Iran Errata: Encouraging Words Turn Out to Be Repackaged

It seemed like we were hearing some encouraging words on U.S.-Iran relations. On April 27, Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times reported:

In what would be a significant concession, Obama administration officials. … said they might agree to let Iran continue enriching uranium up to 5% purity, which is the upper end of the range for most civilian uses, if its government agrees to the unrestricted inspections, strict oversight and numerous safeguards that the United Nations has long demanded.

But it turned out to be one of those “not much to see here, move along” situations. At the Arms Control Association blog Arms Control NOW, Peter Crail reported:

The conclusions drawn by the L.A. Times misreads the history of the U.S. position and U.S. efforts to resolve the Iran nuclear issue with the P5+1.

In fact, Crail writes, potential discussions with Iran over (emphasis added)

… the conditions under which it could continue enrichment is not new. In fact, it is built into the proposals that the P5+1 have offered Iran since 2006, spanning the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. … The shift by the Obama administration appears to be more a matter of its willingness to publicly state that there could be conditions under which Iran could maintain some enrichment capabilities, rather than a willingness to entertain the idea in the first place.

Meanwhile, at Al Jazeera, Gareth Porter explains what Iran is talking about when it’s talking about its right to enrich uranium.

Iran’s diplomacy strategy is to accumulate centrifuges, not in order to support a weapons programme, but rather to negotiate a larger bargain with the United States.

Because …

Contrary to the convenient argument that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei resists agreement with the United States, he and leading officials on the Supreme National Security Council have long viewed negotiations with the United States as the only way that the Iran can achieve full security and emerge as a full-fledged regional power.[At one point] the biggest source of leverage, the Iranians believed, was the Bush administration’s dramatically increased concern about Iran’s ability to enrich uranium, which had taken US intelligence by surprise.

In other words, enriched uranium is the coin of Iran’s international realm.