Iranian students form a human chain during a protest Nov. 19, 2013, outside the Fordo Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom. They defended their country's nuclear program.
(Photo: Chavosh Homavandi, AFP/Getty Images)
As six world powers wrangled with Iran over its nuclear program Thursday, a former United Nations nuclear official said the deal being discussed will undermine a dream of the U.N. to end the spread of nuclear weapons.
The talks in Geneva stalled over the demand of Iran's chief negotiator Thursday that any deal must recognize Iran's sovereign right to produce nuclear fuel.
"No deal that does not include the right to uranium enrichment from start to finish will be accepted," Abbas Araqchi said on his Twitter account according to IRNA, a state-controlled news agency.
Suspending uranium enrichment is a "red line" for the regime, he told reporters.
An end to enrichment of uranium, a process that can make fuel for an atomic bomb, until the program can be verified as being peaceful is one of the demands included in multiple resolutions by the U.N. Security Council against Iran. But negotiators are discussing allowing Iran to continue to enrich uranium in return for certain safeguards, say Israel and others.
Olli Heinonen, former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said other non-nuclear nations would see the refusal to enforce a resolution as a signal that the U.N. is unwilling to stop a country from gaining nuclear weapons capabilities.
"If you can't enforce this kind of simple thing, what's the meaning of the Security Council?" he said during a visit to Washington for a presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Other countries will do the same."
But other experts say the proposed deal is a "real world" solution that will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
"What is preferable, a heavily constrained and monitored (Iranian) domestic enrichment program, or no agreement and Iran getting nuclear weapons, or using force to try to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons?" said Robert Einhorn, who served as the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control from 2009 until the summer.
Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. Congress made moves to possibly strengthen economic sanctions on Iran for not complying with the United Nations. Iran, which says it is not developing weapons, is asking that sanctions be loosened and President Obama has asked Congress not to take action until negotiations are complete.
The Democratic-led Senate signaled Thursday it would give Obama only until next month before pressing ahead with new Iran sanctions. Sen. Bob Corker, the Republicans' top member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation to limit the president's future negotiating ability with Tehran.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington does not recognize an Iranian right to produce nuclear fuel.
Blaise Misztal, foreign policy director at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said allowing Iran to enrich would render the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "meaningless." The treaty signatories, of which Iran is one, agree to allow the U.N. to verify via inspections and other measures that their nuclear programs are not making weapons.
Misztal says letting Iran enrich uranium would let them keep all the technology they need to develop nuclear weapons.
"Once we set that precedent with Iran it's hard to stop any other country from doing that," he said.
Globally, 34 countries have nuclear programs, but only 15 produce their own fuel. Iran has been exposed repeatedly building secret nuclear sites and it continues to produce nuclear fuel in violation of Security Council resolutions.
Heinonen led IAEA inspection teams in South Africa, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Libya, and oversaw IAEA monitoring efforts in Iran during his 27-year career at the agency. Not setting a clear goal now for the final talks, and not dealing with enrichment now, sets a bad precedent of allowing violations to continue, he said.