Iran will not agree to halt its nuclear enrichment rights under any deal with the West, according to the country’s lead negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran makes no deal over its right," Zarif told reporters after daylong negotiations with the West in Geneva over Iran’s disputed nuclear program, according to Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency.
Zarif’s insistence on Iran’s right to enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear bomb, comes as Western sources suggest that a nuclear deal could be reached as early as Friday.
The debate over Iran’s enrichment rights has been a key sticking point for negotiators on both sides.
U.S. lawmakers and the Israelis argue that Iran will continue its nuclear weapons work if it retains the right to enrich uranium. The Iranians say they will not give ground on the issue.
Zarif’s remarks indicate that Iran could be getting most of what it wants in the deal. He and other officials have praised the talks and the progress each side is making.
Iranian negotiator Seyed Abbas Araqchi revealed on Thursday that the West had accepted Tehran’s proposed framework for a nuclear deal.
Araqchi said on Friday that Iran’s enrichment rights are the country’s "redline."
"Enrichment is important to us and is our redline," Araqchi said in comments blasting Israeli media reports claiming that Iran would suspend its enrichment efforts.
Araqchi also told Fars that "Iran and the six world powers are likely to draft an agreement on Friday to start resolving their decade-long nuclear standoff."
"We are trying to start compiling the text of an understanding" on Friday, Araqchi said.
The Iranians have been quick to praise the talks and progress being made, while Western sources involved in the negotiations have remained mostly mum about the details of a potential deal.
"Expectation are high for a breakthrough," Fars wrote atop a picture of Zarif, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and others smiling around a table.
U.S. sources families with the talks said that America is prepared to relax sanctions on Iran and work closely with it during a "six month confidence-building period," according to Reuters.
Skeptics on Capitol Hill are already declaring the deal a mistake for the United States.
"I am deeply troubled that Secretary [John] Kerry would rush to Geneva to enter into a deal with the Iranians, which by all accounts is temporary, incomplete, and a bad deal," Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho) said in a statement. "The idea of a temporary deal is a broken record we have listened to before."
Iran must shutter and dismantle its nuclear program under any deal, Risch said.
"In the absence of a permanent deal, where they fully disclose and verifiably cease weapons related activities, any ‘deal’ will fall disastrously short, give Iran what it desires, guarantee the West will have to live with a nuclear Iran, and abandon our closest ally—Israel," he said. "The Obama administration is about to make another colossal blunder in the Middle East."
Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin said that the United States is letting the Iranians make vague promises that they can easily break.
"We are already seeing Iran revert to its traditional pattern of making vague promises with lots of wiggle room to American officials, while reaffirming their commitment to conduct business as usual within Iran," said Rubin, the author of a new book about diplomacy with rogue regimes.
"It’s important that we judge Iran both by its words and actions," Rubin said. "And if Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani, and [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei are not able to state clearly ‘We intend to abide by the letter and spirit of this deal, no agar’s, va’s, or vali’s [if’s, and’s, or but’s],’ then we have to recognize the deal seems too good to be true because it is too good to be true."