Lausanne, Switzerland — Iran is refusing to relinquish its stockpiles of enriched nuclear materials, throwing a potential complication into negotiations that are set to expire tomorrow, according to senior State Department officials and Iranian diplomats.
Iran rejected on Monday ongoing demands by Western powers that it export to Russia its stockpiles of enriched uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb.
The issue has emerged as a sticking point in talks over the last day, with Iran now rejecting any potential compromise on this front. The State Department said that the issue has been up in the air for months, according to sources close to the negotiations.
"The export of stocks of enriched uranium is not in our program, and we do not intend sending them abroad," Abbas Araqchi, an Iranian negotiator and diplomat, was quoted as telling the country’s state-run press. "There is no question of sending the stocks abroad."
A subsequent New York Times article claiming that discussions over the issue have hit a wall in the last day prompted the State Department to reveal that negotiations over the export of uranium have been stuck for quite some time.
"Contrary to the report in the New York Times, the issue of how Iran’s stockpile would be disposed of had not yet been decided in the negotiating room, even tentatively," a senior State Department official told the Free Beacon on Monday. "There is no question that disposition of their stockpile is essential to ensuring the program is exclusively peaceful."
"There are viable options that have been under discussion for months, including shipping out the stockpile, but resolution is still being discussed," the official said. "The metric is ensuring the amount of material remaining as enriched material will only be what is necessary for a working stock and no more."
Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, reiterated that the United States had yet to reach any sort of agreement on the issue as the two sides work to strike a "political understanding" over the next 36 hours.
"The bottom line is we don’t have an agreement with the Iranians on the stockpile issue," Harf told reporters in telephone call. "It’s still an outstanding issue."
"This notion that in the last 24 hours somehow there’s been a shift in this issue, a hardening of positions, is just not true," Harf said.
Iran’s stockpiles of enriched uranium have long been a concern for analysts critical of the Obama administration’s diplomacy. In addition to keeping centrifuges capable of quickly enriching uranium, Iran could use its already existing stockpiles to get a jump on constructing the core of a nuclear weapon.
One source familiar with the talks told the Free Beacon that the Obama administration had been promising members of Congress that Iran would consent to export its uranium.
"Administration officials told lawmakers they’d get the Iranians to make a concession, then the Iranians refused to make that concession, and now the State Department is pretending they never expected anything anyway," said the source.
"The White House briefed lawmakers and told them the Iranians were willing to ship out their stockpile," the source said. "That was the whole justification for jacking up centrifuge numbers to 6,000. State Department spokespeople are basically gaslighting reporters by pretending otherwise."
A second source in Europe familiar with the breakdown in discussions over the issue told the Free Beacon that Iran had previously expressed a willingness to export its uranium.
"It may be technically correct that Iran had not ‘agreed’ to ship out most of its enriched uranium stockpile, but that is because as the U.S. officials are so fond of saying, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed," the source said.
"Iran is a menacing country with an aging extremist Supreme Leader who is sure to be followed by one as extreme if not more so," the source added. "Don’t forget that the election for head of the body that chooses the next supreme leader, the Guardian Council, went decisively for the most extreme cleric possible, rejecting the ‘moderate’ choice."
"Yet another reason why leaving the leading terror state with a nuclear infrastructure that ensures Tehran’s path to nuclear weapons capability is damaging to American interests, and a betrayal of our allies in the region who actively fighting Tehran and the Sunni extremists," the source said.
Despite remaining gaps over several key issues, Harf said that negotiators are fixed on finalizing an agreement before tomorrow’s deadline.
"The 31st we have said is a deadline," Harf told reporters. "All of us said the goal was to reach a political understanding by the end of March."
Congressional opposition to the administration’s diplomacy has put "additional pressure on our side," Harf said.
One senior congressional aide familiar with Republican thinking on the negotiations said that lawmakers are extremely displeased by what was taking place in Switzerland.
"Quite frankly, people here are wondering what the f—k is going on," said the senior staffer, who would only speak on background. "Why, after a year of negotiations, are major, consequential issues like whether Iran can keep its stockpile of highly-enriched uranium being debated just before the clock strikes midnight?"
Even Democrats are beginning to have reservations about the deal, according to the source.
"The Iranians seem to be successfully capitalizing on the fact that the Administration is in dire desperation mode to get a deal," the source said. "Even the president's most loyal Democrats in Congress are finding it near-impossible to defend what appears to be a worse deal than anyone ever imagined."