Inside Story

Iran: Breaking the nuclear deadlock?

As Tehran has started fresh talks about its disputed nuclear programme, we ask if the US is ready to ease sanctions.

Talks over Iran’s controversial nuclear activities are currently underway in Geneva where Iranian officials are meeting with members of six world powers to seek an end to the stalemate.

In the two-day talks that began on Tuesday, Mohamed Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, met with the US, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany.

If the US comes to recognise Iran's sovereign rights within the framework of the NPT, Iran's right to enrich uranium, then Iran will be flexible … I think Iranian’s will not agree to anything that limits its rights within the NPT and IAEA.

by Mohammad Marandi, Professor of politics at Tehran University

Iran has indicated it is prepared to suspend production of 20 percent enriched uranium. That is the big issue for the six powers because it is a relatively easy process to upgrade 20 percent uranium for weapons use.

Iranians also say they are willing to negotiate on the number of centrifuges they use to make low-grade enriched uranium. That is the kind used to fuel nuclear power stations.

Iranian officials claim they are ready to limit their enrichment programme to two facilities. That would mean suspending production at the sensitive underground Fordow facility, near the city of Qom.

Natanz is another site at the heart of Iran’s dispute with Western countries. Tehran announced in 2007 it had installed 3,000 new centrifuges there. In 2011, Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] it was planning to produce 20 percent enriched uranium.

Parchin it is a military site and home to one of Iran’s biggest munitions centres. There is no proof that it was used for nuclear activity but it is believed to have been used to test explosives that could be used in nuclear weapons.

The main fear from the Israeli side is that the US and Europe would agree to a compromise that would be acceptable by them that would end the sanctions against Iran but would be far away from the minimum level of demands that Israel put forward.

by Ronen Bergman, a senior correspondent, Yedioth Ahronoth

Iran’s technological gains could make it harder to negotiate. Although the new Iranian administration has signalled it is ready for a fresh start, Israel and other world powers remain cautious.

And Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called on the international community to be tough on Iran.

He said: “Iran is desperately trying to get these sanctions removed. I think it would be a historic mistake to ease the sanctions, when they’re so close to achieving their goals. And now is an opportune moment to reach a genuine diplomatic solution that peacefully ends Iran’s military nuclear programme. This opportunity can only be realised if the international community continues to place pressure on Iran.”

The talks in Geneva will show just how genuine the recent overtures by Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani really are.

Tehran’s negotiating team said the world powers’ reaction to their proposal was positive. And Washington is promising Tehran a quick lifting of sanctions in case of an agreement.

So, is it the beginning of the end of the deadlock over Iran’s nuclear activities?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Mohammad Marandi, a professor of politics at Tehran University; Ronen Bergman, a senior correspondent for military and intelligence affairs for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper; and Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council.

“There is a show of political will from the Obama side in the administration … Look at the region from the American perspective. Iran, paradoxically, is probably one of the easiest issues to deal with right now. It is low-hanging fruit compared to what’s happening in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan… And for the president [Obama] looking for a legacy this is not a completely unattractive path to pursue at this point even though it does carry some political cost.”

Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council