x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Nuclear deal is Iran's best path out of stalemate

There are many reasons for Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment efforts to meet international demands.

The nuclear standoff between Iran and the West continues to drag on. The Baghdad summit last week failed to resolve the key differences between the two sides, and now all eyes turn to the next round of talks, in Moscow next month.

But if hopes were briefly raised of a thaw in tensions between Iran and the rest, they seem to have dissipated following the meeting in Baghdad. On Sunday, Iran's nuclear chief maintained that his country will not bow to pressure to downgrade its uranium enrichment programme, insisting that it has no plans for nuclear weapons.

"There is no reason for us to back down on 20 per cent-level enrichment, because we produce only as much 20 per cent material as we need," Fereidoun Abbasi was quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying.

There are in fact many reasons for Iran to scale back its enrichment efforts. Forget for a moment Tehran is in repeated violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The fact that world powers now appear willing to allow low-levels of enrichment on Iranian soil for peaceful energy purposes gives Tehran a face-saving out.

And if Iran abandoned higher levels it would clear the way for the removal of sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy and energy sectors for years.

Crucially, enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent, which the West objects to, opens the door to higher levels of enrichment, and possibly, weapons development. As the Institute for Science and International Security reported this week, Iran has ramped up output of low-enriched uranium which, if further refined, could be enough to arm over five nuclear weapons.

The deal offered in Baghdad is admittedly less than the complete rollback of sanctions Iran had demanded. But Tehran's belligerence and smug dismissal threatens to undo what little progress both sides appeared to be making. Tehran must now accept the deal currently on the table, which allows it to enrich up to 4 or 5 per cent. It is likely the best deal Iranian negotiators could possibly hope for. What's more, this level of enrichment is more than adequate to allow Iran to carry on with a programme it has steadfastly maintained is for peaceful purposes only.

As Iran stalls it's only a matter of time before questions about a secret weapons programme resurface. And if those questions grow louder, the return of calls for a military solution may soon follow.