January 13, 2015 | Policy Brief

Iran Nuclear Chief Reveals Gaps With P5+1

An unusually extensive interview with the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organization underscores the yawning gaps still remaining between the positions of the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group of international nuclear negotiators.

Speaking to the Iranian Students News Agency on Sunday, Ali Akbar Salehi exulted that the “the principle of enrichment has been accepted” by the entire world and that “Iran will never give up its rights within the Non-Proliferation Treaty.”

“We have 9,000 working centrifuges which enrich 2.5 tons of uranium per year, but our need is 30 tons annually, which they are not accepting,” Salehi lamented. With 30 tons of enriched uranium, he predicted, Iran would within eight years “develop a capacity of 190,000 separative work units (SWU), as the Leader has discussed.” (Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei raised the extremely aggressive target of 190,000 SWU in a July 2014 speech).

Salehi also addressed the duration of “confidence-building measures” after which Iran, as a regular signatory to the NPT, can achieve any degree of enrichment. The P5+1, he said, are seeking a two-figure number of years, while Iran offered a single-digit figure. “They say it would not be a problem if we reach 190,000 SWU towards the end of that time frame. But the time frame we have in mind is far from theirs: The gap is between ten to 20 years.”   

Salehi, a former foreign minister, belittled recent reports that Iran had accepted a future transfer of nuclear fuel stockpiles to Russia as “a pretext, a rumor,” and dismissed the prospect of inspections at the suspected military facility at Parchin. “Iran’s national sovereignty is no joke,” he said, “so they can’t come and inspect it whenever it pleases them.”

Finally, the head of Iran’s nuclear program commented on the Islamic Republic’s general standing in the world: “Now that Iran is at the apex of power and possesses the region’s golden key, it will not climb down from its demands.”

Western observers may perceive Salehi’s remarks as typical of Tehran’s bombastic rhetoric. More than anything, however, his comments underscore that over a year of nuclear talks have not narrowed the gap between the parties but widened them.

Despite optimistic assertions to the contrary, Iran appears farther than ever from a comprehensive nuclear deal. To explain this, we need look no further than Tehran.  

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.


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