Nuclear negotiations take a back seat

World Cup

With the world’s most important international summit currently taking place in stadia across Brazil, it’s a little difficult to stay focussed on other, lesser symposia - and particularly the one in Geneva that’s trying to find a long-term solution to Iran’s nuclear programme.

Time is running out for a deal. The Joint Plan of Action’s interim agreement - which limits Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for minor sanctions relief - is scheduled to expire on 20 July. And the P5+1 and Iran are now racing to stitch up a permanent deal that will be palatable to the international community, not to mention their domestic constituents.

As Vice Magazine says, that's going to be kind of hard to achieve.

And yet the usual suspects are trying to undermine success. Iranian hardliners, as always, are grumbling away in the background: IRGC adviser Mojtaba Zonnour (مجتبی ذوالنور) has just made a thinly-veiled reference to the IRGC’s secret ICBM development program by warning that Iranian missiles could soon hit the US base at Diego Garcia which is thousands of miles beyond the reach of Iran’s current short and medium-range ballistic missile systems.

That’s not the only notable development of the past few weeks. Interestingly, someone within the Iranian establishment has just released a substantive estimate of exactly how long it would take Tehran to “break out” - to convert its stocks of enriched uranium hexafluoride into nuclear weapons.

Interesting stuff. As David Sanger has noted, this Iranian break-out estimate is exaggerated, but the very fact that Iran has publicly acknowledged that its nuclear fuel cycle could be used for weapons is an important admission that’s never been made before. And that shift in mindset just might aid negotiations.

Old problems remain, though. The thorny issue of how to deal with Iran’s pre-2004 nuclear weapons programme is unresolved, as are questions over why scientists and engineers from that very programme are still collocated within the Iranian military organisation named SPND (سازمان پژوهش نوین دفاعی).

Perhaps the head of that organisation - who’s just featured in the Wall Street Journal - might use some of his ever-increasing celebrity cachet to help us out?

Now back to the World Cup.

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