Talking to Iran

| Mon Oct. 19, 2009 7:58 PM EDT

Time's Massimo Calabresi describes the Obama administration's recent efforts to do a deal with Iran that would nearly eliminate their stockpile of low-enriched uranium:

The backroom talks began in June, when Iranian officials told the International Atomic Energy Agency their country was running out of fuel for an aging research reactor built for the Shah in 1967 by American technicians...."We very quickly saw an opening here," says a senior Administration official involved in the multiparty negotiations that ensued.

....In early July, Obama traveled to Moscow, where his top nonproliferation aide, Gary Samore, floated a proposal to the Russians: If Iran would agree to export a supply of LEU to Moscow, the Russians could enrich it to the level needed to power the research reactor, and then the French, who had been brought into the discussions, could turn it into the specialized plates that are used to produce the isotopes.

....The Americans wanted to make sure the Iranians weren't going to pull a fast one and persuade the Russians to get the material for the research-reactor fuel from a source other than Iran's own stockpile. When President Obama met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev in New York City at the U.N. General Assembly in late September, he pressed the Russian to "confirm at the level of the President that this whole deal hinged on it being Iran providing the fuel," says the senior Administration official. The official says Medvedev agreed.

Further talks were scheduled for today.  So how are they going?

In recent days the Iranians have repeatedly suggested that they may not ship the fuel out of the country at all, and would demand that the West sell it new fuel for its research reactor in Tehran, which is used largely for medical purposes. That would leave the existing fuel in the country, a situation that the United States, Europe and Israel has said is too dangerous, given Iran’s history of hiding nuclear activity from international inspectors.

I guess we'll know by this time tomorrow whether this is a negotiating ploy or a genuine effort to back out of the deal.  IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei produced only the anodyne statement that today's session was "quite a constructive meeting," and that's all about all the news there was.  Stay tuned.