November 30, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 564

Iran's Answer to the West: "Iran Has Lost Its Patience'; 'We've Already Begun Production [of 20%-Enriched Uranium]'

November 30, 2009 | By A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof*
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 564


On November 9, 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama told Reuters in an interview that an unsettled political situation in Iran may be complicating efforts to seal a nuclear fuel deal between Tehran and major world powers. [1] This implies that a deal was reached with Iran during the nuclear talks in Vienna, but that Iran is having a hard time ratifying that deal due to criticism of it at home.

This depiction of the October 18-19, 2009 Vienna talks, and the explanation that the unstable political situation in Iran is making it difficult for the Iranian regime to announce that it agrees to the deal, are misleading. Iranian public statements since the end of the talks to date attest that:

1) No deal was ever reached during the Vienna talks. In his statements at the end of the talks - that Iran must respond to the proposal within two days - International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei was referring to a proposal to which Iran was not a party in any way, that is, the proposal drawn up by the West and by ElBaradei. According to Iran's version of events, the Vienna talks did not deal at all with the future of its nuclear program, but with its request to purchase 20%-enriched uranium for its research reactor in Tehran. The West has tried, and is still trying, to set conditions for Iran's request by insisting that it send 75% of its nuclear fuel, or approximately 1,200 kg, outside the country for enrichment; however, this enrichment will neutralize it so that it can no longer be used for military purposes. Iran rejected this condition, announcing that if it could not purchase the enriched uranium that it wanted, it would enrich it itself, and it even acknowledged that it had already begun doing so. Iran also emphasized that the two-day deadline set by ElBaradei has been misrepresented as an ultimatum - but that Iran has not recognized it as such and will not respond to any ultimatum. [2] Iran's claim is that it has submitted its own proposal, the main thrust of which is that it either purchase enriched uranium or enrich it itself, and is insisting that it is still waiting for a response to this proposal from the West.

2) Iran's regime is currently stable. The crisis that followed the June presidential election is over, and it does not constitute a pretext for any delay on Iran's part in giving an answer to the deal because no such deal was ever concluded, and also because there is no dispute whatsoever among the various political streams in Iran regarding the nuclear issue. [3] President Obama's claim that "an unsettled political situation in Iran may be complicating efforts to seal a nuclear fuel deal between Tehran and major world powers" reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of Iran's internal power-structure, whereby Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei sets the country's nuclear policy, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad implements it.

Iran's answer was conveyed to the IAEA a week after the Vienna talks by Iranian representative to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh, upon his return to Vienna. Iran chose not to publicly release its official response, but instead leaked its views via various regime spokesmen. However, both the West and the IAEA have also, for weeks, refrained from publicly revealing Iran's position, so as not to expose the existence of a deep crisis in the West regarding how to deal with Iran.

The West continues to extend the deadline for Iran to weigh its proposal [4] but the Iranian position is unchanging. However, despite Iran's unwaveringly rejectionist stance, President Obama took advantage of the date of November 4 - the 30th anniversary of the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, celebrated every year across Iran - to declare that the U.S., under his leadership, seeks to establish new relations with Iran. He said "I have made it clear that the United States of America wants to move beyond this past, and seeks a relationship with the Islamic Republic of Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect." [5] To this, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki responded by announcing that the road to establishing Iran-U.S. relations was still long, and called on the U.S. to change its policy in order to create a new atmosphere in the Middle East. He added that Iran had as yet noticed no actual change in U.S. policy. [6]

Furthermore, the Iranians, are claiming that it is they who are awaiting an answer from the West on their proposal - and that it is their patience that is wearing thin. The daily Kayhan, which is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, wrote on November 15 that the West must know that Iran's patience has its limits; the issue of supplying nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor cannot wait forever. [7]

Iran regards itself as a superpower which is entitled to nuclear energy for civilian purposes, and stresses that it is unwilling to debate this status or its nuclear program with anyone, just as no other nuclear power - including Germany and Japan, which are known as nuclear powers - do not negotiate their nuclear status or their nuclear programs with anyone. Iran emphasizes that, like other nuclear countries, the only issue it is willing to discuss is that of supervision, and that these negotiations can only be conducted vis-à-vis the IAEA, and not vis-à-vis the 5+1 or the U.N. Security Council.

Following are statements by Iranian spokesmen published since the Vienna talks began, expressing Iran's official position on the nuclear issue and on the issue of the talks. The statements reveal that Iran has actually given no concrete response at all to ElBaradei's proposal, and that it expecting to begin negotiations on its own proposal. The statements also reveal Iran's positions regarding ElBaradei's proposal, even though they have not been released officially.

I. Iran's Response Did Not Include an Answer to the West's Proposal

Iran declared that no meaningful response has yet been given to ElBaradei's proposal, and that such a response would be forthcoming only if talks were begun with Iran on its own proposal and on its reservations. [8] Confirmation of this version of events was given by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who on October 30 demanded that Iran respond immediately to ElBaradei's proposal. [9]

Asked about U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement that the West was becoming "impatient" with Iran, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said mockingly, "Oh, really?" [10]

Majlis National Security Committee rapporteur Kazem Jalali confirmed that Iran had received the proposal on uranium exchange along with other proposals, but was promising nothing regarding it. The West, he added, was manipulating the issue of ElBaradei's proposal (by giving the impression that Iran was meant to approve it). [11]

II. Iran's Position on its Nuclear Program: Iran "Will Not Relinquish One Iota of its Nuclear Program"

Iran's stance was expressed in statements by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and in several statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Khamenei, who made strong anti-U.S. pronouncements on the eve of the U.S. Embassy takeover anniversary, clarified: "If anyone intends to violate the rights of the Iranian nation, the nation will firmly stand up to them and will make them kneel down." [12]

On November 15 Ahmadinejad announced that "the fundamental rights of the Iranian nation [in the nuclear issue] are not subject to negotiation; [Iran's] nuclear activity and cooperation will be carried out only in the framework of the IAEA... The enemies have politicized Iran's nuclear dossier as much as they could in order to subjugate the Iranian nation, but they have been defeated." [13]

In an October 29 speech in Mashhad, in northeastern Iran, Ahmadinejad said that Iran "will not relinquish one iota of its nuclear program." He also boasted that Iran had managed to divert the discussion from its nuclear program to solving global problems, as it had proposed. He added that the West had changed its approach to Iran from confrontation and sanctions against it to nuclear cooperation with it, and explained that if the West sold nuclear fuel to Iran, as Iran had requested, it would give Iran an opportunity to test the integrity of the superpowers and of the IAEA. [14]

In another statement, on November 1, Ahmadinejad said, "[While] the enemies have used all means at their disposal, the Iranian people has succeeded in showing [its] might... and they [i.e. the enemy] remained like a mosquito." Ahmadinejad also said that his government had no faith in the West: "Considering the history of the Western powers, the Iranian government is coming to the negotiations with no trust. But reality will dictate to the West how to act vis-à-vis the Iranian people." He added, "The Westerners today know that without Iran's cooperation, they will not be able to run the world..." [15]

At a November 10 press conference in Turkey, Ahmadinejad said that Iran was not conducting negotiations in Vienna on its nuclear rights, and added, "Today we are producing nuclear fuel for our nuclear reactors, and we are expanding our nuclear fuel [production] plants. Since we need at least 50,000 centrifuges to supply fuel for a single nuclear reactor, we aspire to expand our nuclear fuel production capacity to industrial levels, so that we can meet our own needs at any time. Naturally, we will also export the surplus under IAEA oversight." [16]

III. Iran's Attitude towards ElBaradei's Vienna Proposal: Rejection

Majlis National Security Committee chairman Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi announced for the first time in public on November 7, 2009 that Iran was rejecting the Vienna draft. He said, "Iran will not give any of [its] 1,200 kg of fuel to another party in order to receive 20%-[enriched] fuel, whether gradually or all at once; it will not be done, and [this proposal] is null and void." Boroujerdi also stressed that the fuel-supplying countries must find a new way to provide fuel for the Tehran reactor. He said that Iran's IAEA representative Soltanieh was conducting negotiations on this matter. [17]

Following Russia's proposal to Iran to continue negotiations in any case, Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili said that Iran's technical reservations vis-à-vis the Vienna agreement should be taken into account, and that Iran welcomed the continuation of talks based on the package of proposals that it had submitted to the 5+1. [18]

The stance overwhelmingly taken by the regime newspapers and Majlis circles was one of rejection of the West's demand that Iran send uranium to a third country. The Jomhouri-e Eslami daily, which is identified with the religious seminaries in Qom, declared, citing senior officials, that Iran would not sign the Vienna draft and would not send any quantity whatsoever of uranium for enrichment outside the country. [19]

IV. Iran Calls for Negotiations on ElBaradei's Vienna Proposal - But Only on a Small, Limited Quantity of Uranium

On November 1, 2009, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki stated that the IAEA technical committee is to meet to begin a new round of talks, in which the "technical" reservations that Iran had conveyed to the West as its October 30 response to the Vienna draft would be examined. [20]

In contrast, at the Malaysia D-8 summit of Islamic countries, Mottaki admitted that Iran only wanted the IAEA technical committee to meet to discuss "the economic and technical reservations" that Iran had submitted in its response. [21]

However, previously, on October 26, Mottaki had declared that Iran might transfer some of its nuclear fuel - the part that it does not currently need. [22]

In an interview on his website, Iranian Expediency Council secretary Mohsen Rezai assessed that Iran is willing to transfer 280-350 kg of 3.5%-enriched uranium that it possesses, so as to ensure the operation of the Tehran research reactor for the next 25 to 30 years. However, at the same time, he stressed that no more than 350 kg of enriched uranium should be transferred, and added that in order to assure the operation of the Tehran research reactor for the next 20 years, Iran needs only 30 kg of 20%-enriched uranium. [23]

The Ayandenews website, identified with Rezai, reported that Khamenei had rejected ElBaradei's plan for an uranium exchange, and stated that he was willing to look at the proposal for the simultaneous exchange of 350 kg of 3.5%-enriched uranium possessed by Iran for 58 kg of 20%-enriched uranium. [24]

On October 30, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported, citing an Iranian official, that Iran wants to transfer 5%-enriched uranium simultaneously with its receipt of 20%-enriched uranium for the Tehran research reactor. [25] It was not reported whether this transfer would take place all at once, or whether the quantity involved would comprise all the enriched uranium that Iran possesses.

Majlis National Security Committee chairman Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi said that if it were not possible for Iran to purchase 20%-enriched uranium, which was its first preference, it might go for a limited exchange deal if it were to first receive uranium enriched to 20%. [26] Committee rapporteur Jalali also said that the deal had to be contingent upon a simultaneous exchange of uranium, since the other countries involved in the exchange were untrustworthy. [27]

On November 6, the Tabnak website assessed that although the issue of the Vienna draft was not clear, two points were: one, that Iran would hand over only some of its 3.5%-enriched uranium reserves - only 350-800 kg - in an exchange deal; and two, that Iran would continue to enrich uranium and would make no commitment regarding this enrichment. [28]

The Press TV website reported that Iran had submitted a new proposal to purchase nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor. Experts close to the nuclear talks told the website that the deal had two phases, involving a simultaneous exchange, with the IAEA sealing off 400 kg of 3.5%-enriched uranium at each phase, until the transfer of 20%-enriched uranium to the exchange site was complete. According to the experts, the West has still not responded to this proposal. [29]

V. Iran Threatens to Enrich Uranium to 20% - And More

During his visit to Malaysia for the D-8 conference, Foreign Minister Mottaki also said that Iran would not stop enriching uranium on its soil, because the nuclear deal that could be in the offing dealt only with supplying nuclear fuel to the Tehran research reactor, and was not connected to the enrichment of uranium that is currently ongoing in Iran. He said that Iran's first demand was to acquire nuclear fuel for the Tehran reactor, but that if agreement was not obtained, it might enrich uranium on its soil to a level of 20%. [30]

In an interview with ISNA, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization member Mohammad Ghannadi said, "Even if they do not give [us the nuclear fuel that we need] we will produce it ourselves, and it is no problem for us to do so..." In response to the question of how long Iran can supply nuclear fuel enriched to 20% for the Tehran research reactor, Ghannadi said, "The option of production is in our hands, and we also have begun production. But the relevant officials should be the ones to say how long it will take." [31]

Also, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami stressed in his Friday sermon on November 6 that "nobody will make a deal on national nuclear rights; neither will anybody turn a blind eye to the legal right of the nation. If the Westerners wish to play on us and refuse to deliver fuel to the Tehran research reactor, Iranian nuclear scientists will step forward and provide the fuel as well..." [32]

Majlis deputy speaker Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi said that any precondition on providing nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor was unacceptable to Iran, and would express deviation from IAEA principles. He said that if no agreement was reached, Iran must continue its enrichment policy, under IAEA regulations. [33]

The head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee's Foreign Liaison Committee, Hossein Ebrahimi, said, "We are announcing that the deal for exchanging Iranian 3.5% nuclear fuel for 20% nuclear fuel from a Western party is out of the question... We maintain that Iran is capable of enriching uranium to a level of 20% on its own." [34]

Additionally, rapporteur Jalali said that if it was not possible for Iran to buy nuclear fuel, "we ourselves will increase enrichment that is under 5% to enrichment that is over 5%." [35] He reiterated this position on November 9, saying that Iran had two choices: purchasing enriched uranium, or enriching uranium within Iran. Iranian export of uranium, he clarified, was against Iran's interests. [36]

In a November 15 editorial titled "Iran Won't Wait Forever," the Kayhan daily wrote that Iran had given its answer to the Vienna draft a month ago, and that it was now waiting for the West's response. The paper said that in principle Iran had not ruled out the Vienna deal under which it would purchase nuclear fuel, and that it was implementing its reservations such that along with supplying the nuclear fuel needed for the Tehran research reactor, it would keep strategic reserves of nuclear material in Iran. This issue, and other reasons, had led to the West's inability to respond to Iran's reservations, and therefore the deal was being delayed. The paper warned that the West must know that Iran's patience had its limits, and that the issue of the supply of fuel to the Tehran research reactor could not wait forever, and concluded that "the possibility of enriching uranium to a higher percentage on Iranian soil is one of those choices that are irreversible once they are on the table." [37]

On October 18, Abolfazl Zohrehvand, advisor to Iranian Supreme National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili, told the Iranian news agency IRNA, "Circumstances may arise under which Iran will require uranium enriched to 63%, which it will have to either purchase or manufacture itself under IAEA supervision." [38]

What Is the Purpose of Iran's 1,200 Kg of Enriched Uranium?

It should be noted that operation of the Tehran reactor requires only 30 kg of 20%-enriched uranium, and that according to Iranian experts, the reactor is meant to operate efficiently for another decade only. Accordingly, Iran does not need the 1,200 kg of uranium in its possession to be enriched to 20%. The enrichment by the West will turn the uranium into fuel rods, which will prevent it from being used for military purposes. This, apparently, is why Iran is unwilling to transfer most of its enriched uranium reserves to a third country, preferring to keep it in its possession.

It will also be remembered that Iran does not need uranium in order to operate the Bushehr reactor, which, in any case, is not yet operative, because it is to receive fuel rods from Russia under the 2005 agreement that it signed with it; the fuel rod transfer began in 2007.

In this context, it should be noted that Ahmad Qarib, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Scientific Committee member and former director of the organization's research institute, stated that Iran does not need all the uranium that it has already enriched, because it has no nuclear plants and reactors that require it for fuel in order to operate. [39]

* A. Savyonis Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.



[2] Majlis National Security Committee chairman Ala Al-Din Boroujerdi said, referring to Western officials' two-day deadline for Iran to respond, that the West could not set a timetable for Iran, and that Iran was not bound by such statements. ISNA, Iran, November 7, 2009.

[3] Even the opposition in Iran does not agree to any concessions on the nuclear issue, and, for motives of its own, chooses to present a completely uncompromising position on this matter.

[4] The Iranian website Fararu reported that Tehran had received an additional two-day extension to respond to the proposal. Fararu, Iran, November 3, 2009. Also, on November 5, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her earlier remarks that the proposal would see no change as demanded by Iran. "As I have said, this is a pivotal moment for Iran, and we urge Iran to accept the agreement as proposed," Clinton told reporters. "We will not alter it, and we will not wait forever."

ElBaradei proposed an additional concession to Iran, in a November 7, 2009 interview - the transfer of Iran's stock of uranium to Turkey. "It should work," ElBaradei said in an interview on the Charlie Rose on PBS. "Iran has a lot of trust in Turkey." The Obama administration would agree to this proposal because the U.S. is "very comfortable with Turkey," he added.

[5] Los Angeles Times, November 4, 2009.

[6] IRNA, Fars, Iran, November 11, 2009; IRNA, Iran, November 10, 2009.

[7] Kayhan, Iran, November 15, 2009.

[8] IRNA, Iran, October 30, 2009.

[9] , October 30, 2009.

[10], Saudi Arabia, November 2, 2009.

[11] ISNA, Iran, November 9, 2009.

[12] Iranian Supreme Leader website, ISNA, Press TV, Iran, November 3, 2009.

[13] ISNA, Iran, November 16, 2009.

[14] ILNA, Iran, October 29, 2009.

[15] Khorasan, Iran, November 2, 2009.

[16] Vatan-e Emrooz, Iran, November 11, 2009.

[17] ISNA, Iran, November 7, 2009. The Iranian official said that Iran rejected the proposal by IAEA director ElBaradei, according to which Iran would transfer its enriched uranium for keeping to Turkey until it received nuclear fuel from Russia. ISNA, Iran, November 7, 2009.

[18] These statements were made at a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who on November 8 paid a surprise visit to Tehran. Fars, Iran, November 8, 2009; ISNA, Iran, November 7, 2009.

[19] Jomhouri-e Eslami wrote, citing Iranian officials, that in contrast to American assessments, Iran would never sign the Vienna agreement, and that neither applause from the U.S. nor threats from France that Israel would attack Iran would change the position of Iran's leadership. Jomhouri-ye Eslami, Iran, October 27, 2009.

[20] Mottaki claimed, "Certain members of the technical committee of the IAEA have announced that a new round of technical talks should open to address Iran's considerations and conditions." Press TV, Iran, Nov 1, 2009.

[21] Press TV, Iran, Nov 1, 2009.

[22] IRNA, Iran, October 26, 2009; Iran Daily, Iran, October 27, 2009.

[23] Tabnak, Iran, October 25, 2009.

[24] Ayandenews, Iran, November 9, 2009.

[25] IRNA, Iran, October 30, 2009.

[26] Mehr, Iran, November 8, 2009.

[27] Fars, Iran, November 1, 2009.

[28] Tabnak, Iran, November 6, 2009.

[29] Press TV, Iran, November 8, 2009.

[30] IRNA, Iran, November 2, 2009.

[31] ISNA, Iran, November 2, 2009.

[32] Fars, Iran, November 6, 2009.

[33] ILNA, Iran, November 1, 2009.

[34] Mehr, Iran, November 16, 2009.

[35] Fars, Iran, November 1, 2009.

[36] ISNA, Iran, November 9, 2009.

[37] Kayhan, Iran, November 15, 2009.

[38] IRNA, Iran, October 18, 2009.

[39] MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2629, " Iranian Nuclear Official: We Can't Even Use the Uranium We Have - So Why Are We Rejecting the Vienna Draft Proposal" November 3, 2009, Iranian Nuclear Official: We Can't Even Use the Uranium We Have – So Why Are We Rejecting the Vienna Draft Proposal?.

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