Gareth Porter: Iran has indicated it’s willing to draw down its enriched uranium stockpile, which could make a nuclear deal with the P5+1 within reach
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of The Porter Report.
Now joining us is Gareth Porter. He’s an historian, investigative journalist, and he writes regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy towards Iran. He’s also the author of five books, including his latest, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.
Thanks for joining us, Gareth.
GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Thanks for having me, Anton.
WORONCZUK: So, Gareth, give us an update on the four-month extension now of the nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran and why this four-month extension is necessary.
PORTER: Yes. Let’s start with why it is that they didn’t reach an agreement in time, that is, yesterday, Sunday, July 20. I think very simply the reason is that both sides were engaging in very heavy positioning or posturing in order to get a better deal. And they started from very different assumptions, very different positions. So it was a political process. And I’m afraid that the political nature of the posturing, particularly in the last couple of months, was not very well reported in the news media, and certainly, of course, was not registered by official statements coming from the Obama administration. So we really haven’t gotten a very accurate picture of the political process that’s been going on.
But effectively they were just at the point, in the last week before the decision on both sides to have the extension, where they were saying, okay, now we can see how we’re going to get to an agreement. And that is really what happened during the meetings or after the meetings between Foreign Minister Zarif of Iran and the Secretary of State, John Kerry, in Vienna. As a result of those meetings, I think it was clear that the Obama administration realized that the Iranians were willing to reach an agreement that the United States could live with. And that’s why they chose to agree to an extension.
WORONCZUK: Is there any guarantee for sanctions relief that comes out of this four-month extension?
PORTER: Well, the sanctions relief was agreed to in principle even with the initial agreement last November of the joint program, a plan of action. The details of that, in terms of the phasing of it, I presume is still to be precisely decided. That is to say, it’s going to depend on precisely how the agreement on limits on enrichment is phased. And that will have to depend on a lot more negotiations. That is, it will take some more time. But there’s no doubt that the agreement is going to have to involve the dismantling of the present sanctions regime that is related to the nuclear program. Now, that’s not going to get rid of all sanctions which have been imposed on Iran. That’s going to take a longer and more complex process.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And the P5+1 continues to say that negotiations must ensure that Iran cannot produce a nuclear weapon. What are they claiming that Iran possesses in terms of infrastructure that would allow them to do so?
PORTER: Well, the Obama administration has been saying, from the beginning of these talks, essentially, that Iran is going to have to agree to deep cuts in the number of centrifuges that they now have. And that is based on the premise that the present number of centrifuges automatically translates into a capability to break out, meaning that Iran could get enough weapons-grade uranium within a relatively short time of just a few months, or a few weeks, even, that they could conceivably go for a nuclear weapon.
The problem with that premise is that it’s really not necessary to cut the number of centrifuges that Iran is actually using to enrich uranium in order to lengthen the so-called breakout timeline. That could be done as well by reducing the total of the stockpile of low-enriched uranium that Iran now possesses. And that is the factor that has been absent from the public discussion of this negotiating process. And I think that’s because Iran has been saying that they would be willing to draw down their stockpile by various mechanisms, just as they have done with the 20 percent enriched uranium stockpile. They’re willing to do that for the low-enriched uranium stockpile as well. And I think that is in fact what Zarif and Kerry were discussing, it’s one of the issues that they were discussing in their meetings last week. So that’s the factor that I think is now going to be discussed further in order to reduce the stockpile to a level that would allow the Obama administration to say, now we have at least six to 12 months breakout timeline, which is what they declared would be the minimum requirement for an agreement several months ago.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And what should we be keeping our eyes on now as negotiations are extended?
PORTER: Well, first of all I think what we’re going to be seeing on both sides is sort of radio silence as these negotiations go forward. I think the posturing now can cease because both sides know that they are headed towards an agreement which is acceptable to the two sides. And I think now it’s not necessary for them to take positions that would be regarded by the other side as extreme. So I think that will be a clue that they are indeed seriously negotiating on a set of arrangements which will accomplish the minimum requirements, the minimum interests for both sides.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Gareth Porter, thanks for that update.
PORTER: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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