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US-Iran Talks: The Road to Diplomatic Failure
The talks between the G5 plus 1 and Iran are careening toward a premature breakdown. If they do fall apart, it will be due in large part to a serious diplomatic miscalculation by the Obama administration.
Along with its European allies, the Obama administration seized on a plan that cleverly asked Iran to divest itself of the bulk of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU). It seemed to represent a golden opportunity to set back Iran's nuclear program, and despite the warning signs that such an objective is not achievable by the West, it lured the West away from a serious effort to find a diplomatic compromise with Iran aimed at defusing the decades-long hostility between Washington and Tehran.
The origins of the immediate diplomatic drama surrounding the proposal lay in Iran's need to supply fuel for its US-built Tehran research reactor producing medical radioisotopes. Iran had obtained 23 kilograms of fuel enriched to 20 percent from Argentina under a cooperation agreement signed in 1988 that ended in 1993. But that supply is expected to run out in late 2010, and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sent a letter to the IAEA in June requesting its help in purchasing enough 20 percent enriched uranium under the agency's supervision so that the medical reactor would again have a long-term supply.
But that would require a relaxation of the international sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. And when the Obama administration got wind of the Iranian request, it created a new diplomatic strategy aimed at forcing Iran to accept terms that would force it to give up most of its LEU for about a year. During a visit to Moscow in July, President Barack Obama's White House adviser on the Iranian nuclear issue, Gary Samore, reportedly approached Russian officials about a proposal that would require that Iran send its low-enriched uranium to Russia to be converted into the more highly enriched fuel rods, thus setting the clock of Iran's already-achieved breakout capability back for about a year. Read more.