One Iran/P5+1 gap appears to narrow

At Al-Monitor, Arash Karami reports what might be an interesting development with respect to the nuclear talks:

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization head Ali Akbar Salehi has spoken on Iranian television about the political and technical setbacks in the most recent nuclear talks between Iran the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1).

Iran currently purchases nuclear fuel for its Bushehr reactor from Russia, but that contract runs out in eight years. Salehi said that Iran had expressed its needs to the International Atomic Energy Agency and said that in eight years Iran would need to secure more fuel, 30 tons for one year.

Salehi said that Iran is willing to “take steps” to reach this level and that in its proposal, Iran asked the P5+1 to determine the first steps that should be taken, while Iran determines the final steps. He added that the final goal would be 190,000 separative work units, a figure that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on the nuclear program, gave in a July 2014 speech.

According to Salehi, the P5+1 is not opposed to Iran reaching that level, but has proposed “between 10 to 20 years” rather than eight.

Salehi, as his title indicates, is almost certainly giving the official government position here, and what makes it interesting is the suggestion that Iran is looking to normalize its nuclear program in eight years. Until now they’ve been pretty consistent that they wanted any deal to sunset after five years. The gap between five years and the “double digits” being sought by the P5+1 has been one of the major sticking points in the talks.

Three years might not seem like much, but in the context of these talks and the kind of deal the P5+1 countries seem like they could accept, it’s huge. The P5+1 started out looking for a 20 year deal, but they would likely take 10 and declare victory. If the two sides are only two years apart now as opposed to five, that seems like a pretty surmountable hurdle. The Iranians could give on the last two years (possible), or the P5+1 could (less possible), or the two sides could negotiate some kind of tiered deal whereby Iran would be allowed to start ramping up after 8 years but maybe be on some kind of probation for the next 2-4 (or more) years after that (more possible). Anyway, if this report is accurate (and again, there’s no chance that Salehi is misinformed, and not much reason to believe he’s lying on domestic TV), it’s a bit of good news.

Kerry and Zarif are meeting today in advance of another round of full talks starting tomorrow. It’s realistically the last chance to get to a deal before Congress takes a crack at wrecking the talks altogether, so let’s see how it goes.

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