Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear

By Juan Cole

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, expressed confidence that the few remaining issues between the UN Security Council and Iran will be settled.

Earlier this week, Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, also surprised the world by expressing the conviction that a deal would be reached between the US and Iran over the nuclear enrichment program.

It is hard not to conclude that this outbreak of optimism has to do at least in part with the rise of ISIL in Mosul and the consequent US need for an Iranian partner. It seems implausible that the US can stiffen the spine of the Baghdad government and military, and can provide close air support to forces on the ground successfully without Iranian help.

Rouhani said that his optimism derives from the breakthroughs already achieved, especially the UNSC and American recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium to produce fuel for reactors.

He is implying that had the UNSC and the West been irresponsible and had they refused to compromise even a little on Iranian enrichment, then the deal would never have borne fruit.

What is left, Rouhani said, is merely working out the details of how to practically to reassure the UNSC and the US that Iran does not have a secret nucler weapons program.

Iran has already cast most of its stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.25% for its medical reactor in a form that makes it impossible to use it for bomb-making. That stockpile was a central worry among the nuclear hawks.

Among other steps it must take to reassure the UNSC and the US is to make sure its proposed heavy water reactor cannot be used to produce fissile material. Likewise, it may have to accept frequent and some surprise inspections by UN inspectors. The UNSC wants it to lower the number of centrifuges it can run.

All of these steps are aimed at allowing Iran to retain the capacity for enrichment while mollifying the suspicious among Western analysts.

Rouhani’s point is that they are all possible to achieve, and very likely will be achieved, if not by November 24, then by a later deadline.

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Related video:

Reuters: “U.S., Iran and EU begin nuclear talks in Vienna”

26 Responses

  1. I have always wondered why Iran is so adamant about its nuclear program. It seems they are betting on old technology when they clearly have other options.

    Nuclear reactors require a lot of water for cooling, something that is in short supply in the Middle East. I live next to a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania, and as wet as it is here, the Schuykill River is not enough. We have to pump water from abandoned coal mines and reservoirs, as well as the Delaware River 50 miles away. I know the Iranians plan on using sea water because of its location (Bushir) but that has problems as well.

    “Using salt water to cool the reactor is a “Hail Mary” move. As the water reaches high temperatures in the core salt will precipitate and stick to the hot surfaces. Before long the pipes will get internally coated with solid salt deposits and the flow will be restricted then cut off altogether. You can imagine the rest. ”

    With so many days of sunlight and the cost of solar panels plummeting, it would seem that solar energy would be the correct choice. It would also allow the electrification of villages far from the grid.

    Or if they are intent on nuclear energy, what about a thorium core nuclear reactor? Thorium is more plentiful and much harder to weaponize than current nuclear reactors. In the late 60s the US developed a working prototype for one. In spite of its economic advantages it was rejected by Oakridge for the following reason:

    “The reasons were that uranium breeder reactors were more efficient, the research was proven, and byproducts could be used to make nuclear weapons.”

    This was our rationale for rejecting the more reliable and safer Thorium design. It is probably Iran’s as well.

  2. The issues surrounding the Iranian nuclear program have been mainly political and not technical. The world has known, at least since the 2007 NIE report, that Iran has not been pursuing a nuclear weapons program since 2003, if she ever did. Some officials close to Iranian nuclear program have said openly that at the height of the Iran-Iraq war when Iran was subjected to massive chemical attacks by Saddam’s forces, mainly provided from Western sources, and the fear of the development of nuclear weapons by Saddam, some officials in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps suggested that Iran should develop those weapons to counter Saddam. However, according to the historian and investigative journalist, Gareth Porter, who has done a great deal of work on Iranian nuclear program, Ayatollah Khomeini rejected the suggestion and Ayatollah Khamenei too has issued a fatwa saying the making, storing and use of nuclear weapons is Haram, religiously forbidden.
    link to foreignpolicy.com

    In any case, after the US invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam’s government, many Iranian officials have persuasively argued that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be more of a liability than an asset. However, anytime that the IAEA and the West have tried to reach a deal with Iran, Israel and her friends have provided a new excuse to scuttle the talks, such as the alleged information on a laptop that Iranian officials have been denied access to, which allegedly shows some experiments that could have military implications, or lately the issue of the “breakout capability” that has no place in the NPT.

    The question is whether the West still wants to make use of the nuclear issue to impose sanctions on Iran and restrict her role in the Middle East and beyond, or whether in the light of the latest terrorist threats in the Middle East and tensions with Russia it wants to put an end to Iran’s isolation and ask for her help in tackling diverse problems in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and beyond. Even apart from all these considerations, it is time for the West to settle the nuclear issue with Iran and lift the sanctions, because failing to do so would undermine the NPT and would show the lack of sincerity regarding real nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, such as Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.

    • Currently, Iran flares(burns off) 10% of its natural gas and uses 15% of its production to inject into oil fields. That is a loss of 25%. Furthermore, 40% of Iran’s electrical generation is through burning oil, an incredible waste of money. Just by converting all electric generation to natural gas Iran could save its more precious commodity, oil for the future. It has the second largest reserves of natural gas in the world. That is surely enough to bridge the gap until solar or some other energy source becomes cost effective.

      It is intriguing why Iran invests so much effort into an energy source that is being abandoned by the rest of the world. In Iran’s case, the disadvantages are:

      Consumption of a valuable resource, water, for cooling the core.
      It is expensive and not very scalable.
      Where do you store the waste (the US still hasn’t been able to address this issue)
      Iran is prone to earthquakes, which makes it a terrible place to build a reactor.

      There is no advantage to pursuing nuclear energy in Iran’s case unless your intention is to build the bomb.

      • “Iran is prone to earthquakes, which makes it a terrible place to build a reactor.”

        Yes, after the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns in Japan, you would think that the last place anyone would want to construct a nuclear reactor was where earthquakes were likely to occur.

      • “unless your intention is to build the bomb”
        One bomb, two bomb, 99 nuclear bombs? How is Iran to compete with countries sucking up the world resources to maintain their tens of thousands?
        Why would any country give up its sovereign rights? Nuclear industry is used for medical, agricultural and food processing industry and science. Knowing how to is not illegal, stockpiling hundreds by hook or by crook is just plain nasty. If they are to pump water, either thru purification plants or thou out the country, they need nuclear power.

      • Donald and Mark! I agree with almost everything that you say. Personally, I am not in favor of nuclear energy for Iran when the country has not explored all other options, especially solar and wind energy, which is plentiful in Iran. However, Iran’s nuclear program is not solely about whether it makes economic sense or not. It is about much more than that. It is about hypocrisy and double standards. At the time of the Shah, all the factors that you refer to existed and Iran still had much more abundant deposits of oil and gas than at present, but the United States was encouraging Iran – or at least acquiescing – to build 23 nuclear reactors.

        The objections of Israel and neocons to Iran’s nuclear program have not been due to the fact that they think Iran has better options. Iran has been under U.S. sanctions since 1979 Islamic revolution. Bushehr nuclear reactor that was being built by Germany was nearly 90 per cent complete when the revolution took place, and Iran had already paid six billion dollars to Germany for it, which was a huge amount of money in those days. Iran asked Germany to complete the reactor, but under U.S. pressure they refused to do so.

        There is such a thing as national pride and self-determination in international relations. According to some reports, Iran has spent close to 300 billion dollars in actual payment or losses suffered as the result of her nuclear program. Iranian leaders and it seems the majority of Iranian people are not willing to give up that program just because Israel or U.S. hawks demand that they should do so.

        There is also such a thing as international law. Iran was one of the first countries to join the NPT and according to NPT Iran is entitled to have a peaceful nuclear program, and there is no provision in it about the number of centrifuges you can have or about the “breakout capability”.

        Iranians have said that they do not accept nuclear apartheid. All that the West is entitled to demand is to have a robust inspection policy to make sure that Iran’s nuclear program will not be diverted to military uses.

        My hope is that Iran and the West will be able to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement next month, because the reasons against it are totally bogus. However, afterwards, when Iran has proved her point, I hope Iranian leaders will be persuaded to have a more rational energy policy and make greater use of solar and wind energy and make better use of their gas resources. There will be great scope for Western companies with knowhow in those fields to help Iran to diversity her energy sources, but at the moment the argument to stop Iran from pursuing her nuclear program is about wanting to use this issue to put pressure on Iran for other political purposes.

        • Farhang,

          I kind of understand your point. Pride causes all countries to pursue non-practical policies. Hopefully, the Iranian leaders are wise enough to pursue a more practical and better approach to electrification, like Germany has (it mothballed its nuclear reactors). Honestly, though, I don’t believe they will and probably will develop a nuclear weapon. Saudi Arabia will probably pursue on then because a fear of Iranian hegemony. Then we will be facing an India/Pakistan type of situation.

          As my grandmother used to say, just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something.

    • The “breakout capability” you reference is what has been causing so much international concern.

      The Institute For Science and International Security in a January of 2013 report predicted that Iran would have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon by mid-2014 and recommended that the U.S. president threaten military action if such an event occurred:

      link to reuters.com

      “……….such as Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.”

      Israel had evaded the IAEA for decades and only very recently allowed that regulatory body to inspect the Soreq Nuclear Research Facility and have never permitted any inspection of the Negev Nuclear Research Facility at Dimona by the IAEA. As a result of this evasiveness, Israel has manufactured 400 launchable fission and thermonuclear fusion bombs, according to a declassified 1997 U.S. Air Force Intelligence report “Holy of Holies”; this conclusion is accepted by most experts as accurate.

      Israel’s acquisition of an atomic arsenal would have been avoidable if the U.S. and United Nations had taken swift action when intelligence was available to substantiate Israel’s intentions.

      The fact that Shia theocrats have denounced nuclear weaponry is of no moment either – as other elements within the Iranian government may seek construction of a nuclear arsenal with honorable intentions – as Israeli leaders did secretly in the 1960s.

      In the mid-1960s the members of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian agency, expressed reservations that elements within the Israeli government were secretly intending to manufacture nuclear bombs – and that such conduct would open up Israel to international vilification. Those otherwise astute observations vastly overestimated the zealousness of Western powers in confronting Israel in its bold attempts to acquire a nuclear arsenal that currently menaces the well-being of not only those in the Middle East, but all consumers of the world’s food chain.

      Iran is a de facto ally of the West in the fight against ISIS and should give its unfettered cooperation with to allay fears of the international community that it may seek to weaponize its uranium holdings via enrichment.

  3. From the year 2005 to 2011 world solar energy production has increased by 2000%. During the same time period, Iran’s solar energy production only increased by 25%, in spite of the following advantages:

    “Iran’s unique geographical position means 90% of the country has enough sun to generate solar power 300 days a year. According to PressTV Iran has 520 watts per hour per square meter of solar radiation every day.[54] Other sources give an average of 2,200 kilowatt-hour solar radiation per square meter.”

    And yet they waste billions of dollars on their nuclear technology program on an outdated technology, that most of the rest of the world is discarding.

  4. The Iranians shouldn’t be too optimistic. A deal with US depends on who is in charge in US-politics.

    What if more radical elements in the US gain more influence again? The entire discussion about Irans nuclear program was only an excuse to find a reason for a war anyway.

    • What if more radical elements in the US gain more influence again?

      Make that “What if more radical neocon elements in the US gain more influence?”

  5. Elie Elhadj

    US/Iran nuclear deal is part of US embrace of Iran, like US inaction on Asad’s crimes, which empowered Shii Crescent.

    • If a nuclear deal does happen, it will be interesting to see if Assad’s regime comes into play. A couple of weeks ago, Peter Lee (China Hand) predicted an Iranian nuke deal would be reached only if Iran also gave up their support of Assad. If that were the case, Saudi Arabia might be part of a much larger peace plan. After all, the U.S. doesn’t need Iran to defeat ISIS, but they do need Iran to stop aiding Assad. The Saudis also want that to happen.

    • Sounds hard to believe when there was such strong opposition from other embraced allies such as Saudi Arabia or Israel for any sort of reasonable nuke or peace deal.

      The US actually embraced Russia’s bail out as an action. Sunni bloc unfortunately didn’t provide much confidence earlier by allowing Sunni radicals (same ideological types that are a threat globally and who Iran are naturally opposed to) free hand in the area which made such military action to intervene difficult to contemplate (and US reluctance to do so again), due to wide-spread consequences and sectarian optics, possibly messier than Iraq 2003, which is still what’s unfolding.

  6. to those who wonder why Iran needs nuclear tech: because a sovereign country should have all options on the table. Iran is not just a country it is a country that has existed for 3000 years and has more rights than others. nation-state is a new concept for Europe but has been established fact in Iran since Sassanid empire (200 AD). The reason that Iran has survived Arab, Turk and mongol invasions is the fact that it was a nation-state before these attacks even happen

    • Or if they prefer I can take them of a tour of Three Mile River near my house, where we were so close to a nuclear meltdown.

  7. It really isn’t an embrace of the Shia crescent. The American public will never accept that. I think the current US administration is looking for a foreign policy legacy, something like Richard Nixon’s China legacy. Unfortunately, the president has suffered a lot of foreign policy reverses. He needs this agreement with Iran to work to leave something positive behind. In the long run, however, it probably isn’t good for the US, Israel, the predominantly Sunni countries in the Middle East, nor Iran itself. It is a lose lose lose situation for everyone and will only trigger an arms race in a very unstable part of the world.

    • Observing how the terminology and meaning is used is interesting. ‘Shia crescent’, a term coined by a Sunni head of state, popular amongst growing anti-Iran, if not anti-Shia, Sunni citizens, as well as hawkish ‘expert’ US TV pundits. Why elicit such a rejection from the US public, which even 3 years or so into the Iraq invasion couldn’t tell what a Shia or Sunni is? Does the US public accept only ‘Sunni allies’ then? Are there any ‘Shia allies’? Are Iraq and Lebanon or their populations left out in the cold? Are we going by regimes or populations, such as Bahrain?

      If the US needed to set a precedent it could have started with Israel. However, Iran is cooperating. As much as equally, if not more, fundamentalist Saudi Arabia and right-wing Israel’s fears may hype it, there’s better faith seen in believing the Iranians are using it for civilian purposes. They already built the infrastructures and sticking with the technology, like most other nations do. They are however also expanding to other renewable energy sources like the other Gulf or regional states are doing, but as you correctly point out, already allegedly have or seeking to have weapons, regardless of international laws.

      • Saf,

        Regarding renewable energy, you are incorrect. Solar would seem the most attractive alternative, given the number of days of sunlight. Notwithstanding, from the period 2005-2011, Iran’s solar energy grew only 25% while the rest of the world grew at 2000%. If you look at a map of solar energy production Iran remains one of the world’s renewable laggards (behind Europe, Africa,China, India and North America.

        Furthermore, Iran flares off 10% of its natural gas production which could provide 100% of Iran’s electricity, eliminating the need for diesel generation(40% or Iran’s electrical generation), which is an incredible waste of a valuable commodity. The switch to natural gas would reduce Iran’s carbon footprint by 10% and eliminate other pollutants(from burning diesel).

        • Saudi Arabia is a bit of a laggard as well, in spite of achieving grid parity of solar

          “Grid parity (or socket parity) occurs when an alternative energy source can generate electricity at a levelized cost (LCoE) that is less than or equal to the price of purchasing power from the electricity grid. The term is most commonly used when discussing renewable energy sources, notably solar power and wind power.”

          They still generate 40% of their power from diesel ( what a waste!). They sound like a candidate for the nuclear club as well.

  8. Consider what a diplomatic resolution is up against: “A mysterious Iran-nuke document: A mysterious document has been used for a half dozen years to derail nuclear talks with Iran, but its origins remain dubious and one expert says it’s been used to take international inspectors ‘for a ride,’” as Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. – link to consortiumnews.com

  9. In addition to nuclear energy, and for the present more important, is enriched uranium for cancer radiation treatment, which Iran is unable to buy because of sanctions. I agree with the sovereign right to produce too, but Iran does have a practical use for enriched uranium. link to washingtonpost.com

  10. So you spend 300 billion dollars to manufacture medical isotopes that you could buy on the international market for a couple of million. Doesn’t sound like much of a business deal.

  11. Boy, this is not what the extremist Arab sheikhs had in mind when they bankrolled the jihadis in Syria to roll back the fictional Shia threat.

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