A senior White House official on Monday indicated that Iran will likely be allowed to continue some small amounts of uranium enrichment as part of a final deal on its nuclear program, offering a possible endgame for the next six months.
As part of the first-step agreement signed in Geneva over the weekend, Iran is allowed to continue to process uranium to low-levels of enrichment, while neutralizing their more highly enriched stockpiles. Iran is also banned from installing new centrifuges and has been forced to halt the spinning of its more advanced cascades. The question now remains whether that will continue forward into the final deal that will be negotiated between Iran and the P5+1 — made up of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China, and Russia.
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes seemed to indicate that it was a possibility during an interview with CNN’s Christine Amanpour. “Yes,” Rhodes said, “if and only if Iran can meet all of our concerns, give us assurance that their program is peaceful, accept significant constraints that meet the test of the United States and the international community, if and only if in that circumstance could we foresee that acceptance of that capability.”
That enrichment capability was in no way a guarantee, Rhodes was quick to stress. “However, if Iran does not meet all of our concerns, they maintain their current status quo of being outside of their international obligations, so to be clear, this is not a right that we are conferring,” he said, “this is a negotiation to see if we can get to a place where we’re assured. If we can’t get there, they have no right and continue to face sanctions.”
Rhodes was referring to one of the major sticking points of the negotiations, in which Tehran insisted that the text of the document include a “right to enrichment.” Under Iran’s argument, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed and ratified, grants states the right to produce peaceful nuclear energy and thus includes enrichment. The Obama administration has to date rejected this thinking, instead leaving the language of the interim agreement vague enough that both sides could declare victory.
While Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been publicly railing against any deal struck with Tehran since before the talks began, other members of the Israeli security establishment disagree. Former Israeli intelligence chief Amos Yadlin recently said it was “reasonable” for Iran to enrich uranium while under strict international supervision. Former diplomats, scholars and other experts also agree that the odds are low that all enrichment activities will be banned be part of the final accord between the P5+1 and Iran.
During an earlier interview, also on CNN, Rhodes demurred on whether the president would veto any new sanctions on Iran that could pass through Congress during the negotiating period. “We do not believe there should be new sanctions,” Rhodes told CNN host Wolf Blitzer. “We’ve said to Congress, we shouldn’t move forward with sanctions during the next six months because we have to test whether the negotiations will work.” Members of the House and Senate alike have been pressuring the White House to allow new sanctions to be in place should a deal not be reached at the end of the interim period, a prospect that the administration believes could tank the negotiations entirely.
The two sides are due to meet in December to agree upon implementing actions for the agreement, before the clock begins on the six months to come to a final accord in January.