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Iran takes notable steps in nuclear negotiations

February 9, 2014 at 6:58 PM EDT
Iran and officials of the International Atomic Energy Commission are meeting in Teheran. Prospects for success of negotiations, ultimately designed to make it impossible for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, are unclear. David Albright, one of the leading experts on Iran's nuclear program and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, talks with Hari Sreenivasan about the what concrete steps have been agreed to and what remains on the table.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, more about our lead story: those talks going on this weekend between International Atomic Energy Agency officials and Iran — talks ultimately designed to make it impossible for that country to produce a nuclear weapon.

For more, we are joined now from Washington by David Albright. He is one of the leading experts on Iran’s nuclear program and is president of the Institute for Science and International Security.

So, without being too technical for a wider audience, what’s noteworthy about these steps Iran agreed to take?

 DAVID ALBRIGHT: There are several steps that are quite interesting. There’s a couple steps that have to do with this Arak heavy water reactor that’s been in the spotlight and it appears the IAEA is not getting the information it needs from Iran yet and so two of the steps are that the IAEA can get that information so then can inspect that reactor effectively. One of the steps centers what was an old secret laser enrichment facility that Iran shut down prior to 2004 and had operated outside of the IAEA inspection system and was viewed as a violation of their safeguards obligations. The facility is not thought to be involved in laser enrichment. But the IAEA likes to go there and see what’s going on – it still evidently does a lot of laser research and development and so it’s going to get information about and then visit the site for the first time since 2000.

Probably the most significant step is to try to open the door and get Iran’s cooperation on the military dimensions or the alleged military dimensions of its nuclear program. And so Iran has agreed to provide information that the IAEA needs to talk about what are called exploding or electrical bridge-wire experiments and developments. And that’s a part, that if used in a certain way, is very important in the development of a nuclear weapon. The IAEA has information that suggests that the most likely purpose of these experiments that were done by Iran were related to a nuclear weapon. Iran has denied that and said ‘no, no it’s non-nuclear purposes.’ And the IAEA has additional information that has cast doubt, in their minds, on Iran’s statement and so it remains an outstanding issue that needs to be addressed.  And if Iran wants it could actually use that opportunity in the next couple of months to change its story. One possibility is that it could say ‘yeah, yeah, that was related to nuclear weapons development’ and open the door to a more fruitful set of discussions about the military dimensions of its program. At the same time it could decide to continue with its previous story that it had nothing to do with nuclear weapons and it may again lead to nothing.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So it seems that there’s two tracks here.  One is to try to figure out what Iran used to do in terms of trying to develop a nuclear weapon or weaponize it. And then there’s another track about what they could do in the future.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: That’s right and they are linked though. It’s very hard if you are an IAEA inspector or analyst to say we can give you confidence that there’s not a weapons program today if you don’t know about the past. Because you don’t know what was done. You don’t know what they accomplished. You don’t know where they did it. You don’t know who did it. And therefore that whole infrastructure that was created could pop back into existence at any point in secret and move forward on nuclear weapons.  So the history is very important and I think the IAEA has made it clear in this case and others that it can’t give Iran a clean bill of health until it understands the history.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the weeks leading up to these talks it seems that these positions have gotten more hardened in terms that the US wants the entire nuclear program dismantled and the Iranians want all the sanctions gone.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: Well, the US is willing to give on the size of the program. It’s willing to accept a nuclear program that involves gas centrifuges and reactors. That’s a major concession on the part of the United States.  And, certainly the Iranians want all sanctions removed. But the trouble is that that is not going to happen unless they make very significant concessions toward the US side and they haven’t shown a great deal of willingness to do that.  And so the chance of these negotiations working right now is not very high but it’s seen as worth the attempt.  And sides do change.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  David Albright joining us from Washington thanks so much.

 DAVID ALBRIGHT:  Thank you.