November 24, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 557

The Vienna Nuclear Talks – and Iranian/Western Rashomon

November 24, 2009
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 557

Reports in the Iranian media on the Vienna talks differ considerably from those in the Western media. The following are the main points of difference:

1. The Purpose of the Talks

The Western version: The purpose of the talks is to discuss the future of Iran's nuclear program; it was the U.S. that forced Iran to attend the talks.

The Iranian version: The purpose of the talks is not to discuss the future of Iran's nuclear program or of its uranium enrichment activities, but to address Iran's need to purchase uranium at a level of 20% for use in its nuclear reactor in Tehran.

2. The Outcome of the Talks

The Western version: The sides have agreed on a draft deal. This has been transferred to the participating countries, all of which must respond by the evening of October 23, 2009.

The Iranian version: There is no agreed-upon draft deal. Each side has submitted its own proposal for the perusal of the other, and Iran is waiting for a reply to its proposal to purchase nuclear fuel. [1]

The October 23 deadline was presented by ElBaradei at his own initiative, and does not obligate Iran.

3. Iran's Position on the Western Proposal

The Western version: Iran is expected to give an affirmative answer shortly.

The Iranian version: An answer cannot be expected soon, in light of the gravity of the issue.

Under no circumstances will Iran allow its "strategic reserves" of enriched uranium to be removed from the country. [2]

If Iran's demand to purchase uranium at a level of 20% is not met, it will enrich uranium to this level in Iran. [3]

The deal proposed by the West is nothing but an attempt to deceive Iran, and is not anchored in international law. It is the IAEA that is obliged, according to its own regulations, to supply any NPT member with enriched uranium for research purposes. [4]


[1] A source close to the Iranian delegation in Vienna said: "The Islamic Republic of Iran has submitted a clear proposal to buy the fuel required for the Tehran nuclear reactor, and is awaiting an answer." The source said further, "Iran is a buyer of fuel for the Tehran reactor, and sellers should respond to the buyer's proposal," IRIBnews (Iran), October 23, 2009.

[2] A source close to the Iranian delegation to the Vienna talks said that "one thing is clear, namely that Iran will not lose its strategic reserves." Kayhan (Iran), October 24, 2009.

An editorial in the daily Kayhan, which is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, stated: "The West - which a week or two ago thought with enthusiasm that Iran would be willing to give up all its strategic reserves at once, [namely all] its [uranium] enriched to a low level, in return for a handful of promises - is now gradually learning that Iran has no intention whatsoever to do so. In fact, to put it as briefly as possible, Iran's strategic choice in the Vienna talks is not to hand over its nuclear material and to receive it [back in the form of] nuclear fuel, because in principle, [Iran] cannot place the least bit of trust in the Western side to remain committed to its promises on this issue... Iran will never give up its strategic reserves." Kayhan (Iran), October 24, 2009.

[3] The Kayhan editorial stated: "[Iran's] strategic options are either to purchase nuclear fuel or to enrich [uranium] to 20% inside Iran - and the West must choose between the two. Kayhan (Iran), October 24, 2009.

[4] Iranian Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani said that the West was trying to deceive Iran or impose its position upon it. He explained that a deal in which the West took Iran's nuclear fuel and promised to enrich it further had no legal or logical basis. According to the IAEA regulations, he said, the West was "obliged to provide Iran with enriched uranium for the research reactor in Tehran. Moreover, there is no guarantee that if a deal is struck, the West will [actually] provide Iran with the nuclear fuel [after it receives Iran's nuclear material]." ISNA (Iran), October 24, 2009.

In an editorial, the daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami called to object to the attempts to remove Iran's uranium reserves from the country, saying that this was an American trap personally designed by President Obama. An Iranian consent to this deal, the paper continued, would eliminate Iran's achievements in the field of nuclear enrichment, and this in return for nothing more than "false promises and illusions." Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Iran), October 25, 2009.

Iran's deputy Majlis speaker, Mohammed Reza Bahonar, said at an October 24, 2009 conference in Tehran that the IAEA's charter obliged it to supply its member states with nuclear fuel, and that failure to supply Iran with enriched uranium would therefore be a violation of this body's obligations. ILNA (Iran), October 25, 2009.

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