Last night, Joshua Pollack of ArmsControlWonk wrote: “I do hope I won’t have to eat these words in a few hours, but here goes…the odds are quite good that the IAEA soon will be able to announce a deal between Iran and the American-Russian-French sides.” Credit where credit is due. The IAEA announced moments ago the outline of a deal in which Iran would ship about 75% of its known nuclear fuel stockpiles (about 1200 kgs of low enriched uranium) to Russia. There, it would be futher enriched before being sent back to Iran for use in a medical facility. (The Russian-enriched uranium would be difficult to convert to a weapon.)
The upshot of this deal is that it buys some time for more comprehensive negotiations to proceed. Expert David Albright says that it would take Iran “a little over a year” to replace the fuel. A “senior European diplomat” cited by Pollack said, “we are buying something like seven to ten months.” Pollack himself cautions against these predictions, suggesting, if Iran wanted, it could re-create the 1,200 kgs of low enriched uranium in less than three months.
This is clearly not the sort of comprehensive deal between Iran and the P5+1 that could ultimately provide a lasting solution to the question of Iranian nuclear proliferation. Still, it certainly shows that deals can be struck, that diplomacy can work, and that saber rattling may not be the most effective method for securing Iranian cooperation on the nuclear issue.
UPDATE: Via email, Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund offers his take on the significance of today’s news.
This could be big. It would be the most significant deal with Iran since the suspension of the enrichment program in 2003.
The US missed the opportunity to turn that suspension into a permanent halt by refusing to negotiate. This administration will not make the same mistake.
If Iran agrees this will be a smart deal that makes us all safer. By eliminating Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium, it adds 1 to 2 years to the time it would take Iran to build a basic nuclear device, now judged to be 1-3 years.
It also establishes a precedent that could be used for all [Low Enriched Uranium] made by Iran.
Iran must now follow up with arrangements to permit UN inspectors into the formerly secret facility at Qom. It should disclose and allow inspectors into any other undisclosed facilities. This would also reduce Iran’s potential break-out capability.
This is the result of smart, strong diplomacy by all the nations involved in the talks. The deal has tangible security benefits. It could also lead to a broader deal with Iran that would benefit all nations. [emphasis mine]