The United States is negotiating with Iran as part of a six-
nation bloc that includes Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia. The group failed to secure a deal with Iran in multiple rounds of negotiations over the past two years, as Iran continued to rapidly expand its capacity to produce enriched uranium. Western governments fear that Iran will soon possess enough fissile material to become a virtual nuclear power, needing only a few days or weeks to assemble a nuclear bomb if it decides to make one.
In the past, Iranian officials dismissed such concerns, insisting that the country’s nuclear program is peaceful. But in another shift, senior government officials in recent days have acknowledged that Western concerns should be addressed.
“Despite the fact that we don’t accept the basics of the Westerners’ concerns and don’t assume them to be fair, we can obviate them using international mechanisms, treaties, and laws and regulations,” Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, said Tuesday, according to Fars.
Although details about Iran’s Geneva proposals were sparse, U.S. arms-control experts welcomed the prospect of a diplomatic thaw.
“It would appear that the two sides are within striking distance of a framework agreement before the end of the year,” said Daryl Kimball, director of the Arms Control Association, a Washington-based nonprofit group.
But many congressional officials remained skeptical. A bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators warned Obama in a letter ahead of the talks that they would oppose any arrangement that allowed Iran to retain the right to enrich uranium on its own soil.
“If Iranian actions fail to match the rhetorical reassurances of the last two weeks, we are prepared to move forward with new sanctions to increase pressure on the government in Tehran,” warned the letter, whose signatories included such prominent Democrats as Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
That threat brought an equally strong response from conservatives in Iran’s parliament. Jalil Jafari, who heads the parliament’s energy committee, told Fars that Iranian lawmakers would not approve a deal that did not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.
“The Iranian negotiators know that the rights of the Iranian nation — maintaining uranium enrichment and nuclear technology — are not something to be ignored,” he said.