Thursday, February 11, 2010

Clearing up four widely held misconceptions about the fuel deal for Iran's Tehran research reactor

There are a lot of widely held misconceptions about how the reactor deal progressed.

1) The opposition was not important in Iran’s rejection of the Oct 19 terms. Iran did not accept the deal at the Oct meeting, and expressed its reservations immediately when the terms were presented. The opposition by the time it expressed the same reservations Iran’s government had expressed, was just jumping onto an already rolling bandwagon.

2) Iran did not ever accept the deal presented on Oct 19, or anything equivalent to that. The terms of the Oct 19 deal are onerous. Iran has to ship almost all of its uranium up front and after that has no leverage to force the West to return fuel. Iran would be in the same situation it currently faces unable to force Russia to fulfill its Bushehr contract or its S-300 air defense missile contract.

3) Iran did not ever reject the idea of a swap in the abstract. Iran did express support for a swap around the beginning of October. It’s rejection of the specific terms of the October 19 proposal was not a rejection of a swap. Nor was it going back on a previous acceptance. It was a rejection of a specific set of onerous conditions. Iran always said that with changes to ensure the Bushehr experience would not be repeated with the reactor fuel the swap deal would be acceptable.

4) One side has been inflexible, the West. The position of the West, expressed by now dozens of times, is that the terms of the Oct 19 deal cannot be altered. The point of the deal is not only to remove uranium from Iran’s domestic stock – that’s something Iran can accept. Based on the West's behavior and negotiating position, the point for the West must also be to have the reactor fuel as a piece of leverage that the West can use during negotiations to force Iran to make the further concession of giving up domestic enrichment. That, as the US should have known from the beginning, is something Iran cannot accept.

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