VIENNA — Talks with Iran over a permanent agreement on its nuclear program begin Tuesday in Vienna, but there is little immediate optimism over a negotiation that is expected to last up to a year.
Even Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Monday in Tehran that “the nuclear negotiations will lead nowhere,” expressing his well-known mistrust of the motives of the United States and its allies, a mistrust reciprocated in the U.S. Congress. At the same time, the ayatollah said that “Iran will not breach what it has started” and that he supported the negotiating effort, however dismal the prospects for success.
The issues for a permanent deal are complex, including the level of Iran’s enrichment of uranium and the fate of the Fordo enrichment plant built deep in a mountain; Iran’s reactor at Arak, which will produce plutonium; and Iran’s willingness to let international inspectors visit a suspected nuclear-trigger test site at Parchin, a restricted military facility.
Senior Western diplomats involved in the talks say that this round, expected to last three days, will be spent largely on how to organize the negotiations — what working groups, what level of technical expertise, what to discuss and in what order, how often to meet.
Iran and six major powers — the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, the so-called P5-plus-one group led by Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief — agreed last November on a six-month, renewable deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program to buy time for these talks.
The temporary agreement, implemented in January, obliged Iran to stop enriching uranium to high levels and severely reduce its stockpile of near-weapons-grade uranium in return for the lifting of some economic sanctions, including allowing access to $4.2 billion in Iranian cash frozen in foreign banks.
The negotiations are intended to ensure that Iran is kept far enough away from achieving that capability that any effort to “break out” and race to construct a nuclear device would be detectable with at least six months’ notice.
Senior Western diplomats, including the French, who have deep skepticism about Iran’s intentions, also have said that Iran cannot be allowed to operate the reactor at Arak because it will produce plutonium, another nuclear-bomb fuel.
Last week, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, said that Iran might be prepared to make changes to the Arak facility.