Deal Leaves Iran With a ‘Mutually Defined Enrichment Program’

Patrick Goodenough | November 24, 2013 | 6:47pm EST
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Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after the Iran deal was struck in Geneva on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

( – The initial nuclear deal struck with Iran at the weekend states unambiguously that the second step – or “comprehensive solution” – will “involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits.”

The wording allows Tehran to state that the U.S. and five other powers in the negotiations have conceded that a final agreement, due within six months, will leave Iran with a domestic uranium-enrichment program.

At the same time, the fact that the text does not state explicitly that Iran has a “right” to enrich enables the Obama administration to maintain that the U.S. does not recognize Iran or any country’s “right” to enrich under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – something stressed again by Secretary of State John Kerry in talk show interviews on Sunday.

Whether the U.S. recognizes it as a “right” or not, however, the fact remains that the deal concluded in Geneva – under which Iran agrees to restrict nuclear activities in exchange for limited and gradual sanctions relief – paves the way for a final agreement that will allow Iran to continue enriching at home.

Six U.N. Security Council resolutions passed between 2006 and 2010, five under the Bush administration and one under President Obama, demanded that Iran suspend “all” enrichment.

The actual references in the Geneva text are as follows:

This comprehensive solution would involve a mutually defined enrichment program with practical limits and transparency measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program.

And, further down in the agreement:

Elements of the final step of a comprehensive solution … [i]nvolve a mutually defined enrichment program with mutually agreed parameters consistent with practical needs, with agreed limits on scope and level of enrichment activities, capacity, where it is carried out, and stocks of enriched uranium, for a period to be agreed upon.”

The text also says that the existing Security Council resolutions will be addressed, “with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the U.N. Security Council’s consideration of this matter.”

A White House factsheet on the agreement does not mention the “mutually defined enrichment program” goal. It is also silent on the Security Council resolutions’ specific demands for a total suspension of enrichment.

“Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before,” Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said in a televised statement on Sunday.

On ABC’s This Week, Kerry reiterated that the NPT does not include a “right to enrich,” but agreed that ongoing enrichment was on the table.

“Under the terms of this agreement, there will be a negotiation over whether or not they [the Iranians] could have a very limited, completely verifiable, extraordinarily constrained program where they might have some medical research or other things they could do,” he said.

“And everywhere in this particular agreement, it states that they could only do that by mutual agreement, and that nothing is agreed on until everything is agreed on.”

The Iranians, Kerry continued, could only retain the capacity to enrich, “if they live up to the whole set of terms necessary to prove it’s a peaceful program. So Iran has some very stiff hurdles that they’re going to have to meet in order to do that. There is no right, and there is no right granted in this agreement.”

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei flanked by top security officers on Wednesday, November 20, 2013. (Photo: Office of the supreme leader)

‘Ignoring Security Council resolutions’

Iran stated throughout that a continued enrichment program at home was a “red line” it was not prepared to cross. It’s clear that had the P5+1 negotiators insisted on explicitly ruling that out, no agreement would have been reached.

Critics believe the track record of deceit and defiance characterizing Iran’s nuclear activities, and the nature of the regime itself, should disqualify it from being allowed to continue enriching at home.

“This is the first time the world’s leading powers have agreed to uranium enrichment while ignoring Security Council resolutions which they led and years’ worth of sanctions which contain the key to a peaceful diplomatic solution,” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

“These sanctions are now being removed in return for cosmetic concessions which can be undone by the Iranians within weeks.”

Having a nuclear energy program does not require domestic enrichment: Of 24 non-nuclear weapons countries that have nuclear energy programs, only five apart from Iran enrich at home, according to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. They are Argentina, Brazil. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands.

None of the other 18 have domestic enrichment programs, but instead obtain fuel for their reactors from outside, under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision. They are Armenia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Mexico, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and Ukraine.

A near-neighbor of Iran, the United Arab Emirates, is currently developing a nuclear energy program in consultation with the IAEA, and has also resolved to forgo domestic enrichment and reprocessing.

Reactor-grade uranium is 3.5 percent while weapons-grade is 90+ percent. Under the new interim deal Iran agrees to stop all above five percent enrichment for six months and to dilute current stocks of 20 percent enriched uranium, to bring it below the five percent mark.

It is not required to stop 3.5 percent enrichment, however, although it has agreed that its stockpile of 3.5 percent enriched uranium must be the same size at the end of the six months as it is at the beginning (therefore, any actual increase over that period would have to be counteracted by converting the additional stocks to oxide).

As of early November, the IAEA reported that Iran’s total 3.5 percent stocks had reached 7154.3 kilograms – enough, according to experts, to make at least four bombs if processed further to weapons-grade material. The amount has risen from 839 kilograms reported by the IAEA in November 2008, two months before Obama took office.

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