Iran: Key technical roadblocks for nuclear deal eliminated

Head of Atomic Energy Agency of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi received his doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT in 1977. Photographer: Alexander Klein/AFP via Getty Images

Head of Atomic Energy Agency of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi received his doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT in 1977. Photographer: Alexander Klein/AFP via Getty Images

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s vice president said key technical roadblocks hampering a final nuclear accord with world powers have been eliminated during ongoing discussions with American negotiators.

Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also in charge of Iran’s nuclear agency, told state television on Saturday that Tehran offered proposals to remove “fake concerns” over the country’s nuclear program, paving the way for a final deal.

Salehi is involved in ongoing talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on formulating a comprehensive deal that would curb Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for relief from crippling international sanctions.

Salehi said Iran put fresh proposals on the table to ease concerns over Tehran’s uranium enrichment program as well as the heavy-water reactor at Arak in central Iran. Differences between Iran and the U.S. over the size and scope of Iran’s enrichment program and the plutonium-producing reactor remain the core obstacles to a deal.

“We have taken very good steps and managed to remove, as we believe, their fake concerns and worries through the technical offers we proposed,” he said.

Salehi didn’t elaborate on the proposals Iran put on the table but he has said in the past that Tehran was ready to redesign the Arak reactor so its plutonium output decreases significantly to ease concerns by the West.

On the key issue of uranium enrichment, the U.S. had sought a 20-year freeze while Iran proposed a freeze of no more than 5 years. President Barack Obama this week outlined a deal under which Iran should commit to at least a 10-year freeze of its most sensitive uranium enrichment activities if a landmark nuclear deal is to be reached.

The other sticking point is the issue of sanctions relief. Iran wants the immediate lifting of all sanctions but the U.S. and its partners are proposing a phased approach.

The entire negotiation process remains controversial inside Iran. Hardliners are worried that President Hassan Rouhani is giving away too many concessions in return for too little.

The hardline daily paper Kayhan slammed the negotiations, saying the American proposal of a 10-year suspension of uranium enrichment is a first step aimed at finally toppling Iran’s ruling Islamic government.

“By giving in to a 10-year suspension, we have given away a major concession to the rival party and at the same time have tied our hands for bargaining,” Kayhan wrote on Saturday. “The Americans are paving the way to confront the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The first step is change in Iran’s behavior and the second stage is structural changes and that’s toppling the ruling system.”

The West fears Iran seeks to build an atomic bomb. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes such as energy production and medical research.

Iran and the six global powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – reached an interim accord in November 2013. Now, negotiators hope to reach a rough draft of a deal on Iran’s disputed nuclear program by the end of March and a final agreement by June 30.

By The Associated Press