Iran Nuclear Talks: West Demands Closure of Fordo Underground Facility
The US and Europe are to demand that Iran dismantle its fortified underground nuclear facility and halt higher grade uranium enrichment at a new round of talks this week as a condition for lifting sanctions and the threat of a military attack.
Barack Obama has reiterated that Washington is prepared to accept Tehran maintaining a peaceful nuclear power programme but at the same time the White House is becoming more explicit in warning that the negotiations beginning in Istanbul on Friday are “perhaps a last chance” for diplomacy to work.
Diplomats say Iran will be pressed by the permanent UN security council members plus Germany, known as the P5+1, to shut its underground nuclear facility at Fordo, to stop enriching uranium to 20%, and to hand over the estimated 100kg of uranium already enriched to that level.
The demands match those made by Binyamin Netanyahu at a White House meeting last month at which Obama pressed the Israeli prime minister to hold off from a military attack on Iran and give sanctions and diplomacy an opportunity to work. Britain and France are also pushing for Iran to dismantle those parts of its nuclear programme that could be used for weapons.
Israel’s defence minister, Ehud Barak, has warned that for the major powers to accept anything less than the demand for an end to uranium enrichment would be a victory for Tehran.
“We told our American friends as well as the Europeans that we would have expected the pressure for successful negotiations to be clear - namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly, no more enrichment to 20% [and] all the already enriched 20% material out of the country,” Barak told CNN on Sunday. “But if the P5+1 will settle for a much lower threshold, like just stop enriching to 20%, it means that basically the Iranians, at a very cheap cost, bought their way into continuing their military programme. Slightly slower but without sanctions. That will be a total change of direction for the worse.”
The Israeli defence minister added that while oil and banking sanctions have clearly had an impact, causing inflation in Iran to nearly double to 21.5% in urban areas, he doubted they will be enough to force Tehran’s hand.
“We hope for the better but I don’t believe that this amount of sanctions and pressure will bring the Iranian leadership to the conclusion that they have to stop their nuclear military programme,” he said.
Barak repeated his view that while matters will not come to a head within weeks, it will not take years, either.
Israel is itself an undeclared nuclear power with an undetermined number of atom bombs.
Obama continues to throw his weight behind diplomacy and sanctions while warning he will use force as a last resort. Washington, however, does not believe there is the urgency that Israel claims, in part because the White House is sceptical that Iran is as close to being able to develop a nuclear weapon as Netanyahu says.
Last month in Washington, the Israeli prime minister publicly derided sanctions and claims that Tehran is not already engaged in developing a nuclear weapon.
The US president has sent out several messages to Tehran in recent days warning that this is perhaps the last chance to negotiate an end to the crisis. The most recent was passed via the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at a meeting in South Korea on nuclear non-proliferation.
The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has also pressed the message that time is running out for negotiations. She said last week that the US was taking part in the talks in Turkey because they may be “a last chance to demonstrate a way forward that can satisfy the international community’s concerns and have Iran come forward and accept limitations on what they are able to do”.
Clinton warned that she did “not want the Iranians to go into it with the attitude of that we can just keep it open and never have to come to any outcome”.