Iran nuclear talks hit snag on centrifuge research
Updated: 2014-01-09 09:38
UNITED NATIONS - Negotiations between Iran and six world powers on implementing a landmark November deal to freeze parts of Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for easing some sanctions have run into problems over advanced centrifuge research, diplomats said.
The dispute over centrifuges highlighted the huge challenges facing Iran and the six powers in negotiating the precise terms of the November 24 interim agreement. If they succeed, they plan to start talks on a long-term deal to resolve a more than decade-long dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Among the issues to be resolved in political discussions due to begin in Geneva later this week is that of research and development of a new model of advanced nuclear centrifuge that Iran says it has installed, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
Centrifuges are machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in atomic power plants or, if purified to a high level, weapons.
"This issue (centrifuges) was among the main factors in stopping the previous technical discussions on December 19-21," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Other Western diplomats confirmed that centrifuges remained a "sticking point" in the talks with Iran but noted that last month's discussions were understandably adjourned ahead of the December holidays - not because of the centrifuge issue.
"As part of the (November 24) agreement, Iran is permitted to engage in R&D (research and development), but that is tempered by the fact that it is prohibited to install new centrifuges, except as required by wear and tear," the first diplomat said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was keen to see the interim deal implemented, though she declined to predict the outcome of the latest talks.
She said US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman will be in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the issue with her European Union counterpart, Helga Schmid, and Iran's negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi.
In December, Al-Monitor, a news website focusing on the Middle East, cited a former US official as saying Iran had notified the six powers it wanted to install additional "IR-2m" centrifuges, modified versions of second-generation machines. The website also said the former US official suggested this may have played a role in the dispute.
But diplomats now say Iran has told the six countries it wants to press ahead with the development of even more advanced centrifuges than the IR-2m.
Iran is already testing several different new, more efficient centrifuge models at its Natanz research facility, according to the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Iran's statements last month that it was testing a new advanced centrifuge have not made clear whether it is an entirely new model or a modified version of an installed one.