Iran Nuclear Talks Stumble in Latest Round on Enrichment

Photographer: Dieter Nagl/AFP via Getty Images

Abbas Araghchi, center, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, arrives at the Austria Center Vienna after another round of talks between the EU 5+1 in Vienna on May 16, 2014. Close

Abbas Araghchi, center, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, arrives at the Austria Center... Read More

Close
Open
Photographer: Dieter Nagl/AFP via Getty Images

Abbas Araghchi, center, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, arrives at the Austria Center Vienna after another round of talks between the EU 5+1 in Vienna on May 16, 2014.

Diplomats negotiating over Iran’s atomic program ended the latest round of talks in Vienna without advancing their bid to reach a deal by July to impose nuclear curbs in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

The sides will meet twice next month in the Austrian capital to try to hammer out an accord, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said. “There was no tangible progress in this round, but the trend of negotiations was good,” Araghchi said at a briefing late yesterday broadcast by Press TV. “No drafting will be done until both sides have reached a mutual viewpoint.”

A U.S. official, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public, said the latest talks were difficult and Iranian negotiators should be aware that more urgency will be needed to meet their July deadline.

Diplomats at this week’s meeting were expected to begin drafting the text of a possible agreement that would end the decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear work. Negotiators want an agreement by July 20 to rescind banking and trade sanctions in exchange for limitations on Iran’s nuclear program.

The past three days of negotiations were “complex and detailed,” Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in an e-mail.

Dates for the next rounds of talks will be announced by the EU in the coming days, according to the U.S. official

Enrichment Capacity

One of the key sticking points in the negotiation has been defining a mutually acceptable uranium-enrichment capacity for Iran. Enrichment can produce both fuel for nuclear power plants and atomic bombs.

“The negotiators should call in technical experts from Urenco, Areva (AREVA), Rosatom, USEC (USU) and CNNC (2302) to make the calculations,” said Tariq Rauf, a Stockholm-based policy analyst who formerly helped the International Atomic Energy Agency establish a nuclear-fuel bank. Officials from companies involved in nuclear work would be preferable, he said, because “the diplomats are liable to bungle this issue.”

Diplomats have so far avoided negotiations using the standard technical measure for enrichment capacity, called “separative work units,” or SWUs. The talks have instead focused on defining a raw number of centrifuges that Iran should be permitted to possess.

Looking narrowly at the number of centrifuges -- the machines spinning at supersonic speeds to separate uranium isotopes -- could be misleading, Scott Kemp, a former science adviser to the U.S. State Department, said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

‘Standard Currency’

“When economists do risk-benefit analysis, everything is converted into constant dollars,” said Kemp, now a nuclear scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “That’s the standard currency for comparisons. In the enrichment business, the standard currency is SWU.”

Trying to regulate Iran’s nuclear work by concentrating on centrifuges could undermine an agreement, according to Kemp and Rauf. Machines and their parts can be upgraded to boost separative capacities.

“Industry standard calculations are available,” Rauf, who now leads the Stockholm Institute for Peace Research’s nuclear nonproliferation program, said in a written reply to questions. Using an SWU analysis, Rauf said, the IAEA assessed about 50,000 first-generation centrifuges “wouldn’t be out of sync” with the fuel needed for a 1,000-megawatt reactor.

Country’s Needs

Iran’s only reactor, the 1,000-megawatt unit at Bushehr, is currently fueled with uranium enriched by Russia. Iran, with the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, has the capacity to operate 50,000 centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

“Talking about the centrifuges is like giving bribes and being greedy,” an Iranian cleric, Kazem Sedighi, said at today’s Friday prayers in Tehran. “If in the negotiations we want to discuss the level of enrichment, the level should be in line with needs of the country.”

U.S. and Iranian diplomats met alone for three hours today and had a “serious and straightforward discussion,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Twitter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at acrawford6@bloomberg.net Eddie Buckle, Ben Holland

Press spacebar to pause and continue. Press esc to stop.

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.