Iran and six world powers held “constructive and useful” talks on a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program, according to a March 19 joint statement released by the parties.
A main topic of the talks between Iran and the six-country group, known as the P5+1 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), was Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.
The March 17-19 talks in Vienna were the second set of meetings between Iran and the P5+1 on a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program after the parties reached an interim agreement in November. Implementation of the initial actions began Jan. 20 and is to last six months. If an agreement is not reached, the interim deal can be extended by mutual consent of the two sides. U.S. officials have said they hope to reach a final deal within the first six months.
Iran maintains that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but some countries are concerned that Iran could use its nuclear capabilities to develop nuclear weapons.
During the first round of meetings on the comprehensive deal, which were held Feb. 18-20 in Vienna, the two sides agreed on a framework and timetable to guide the first four months of negotiations on a comprehensive deal. (See ACT, March 2014.) Technical experts from Iran and the P5+1 met in the first week of March in advance of the political-level negotiations to begin discussions of the issues identified during the February talks.
The two sides are scheduled to hold lower-level talks on technical issues April 3-5, followed by another round of higher-level negotiations April 7-9 in Vienna.
During a March 19 press conference in Vienna after the most recent round of talks, a senior Obama administration official described them as “extensive” and said that each side understands the “concerns” and “concepts” of the other.
At a separate March 19 press conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the head of his country’s negotiating team, said that the talks provided clarification on issues and were “constructive.”
One of the areas in which the sides remain “far apart” is the issue of uranium enrichment because Iran has “far-reaching demands” in this area, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said in a March 19 statement.
At the press conference, the senior Obama administration official said that the issue of Iranian enrichment activities encompasses “a lot of elements” ranging “from facilities to stockpiles to research and development to monitoring and transparency” and that the discussions on that subject were “extensive.”
According to the Nov. 24 Joint Plan of Action, Iran’s enrichment capacity will be determined according to its “practical needs.”
Although Iran’s current need for enriched uranium is very small because its only civilian nuclear power plant is fueled by Russia, Tehran has said it plans to build 16 new nuclear power reactors and a research reactor. The timelines for these projects, however, have not been made public.
The P5+1 is concerned about Iran retaining an extensive enrichment capacity and large stockpiles of enriched uranium because that would allow Tehran to build a nuclear weapon more quickly if it decided to do so.
Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on March 20 issued its second special report on Iran’s implementation of certain aspects of the interim deal. The first report was released Jan. 20, when implementation of the initial agreement began.
According to the March report, Iran is complying with its obligations under the deal. The IAEA confirmed that Iran is continuing to down-blend and convert its stockpiles of uranium that had been enriched to 20 percent. The Jan. 20 report confirmed that Iran had begun these activities.
As part of the initial deal, Iran agreed to dilute half of its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium to an enrichment level of less than 5 percent. Last month’s report confirmed that Iran completed half of the dilution before the March 20 deadline for that task.
The remaining half is being converted to a powder form that can be used to make fuel plates for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes.
Uranium refined to 20 percent is more easily enriched further to weapons grade than if it begins as reactor-grade uranium, which is enriched to less than 5 percent. Iran’s stockpile of the 20 percent-enriched material was a key concern for the international community.
The March 20 report also confirmed that the agency now has daily access to Iran’s two enrichment sites, Natanz and Fordow, and that Iran has not begun operating or installed any additional centrifuges at either site.