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Iran makes its nuclear case – with PowerPoint

The complete set of PowerPoint slides that Iran used during a meeting with world powers are now public.

Newly published PowerPoint presentations, originally presented by Iran at the most recent high-level nuclear talks with world powers, lay out a maximalist opening position that appears to offer little room for compromise over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

In slide after slide, the Islamic Republic justifies the most sensitive aspect of its work that world powers are demanding be stopped: uranium enrichment to 20 percent — which is a few technical steps away from bomb-grade material — at a deeply buried facility called Fordow. 

The presentations, first made in Moscow last month, show how hardline positions staked out in public, as well as uncompromising rhetoric from politicians about the nuclear talks, translates into negotiating points.

And while there have been strong hints from Iran — at the negotiating table, Iranian officials say, and in public – that it would cut a deal on 20 percent enrichment, the PowerPoint slides shown in Moscow are a tough rejoinder to the equally tough opening demands made by the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) in Baghdad in May.

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P5+1 negotiators back then said their own opening bid was “maximalist,” and expected Iran to respond in kind. Besides halting 20 percent enrichment, shipping abroad its stockpile and closing Fordow, Iran was asked to suspend all levels of enrichment and explain charges of past weapons-related work — in keeping with United Nations Security Council resolutions — but all without relief from ever-tightening sanctions relief that are a top priority for Iran.

It was announced today that the next round of talks will take place in Istanbul on July 24 between deputies of the top negotiators. The EU‘s Helga Schmid will represent the P5+1 and sit across the table from her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri. “The objective for the meeting … is to look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward,” a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Iran argues that the language of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a signatory, imposes “no limitation on the kind of technology or the level” of enrichment when carried out for peaceful purposes. But that interpretation is rejected by the P5+1, which seek to permanently block any effort by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons — and to limit its civilian nuclear expertise.

Iran insists it is not pursuing a nuclear bomb, which it rejects as un-Islamic, and refuses to give up what it says are “rights” granted by the NPT.

The 48 slides were first published in full over the weekend by Fars News Agency. The Iranian presentation describes “shortcomings both in context and in the essence” of the P5+1 proposal, adding that the steps required of Iran “are too general and vague,” lack a time frame, and revisit previous failed offers that go “back to the past, and…are illogic [sic] and unrealistic.”

P5+1 incentives include nuclear safety technology, help with producing nuclear fuel, and airplane spare parts for Iran’s aging fleet of commercial aircraft — but no sanctions relief.

Making its case

In the 13-slide PowerPoint labeled “Framework for Comprehensive and Targeted Dialogue” [PDF], Iran states that the NPT is the “cornerstone of talks” – as it explicitly agreed with the P5+1 at the first round of negotiations in Istanbul in April.

Two of the Iranian PowerPoint presentations quote Article IV of the 1968 NPT: “Nothing in this treaty shall be interpreted as affecting the inalienable rights of all parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy…”

A few lines later, the NPT also encourages “the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.”

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Over the course of 20 PowerPoint slides, labeled “Reviewing and assessing the proposal of 5+1” [PDF], Iran argues that the request to halt 20 percent enrichment “means depriving Iran from its rights in contradiction to international documents.”

They note that there is “no objection” to non-weapons states like Brazil, Japan and Argentina having the nuclear fuel cycle – which includes enrichment — and in the past have frequently noted that arch-foe Israel has not signed the NPT, is subjected to no inspections, and has its own nuclear arsenal.

Likewise, the Iranian slides say the P5+1 request to close Fordow — where there is “no limitation to international authorized access” by inspectors and monitoring cameras of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — is extralegal. Iran needs Fordow, which is largely impregnable to air attack, the slides say, because it is “facing constant threats, [so] we need a back up facility to safeguard our enrichment activities.”

An ‘inalienable right’? Maybe not. 

P5+1 officials have for years countered Iran’s case for NPT rights by stating that Iran forfeits those rights for as long as it remains in violation of IAEA safeguards.

Iran denies that it is in violation, and notes that in its quarterly reports the IAEA has never declared any diversion of nuclear material from civilian purposes. But the IAEA takes Iran to task for what it considers late reporting on new facilities, and Iran’s refusal for years to address accusations of bomb-related efforts, based on documents that Iran dismisses as forgeries.

Top P5+1 negotiators also reject outright – at the negotiating table, according to one Iranian official, and in off-the-record briefings to journalists — that “enrichment” is an “inalienable right” because it is not explicitly mentioned in the NPT.

Iran’s challenged that view in the third PowerPoint presentation [PDF], stating that “the texts, records, and documents of the negotiations” that created the NPT decades ago include no limit to “peaceful application of nuclear technology.” Iran lists five separate NPT and other UN conferences, from 1975 to 2010, which all reaffirm the “inalienable right” of NPT members to peaceful nuclear power.

Slide 11, titled “The US official view of nuclear enrichment as a right in 1960s,” quotes William Foster, director of the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, in 1968 testimony to the Senate: “Neither uranium enrichment nor the stockpiling of fissionable material in connection with a peaceful program would violate Article II [of the NPT] so long as these activities were safeguarded under Article III.” 

It is that caveat, also embedded in the NPT and in each of the past conferences, which the P5+1 uses to make its own argument that Iran’s “rights” depend on the IAEA’s interpretation of Iran’s compliance with its safeguards.

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In the Moscow presentations, Iran states that it has reason to continue enriching to 20 percent levels for years more, to fuel its research reactor. It notes plans to build four more similar reactors, which make medical isotopes for cancer patients and will also need nuclear fuel.

Yet Iranian officials have told the Monitor that in the most recent round of technical talks, a week ago in Istanbul, Iran “clearly for the first time” offered to stop its 20 percent work, in exchange for lifting sanctions. The Iranian presentations in Moscow hinted that such a deal was possible, though P5+1 diplomats say they must see “action” from Iran before they will consider flexibility on sanctions.