April 16, 2012 | The Weekly Standard

Iran Says No

The Obama administration set forth its demands of Iran in advance of this past weekend’s negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. The New York Times reported on April 7 (emphasis added):

While opening bids in international negotiations are often designed to set a high bar, as a political matter American and European officials say they cannot imagine agreeing to any outcome that leaves Iran with a stockpile of fuel, enriched to 20 percent purity, that could be converted to bomb grade in a matter of months.

… In interviews, administration officials said their “urgent priority” was to get Iran to give up — and ship out of the country — its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, and to get Tehran to close Fordo. Dismantlement, they said, would come in a second stage. So far Iran has produced only about 100 kilograms of 20 percent-enriched uranium — less than it would need to produce a single nuclear weapon — but it has announced plans to increase production sharply in coming months.

Fordo, the facility the Obama administration wants the Iranians to “dismantle,” is a formerly covert uranium enrichment facility built into the side of a mountain on an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ base outside Qom.

At the conclusion of this weekend’s talks, Fars News Agency reported:

Tehran's chief negotiator in the talks with the six world powers dismissed suspension of Iran's nuclear activities as impossible, saying that the plan to withdraw sanctions in return for a suspension of Iran's nuclear activities belongs to the past.

Speaking to reporters after two rounds of talks with the six world powers in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, [Saeed] Jalili rejected a suspension of Iran's 20-percent uranium enrichment, and said, “We embark on providing for our needs on the basis of our rights and within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).”

The Iranians have, thus far, been consistent in their rejection of the Obama administration’s demands.

The day after the Times article was published, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, rejected the demands as “irrational.” Davani said that Iran would not shutter the Fordo enrichment facility and would continue to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity.

“We will not produce 20 percent enrichment fuel more than what we need, because it is not in our benefit to produce and keep it,” Davani said.

Returning to the pages of the New York Times at the conclusion of this weekend’s talks, we learn that nothing “concrete” was proposed or accomplished. But there is a lot of talk about talking, and the agreement to meet in Baghdad several weeks from now “is without question a success, given that failure here would make the chances of a military strike on Iran more likely.” (This is reported as straight news.)

The very next sentence in the Times’s piece reads: “But putting off any hard decisions until the next meeting will increase pressure on both sides to make progress there, especially on the question of Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, only a few steps from bomb grade.”

Who says that Iran has put off “any hard decisions”? Thus far, the Iranians have been very clear: They are not going to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, and they are not going to close the Fordo enrichment facility.

Those are the two goals for the talks set forth by the Obama administration and its allies. There is no evidence the Iranians are willing to agree to either. Iran’s top negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has even rejected the prospect of a quid pro quo, saying after the talks that “suspending Iran's nuclear activities in return for the removal of sanctions is a literature which belongs to the past.”

Perhaps this will change, but there is no reason as of now to believe the Iranians are willing to come to any meaningful agreement.  

Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.