The roller-coaster negotiations over Iran’s contentious nuclear programme have received a positive push with the latest finding of the IAEA that Tehran has sharply cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile under an interim pact with world powers and has begun engaging with a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected weapons research. The IAEA has a pivotal role in verifying that Iran is living up to its promises made in the interim accord in November and its report has huge credibility.
After the pragmatist Hassan Rowhani won office last year, Iran has changed its course on its nuclear plans. Rowhani adopted a conciliatory approach compared to the confrontationist stance of his predecessor. This change stemmed from a realization that an aggressive posture would only be detrimental to the interests of the country as the economic sanctions imposed by the West were taking a heavy toll. Rowhani was able to sign an interim deal with the world powers over the nuclear programme, which resulted in an easing of sanctions. However, there were serious doubts in some quarters about the ability of the president to produce results on the ground since the supreme religious authorities are supposed to be having the final say. But the latest findings, which come in a quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, show that a final deal is possible, and the president is in command.
The IAEA found that Iran since January had acted to reduce its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium gas, a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade material, by more than 80 percent. The amount that remains after most of the material was
either converted or diluted to less proliferation-prone forms, less than 40 kg, is far below the 250 kg which experts say is needed for one nuclear bomb.
Tehran also performed well on another closely watched aspect of the nuclear programme. The IAEA said it had shown the UN agency information that a fast-functioning detonator was tested for a civilian application. How Iran responds to the UN agency’s questions was seen as a test of its willingness to cooperate fully with the investigation. But the agency has words of some praise: “This is the first time that Iran has engaged in a technical exchange with the agency on this or any other of the outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to the nuclear programme since 2008.”
Talks are continuing between Tehran and the West for a final deal and they aren’t smooth. But both sides agree a final solution is possible only through negotiations. The progress made so far is huge, and a going back would be disastrous for both sides, especially Iran. That realization should persuade both sides to take all the extra steps needed.