One big issue that seems to deadlock any negotiation on Iran’s enrichment program is the question of who exactly Iran can trust for supply of highly enriched uranium (HEU) necessary for a few non-bomb applications inside Iran – like for example Medical Isotopes for Cancer treatment, or Agricultural Screening etc. Most national security experts agree that Iran can and indeed should enrich low grade fuel for nuclear power plant applications. But, what scares everyone is a capability to enrich Uranium to very high levels; levels high enough to be used in nuclear bombs. Yet, Iran insists it needs HEU for these civilian applications.
The solution seems to be to guarantee Iran supply from a current producer of highly enriched Uranium. In fact, it is probably not only a good political solution, but also a good economic solution – because it could save substantial costs to develop and maintain a high grade enrichment plant for a relatively low volume prospective domestic demand.
But if this is the final solution, who could be a reliable supplier of this product (HEU) to Iran?
There are only a handful of countries that can supply this: Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Well let’s go through the list, who can Iran trust with supply?
Forget Russia: The Russians have proven to Iran that they already are unreliable suppliers. The Russian retrofit of the Bushehr facility took much longer and more money than anyone anticipated. And Russia has a reputation for ruthlessness, with one example standing out for everyone in the world: They cut off Ukraine’s natural gas supply in the middle of winter on a payment dispute. It was completely ruthless – and done to an ally! Even the Western Europeans are planning to diversify their natural gas (i.e. energy supply) away from Russia by establishing pipelines to other energy sources.
Forget Pakistan: You have to discount Pakistan’s capacity. Everyone knows its bogus, and that Pakistan got its ‘bomb’ as a deterrent to India from the U.S. – during the height of the cold war when India was siding with the Russians.
Forget North Korea: How can a deal with the West involve the North Koreans? They themselves, have been the subject of sanctions and considerable ‘nuclear’ suspicion. Its clear that they can’t be a party to any deal Iran makes with the rest of the world.
Forget every country in Western Europe (I mean Germany, The Netherlands, France and UK): Why? Well, Iran today, is a 10% stake holder in Europe’s “Eurodiff” Uranium Enrichment company (and plant). This investment has been in place for over 30 years yet, Iran has NOT been able to take its seat on the board of directors of Eurodiff or obtain any supply of product from Eurodiff. Quite, simply the Europeans have not honored their contractual commitments. This is after Iran invested over a billion dollars in this company. So would you trust the Europeans on this issue?
Forget Israel. (Need I say more?)
So now, we’re left with Japan, Brazil, China and Argentina. So a deal with the P5+1 has to include at least one other state that is NOT a part of the P5+1!! Who will that be??
Forget Argentina: They supplied highly enriched Uranium to Iran some 10 years ago, and ended up getting a synagogue bombed; and I think it’s safe to say they regretted it.
As for Brazil, it is my understanding that they DO NOT have Highly Enriched Uranium capacity.
I think the same is true for Japan – but I could be wrong. It is my understanding that processed Uranium from Japan is reprocessed in the U.S. at the Savannah River facility of the DOE. And it is also my understanding that after the Fukishima disaster, there is a real reluctance to maintain any nuclear facility in Japan. And especially after the Second World War, the Japanese have specifically avoided anything to do with nuclear bombs. I think we can all understand why.
And China – well – China has kept out of this mess with Iran. They have not joined in with the sanctions regime. Maybe the Iranians can trust the Chinese, but they have kept out of the negotiations so far.
So where are we? Right now there isn’t someone that can or will supply HEU (highly enriched uranium) to Iran that Iran trusts. That is the problem
But it’s clear to me that the only way forward is to get China in on the deal and willing to supply HEU to Iran. And explore a deal where IAEA provides regular inspections and certifies the safety of the low level program in Iran, and Iran exchanges what they have in HEU with China and receives a long-term contract for supply that it can count on. And all this obviously has to be done with full transparency. One benefit of engaging the Chinese is that if Iran doesn’t finally make a deal, the Chinese would be able to make sanctions really stick! After all it is China that is giving Iran an escape route from crippling sanctions today.
I see no other way out of this impasse. And in the long-run this deal could serve as a model for the rest of the world.