Talks in NY Fail to Clear Enrichment Logjam

September 30, 2014

Publication Type: 

  • Policy Briefs

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear

Nuclear talks with Iran continued last week in New York, although any progress achieved was apparently not enough to justify elevating negotiations to the foreign minister level. Officials from both the P5+1 states (Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States) and Iran voiced hope that a deal was within reach while also cautioning that the remaining issues could be the toughest to work out. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters on September 26 that a Friday meeting between Iran and the P5+1 had been called off due to lack of progress. The parties may set a date for a new round of talks sometime this week.

According to press reports, this near stalemate has led American negotiators to consider allowing Iran to keep about half of its currently-operating centrifuges while reducing the amount of uranium gas fed into the machines. For its part, Iran has insisted on maintaining all currently operating centrifuges (about 10,000).  Iran also has refused to consider relocating its centrifuges from the fortified underground site at Fordow after entertaining the idea in previous talks.

Despite the apparent deadlock around the negotiating table, comments from the various parties in New York showed some optimism that a way forward was still possible. In a September 27 interview with Bloomberg Television, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that he remained “cautiously optimistic," while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted as telling reporters on September 25 that the parties “have never been so close to a deal.”  On the Iranian side, President Hassan Rouhani reportedly told a group of former U.S. officials during an off-the-record dinner in New York on September 23 that he would like to reach a deal by October in order to leave time to settle technical details by the interim accord’s November 24 deadline.  And in an exclusive interview with Voice of America’s Persian service on September 25, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman said she believed the talks were making progress, while also noting that some “very crucial decisions” remained. Sherman added that suspension of major sanctions against Iran would occur “very early” in any final agreement.

In addition to the impasse over centrifuges, questions remain about research carried out by Iran that may be aimed at perfecting a nuclear weapon. In this vein, Israeli intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz issued a statement on September 24 renewing allegations that Iran had conducted experiments at its Parchin military base designed to test a neutron initiator for a nuclear weapon.  The Israeli statement echoed concerns expressed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in November 2011, when the Agency reported on evidence concerning possible nuclear weapon-related research by Iranian scientists. Iran recently missed an August 25 deadline to inform the IAEA about work on the initiation of high explosive shock waves and on neutron transport calculations.

Various non-governmental organizations and experts continue to comment on the requirements of a final deal. Writing for the Belfer Center’s “Iran Matters” Web site ("Why Iran's Ballistic Missiles Matter"), former IAEA inspector Olli Heinonen argued that limits on Iran’s ballistic missile program must be included, citing evidence of Tehran's work on integrating a nuclear weapon with a missile delivery vehicle.  Heinonen’s comments came as Iran once again paraded its 2,000 km-range, solid-fuel Sejjil missile and a variety of other military systems as part of its Sacred Defense week.