Iran‚Äôs Supreme National Security Council talked further on the fuel swap.
A story by Iran‚Äôs state-run PressTV, titled ‚ÄúIran ready to talk fuel swap,‚ÄĚ quotes Ali Baqeri as saying that Iran received the P5+1 proposal, but ‚Äúwe stressed that Iran does not need fuel swap and what prompts Iran to negotiate on the issue is cooperation and not necessity.‚ÄĚ
Iranian officials say the decades-old reactor in Tehran, which is used to make medical isotopes, is running out of fuel. Fabricating the material is a complex process only undertaken by a few countries anymore, a process that ‚Äď as hopes for a deal have remained elusive ‚Äď Iran has claimed it will master.
‚ÄúThese talks could continue in the future and there is no obstacle, but the P5+1 should be given an opportunity to reach a conclusion for cooperation,‚ÄĚ Baqeri said.
Iranian officials have said before they would not give away more in a fuel-swap deal, as required by the one spelled out in Istanbul. Since the first offer, and in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, Iran has continued to enrich uranium to 3.5 percent purity.
Iran also began enriching to 19.75 percent last February ‚Äď the level needed to make its own fuel for the Tehran reactor, but also one step closer to being capable of making a nuclear weapon.
So what did that ‚Äúupgraded‚ÄĚ fuel offer entail?
On Friday night, the first night of Istanbul talks, Iranian negotiators seemed to ‚Äúwaver‚ÄĚ in their insistence about previous preconditions, which paved the way for a Saturday morning meeting between the US, Russia, and France with Iran ‚Äúto set out what we meant [by] updating‚ÄĚ the fuel-swap deal, according to a senior European diplomat involved in the talks.
‚ÄúWhereas 15 months ago we saw the removal of 1,200 kilograms of [LEU] from Iran as a very considerable confidence building measure, its value had sharply fallen in the intermediate period because [now] they‚Äôve got a whole lot more [LEU],‚ÄĚ said the European diplomat, who spoke with several journalists after the talks on the condition of anonymity.
‚ÄúTherefore on our side, we wanted [Iran to export] a greatly increased quantity. The number changes over time. The important number is ‚Ä¶ not the number we remove, it‚Äôs what‚Äôs left behind,‚ÄĚ the diplomat said. ‚ÄúWhat we wanted to do is to leave behind in Iran roughly what would have been left behind in the original [October 2009] proposal ‚Äď that is to say, it is a level which is some way short of what you need to make a weapon.‚ÄĚ
The new P5+1 proposal would also include removal of all the 19.75 percent enriched material. ‚ÄúThat had to go as well. And any deal would have to involve agreement by Iran that they would cease enriching to that level, too,‚ÄĚ said the diplomat.
Iranian officials have stated in the past that they would not accept a deal that requires them to ship out even more nuclear material in exchange for fuel. But Western diplomats say they never got far enough with Iran to test that position.
‚ÄúThere wasn‚Äôt, on either the [fuel swap] proposals or the transparency measures which were suggested, a specific or detailed reaction [from Iran],‚ÄĚ said a senior US official at the talks. ‚ÄúAnd in fairness, we put them on the table [and] said we‚Äôre prepared to talk about them in more detail, and talk about them seriously, but ‚Ä¶ the conversation then shifted essentially to, ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the basis for having those kind of conversations?' "