White House 'Prepared' to Let Iran Keep Enriching Uranium

Final accord could preserve Iran’s most controversial nuclear activities

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
Hassan Rouhani / AP
December 4, 2013

The White House confirmed late Tuesday that it is "prepared" to let Iran keep a "limited" uranium enrichment program under any final nuclear accord reached with Tehran in the next months.

Iran’s so-called right to enrich uranium has been a key sticking point in ongoing negotiations between the regime and Western nations.

The Iranians insist that they have an inherent "right" to keep enriching uranium, the main fuel for a nuclear weapon, for peaceful purposes. However, many in the West believe that Tehran would use this technology to clandestinely build a bomb.

The White House first told the Washington Free Beacon that it is currently exploring ways to preserve some of Tehran’s enrichment activities and confirmed that position late Tuesday after multiple media outlets requested clarification.

"We are prepared to negotiate a strictly limited enrichment program in the end state, but only because the Iranians have indicated for the first time in a public document that they are prepared to accept rigorous monitoring and limits on level, scope, capacity, and stockpiles," the White House said in a statement provided to the Free Beacon.

"If we can reach an understanding on all of these strict constraints, then we could have an arrangement that includes a very modest amount of enrichment that is tied to Iran’s practical needs and that eliminates any near-term breakout capability," the White House said.

This announcement by the White House came on the same day that Iran announced that it is in talks with the Russians to build two new atomic power plants.

Western negotiators known as the P5+1 reached a draft agreement to freeze some of Iran’s nuclear activities two weeks ago in Geneva. However, the final details of this interim deal must still be agreed upon before Iran enacts the temporary halt.

Tehran and the United States have engaged in a diplomatic tug of war in recent days over the precise language included in the draft deal.

Tehran maintains that the deal recognizes its right to enrich uranium, while the White House categorically denies that this is the case.

"The United States does not recognize that Iran has a 'right' to enrich, and the Joint Plan of Action did not include Iran’s demand for explicit recognition of a freestanding ‘right to enrichment,’" the White House explained to the Free Beacon in its statement.

Iran’s foreign minister and lead negotiator accused the White House of misleading the public about the details of the plan in pointed comments issued before Iran’s Parliament.

"While we were negotiating (in Geneva), the White House released a text as a fact sheet of the negotiations," Javad Zarif said during a Wednesday briefing, according to Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency.

"This is while they could release the original text of the negotiations, but they released that fact sheet because they wanted to make their desired changes in it," Zarif was quoted as saying.

Additionally, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson accused the White House on Tuesday of "attempting to misrepresent" the deal’s details.

The White House has quibbled with Iran’s claim that it has a right to "enrich" but not its ability to potentially maintain control of some portions of the program.

"Since any program is by definition conditional on the P5+1’s determination, it is therefore not a 'right,'" the White House noted in its Tuesday evening statement. "In other words, the question of enrichment in the end state is still an issue to be negotiated, subject to the explicit condition that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."

Iran has promised to address and provide information about several key nuclear sites that remain shrouded in secrecy, according to the White House.

"It is also important to note that Iran has acknowledged that issues raised in the U.N. Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs) have to be addressed and brought to a satisfactory conclusion before we agree to enrichment in the end state," the statement read.

"Therefore the UNSCRs continue to provide us with leverage against the Iranian government, and should Iran not agree to our constraints we will revert to the status quo in which Iran remains outside of its international obligations and subject to continuing punitive measures," it read.

Meanwhile, Iranian officials confirmed that they are in talks with the Russians to build a second and third new nuclear power plant in addition to one announced earlier this week.

The "second and third atomic power plants will be similar to the first one but with higher safety standards," according to Fars.