Though Iranian negotiators accepted a nuclear deal this week in Vienna, we should contain our excitement until the mullahs back in Tehran approve of it and the thing is actually executed.
Here are the logistics: Iran is running low on uranium-derived fuel used in medical facilities (for MRIs, among other things). The country has enough uranium, but it’s not in the right form for medical uses and will run out before Tehran can enrich enough. Therefore, Iran had to look to the international community.
The U.S., France, and Russia proposed that Iran export the bulk of its uranium stock to Russia for enriching to the required medium-grade level (i.e., lower than weapons-grade). Russia then sends it on to France, where it will be fashioned it into fuel-plates.
On paper, the deal is a win-win: Iran gets its fuel but gives up most of its uranium. It will be almost another 12 months before it rebuilds its uranium stock to be able to attempt enriching it to weapons-grade (highly enriched). Or, as Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund says, “If Iran ships the uranium out of the country, we’ve lengthened the fuse.”
Note that big “if.” There is the distinct possibility that Tehran is playing for time by negotiating this draft plan to decrease tensions in the short term by stringing along the U.S., France, and Russia. It’s always good to remember that actions speak louder than words.
However, Russia’s involvement in this process is critical — the Kremlin had appeared divided on whether to support sanctions against Iran. Now that Moscow has partial ownership of this deal, non-compliance by Tehran should anger Medvedev and Putin, who might be more disposed towards pressure.