Next Up for Iran Talks: How Much Enrichment in Final Deal?

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to reporters in Geneva on Sunday after a deal was reached over his nation's nuclear program (Alexander Kelin/AFP/Getty Images).
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks to reporters in Geneva on Sunday after a deal was reached over his nation's nuclear program (Alexander Kelin/AFP/Getty Images).

The historic initial nuclear accord signed on Sunday by Iran and six world powers leaves uncertain a key question about how much uranium enrichment the Middle Eastern nation might be permitted to undertake in the longer-term final agreement, former officials and independent analysts told the New York Times for a Monday report.

Analysts are divided over how assured the world might ultimately be that Tehran would never tap its civilian atomic activities to produce nuclear arms, even after a final pact is reached.

The preliminary "Joint Plan of Action" initially gives diplomats half a year to hash out more enduring restrictions on activities such as Iran's enrichment program. The refinement effort's ability to potentially produce nuclear-weapon fuel has placed it at the center of the entrenched atomic standoff.

"We will want very small and limited," former Obama administration WMD czar Gary Samore said of the uranium-enrichment effort. "They want industrial scale."

Other lingering uncertainties include whether Tehran will shutter an underground uranium-enrichment plant hardened against airstrikes or scrap an unfinished heavy-water reactor capable of producing bomb-usable plutonium.

It is also not clear whether a proposed final deal would be permanent or temporary in duration. Some analysts suggested that negotiators are more likely to follow up with a series of piecemeal deals, rather than an all-encompassing arrangement.

Still, the nuclear agreement marked Washington's most significant bargain with Iran since the country's 1979 Islamic revolution, according to the Times. Many aspects of the plan took shape during five rounds of undisclosed bilateral talks held by the sides since March, the Associated Press reported on Sunday.

Even as the last round of negotiations got under way in Geneva last week, a deal was not a sure thing. Late in the talks, though, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that further delays would prompt the Obama administration to join U.S. lawmakers in pursuing further punitive sanctions against Tehran, Reuters reported.

Nov. 25, 2013
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The historic initial nuclear accord signed on Sunday by Iran and six world powers leaves uncertain a key question about how much uranium enrichment the Middle Eastern nation might be permitted to undertake in the longer-term final agreement, former officials and independent analysts told the New York Times for a Monday report.

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