Inside Story America

Is a deal likely on Iran’s nuclear programme?

As talks in Iraq fail, we ask what more is needed to break the standoff between Tehran and the world’s nuclear powers.

Two days of talks between Iran and six world powers have ended in Baghdad without any concrete agreement, except to meet again next month in Moscow.

At the heart of the talks is an attempt by the US and other world powers to persuade Iran to accept immediate restrictions on its nuclear programme.

The US believes the Iranians want to build atomic weapons. But Tehran denies this and says its nuclear reactors will be used only for energy and research purposes. Iran was previously enriching uranium up to 3.5 per cent, and only started enriching to 20 per cent in 2009.

Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to any per cent of purity … that’s why they are sticking to that point so strongly for the last 10 years and I don’t think they’re ever going to give it up.”

– Hooman Majid, an Iranian-American journalist and author

Known as the P5 + 1 group, the powers negotiating with Iran include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the US, Britain, Russia, China, France – plus Germany. They want Iran to stop enriching uranium to a concentration of 20 per cent. They say at that level it is easy to enrich the uranium further to develop weapons grade material.

Meanwhile, the Iranians went into the negotiations seeking an easing of crippling economic sanctions that have primarily targetted its oil exports.

After the talks concluded, Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said: “We expect Iran to take practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations.”

Hans Blix was the former chief weapons inspector for the UN’s nuclear watchdog in the run up to the US-led invasion of Iraq. Among other things, he told Al Jazeera: “It would be in Israel’s interest to avoid that there will be any enrichment plants anywhere in the Middle East … the question will be for the Israelis are they willing to sacrifice their own nuclear weapons, which they have regarded as a life insurance, but in return getting a well-verified zone free all sorts of fuel-cycle activities like enrichment and re-processing? I think the whole Middle East would benefit from that.”

Inside Story Americas asks: Can a deal be reached on Iran’s nuclear programme?

Joining presenter Anand Naidoo to discuss this are guests: Lawrence Korb, a former US assistant secretary of defence who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress; Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council; and Hooman Majid, an Iranian-American journalist and author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, a book on modern Iran.


  • There are five known nuclear sites, which Iran says are all used for civilian purposes. In addition, Iran also has three uranium mines.
  • There are other military and research sites that will be of interest to nuclear inspectors should they gain access to the country.
  • Last November, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, published a report saying Iran’s nuclear programme was showing “military dimensions”.
  • It said Iran has carried out tests “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”.
  • The report went on to highlight Iran’s “acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network”, as well as “work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components”.