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Rowhani has at numerous times indicated that he is willing to bring more transparency to the Iranian nuclear program, but not to halt Iran’s lower-level enrichment. While more nuclear transparency is welcome, it is not enough, an American official told me recently. Iran would also need to accept some limits on its enrichment program to reassure the international community that it could not “break out” and produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon using declared facilities under regular inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Also recently, Iranian sources close to the new Iranian leadership suggested in consultations in Washington that Iran would be willing to limit the number of its centrifuges, but not the quality of them; to cap enrichment at 5%; to accept a more intrusive IAEA inspection and safeguards regime, and to sign the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, all in return for significant sanctions relief, recognition of its legal right to enrich for energy purposes and additional, unspecified incentives put forward by three European powers a decade ago.
One Iranian source, speaking not for attribution, suggested recently that Iran may be willing to reduce the number of its centrifuges to 3,500 — it currently has about 18,000. But it would like to keep the fortified underground enrichment facility at Qom, while the Natanz facility, the above ground enrichment site where Iran has some 15,000 centrifuges, is up for negotiation.
While such a proposal may meet United States’ requirements that Iran’s nuclear program be sufficiently monitored and limited to prevent a nuclear breakout capacity, it’s not clear it will meet Israel’s.
The White House has announced that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Obama in Washington on September 30 before addressing the General Assembly.
“I intend to focus on stopping the Iranian nuclear program, really stopping the nuclear program,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet. Among his demands are that Iran halt all uranium enrichment, remove all its stockpile of enriched uranium from the country, close the Qom enrichment facility and stop construction of its plutonium reactor at Arak.
“The Israelis fear that they understand the world is full of evil people, but the Obama administration only sees the world full of friends they haven’t made yet,” said Jon Alterman, head of Middle East studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Meantime, hawkish groups are working with the Senate banking committee to press for legislation that would impose a de facto embargo on Iran, while Senator Lindsey Graham is proposing legislation that would authorize the use of military force against Iran.
Despite the new, more positive mood between Washington and Tehran, Iran’s new leaders likely need to offer something enticing, and soon, for Obama to be able to sell a deal back home, to Congress and abroad to Israel.