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What’s the state of Iran’s nuclear program?

July 13, 2014 at 8:33 PM EDT
For a closer look at the international peace talks surrounding Iran's nuclear program, New York Times reporter David Sanger joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Vienna.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Vienna today, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Foreign Minister of Germany as they and other diplomats gathered for another round of talks about Iran’s nuclear program.

Both western and Iranian officials say major disputes remain to be resolved. David Sanger is there covering the story for the New York Times. He joins us now via Skype. So what about the interim agreement that we reached last fall? What did that buy us?

DAVID SANGER: Well, what it bought us, was some time and it reduced the threat that Iran could race for a weapon, something called breakout. Because the Iranians agreed to dilute the fuel that is closest to bomb-grade fuel.

So the United States can claim, and the Europeans can claim they’ve already accomplished a fair bit, even if it was temporary. Now, that agreement called for a final agreement to be put together in six months with a possible extension up to another six months. They are running into the deadline for those first six months by next Sunday.

HARI SREENIVASAN: What about inspections that have occurred during this time?

DAVID SANGER: You know, the Iranians have been very good about letting the inspectors in, but for inspections to work for a much broader permanent agreement they would have to be far, far broader. They would have to allow the inspectors to go virtually any place in the country. That’s one of the most vital issues because Iran has a history of hiding facilities.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This comes in the wake of Ayatollah Allah Humana saying just this week, he wants 10 times the amount of nuclear power generated in Iran n going forward.

DAVID SANGER: What he said was that he wanted 10 times the amount of nuclear fuel produced for future reactors. But remember, they don’t have those reactors built right now. You know how long it takes to build reactors in the United States under ideal conditions.

The Iranians  have never really done this before except for one Russian reactor. That gets it fuel from Russia. So the question was he laying out a long term goal the really won’t get in the way of this, or instead was he beginning to describe a set of needs that runs completely contrary to what Iran would have to do if it was to reach an agreement with the west. The west, of course, wants to reduce the amount that Iran produces now, not increase it by tenfold.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Are there any consequences to missing this July 20th deadline?

DAVID SANGER: No, initially Israel was quite concerned that Iran would be able to get far more sanctions relief than the United States agreed to, that more people would break the sanctions. That hasn’t happened so the pressure on the US to conclude the agreement if it’s not exactly what they are looking for by next Sunday is pretty low.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, David Sanger of the New York Times thanks so much.

DAVID SANGER: Thank you.