Exclusive: Secret US-Israeli accord lets Iran keep low 3.5 enriched uranium
debkafile’s Washington sources disclose exclusively that the Obama administration and Netanyahu government have secretly agreed on “Formula of 1,000” as their final concession at the end of the forthcoming Six Power nuclear talks with Iran which starts Saturday, April 14. In substance, this formula would let Iran keep 1,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium up to 3.5 percent and stock 1,000 kilograms of the same grade uranium while, aside from a small amount for medical research, giving up its store of 20-percent grade uranium which can be jumped quickly to weapon quality.
US sources told debkafile that Russia and China have accepted the deal.
According to our Iranian sources, Tehran was informed of this formula through its back-channel contacts with Washington (which debkafile has been tracking since mid-February). That is why in Iranian public statements in the last couple of days have harped on the issue of uranium enriched to 20 percent. US-Israeli permission to keep 3.5 percent grade is in the bag before the talks begin, so Iran is treating it as the starting-point for bargaining, not the end result, and concentrating on raising the ante through the negotiating process to come.
The concession Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak made to the Obama administration, to let Iran to continue to enrich uranium, has not been brought before any Israeli government or military forum. Their remarks Sunday, April 8, conveyed the mistaken impression that there were at odds on the nuclear issue in the run-up to international talks.
Netanyahu said Israel would satisfied with nothing less than the total discontinuance of uranium enrichment and the removal of all quantities out of Iran, while Barak’s words came closer to the secret deal with Washington when he spoke of consenting to Iran continuing to produce low-enriched uranium and holding on to a few hundred kilos.
At his meeting with the new Italian prime minister Mario Monti in Jerusalem, Netanyahu repeated that Israel had not changed its position and that the Six Powers must make Iran stop enrichment entirely.
But in fact, as debkafile reveals here, Israel’s position has undergone a dramatic transformation and given in to Iran except for medical research on a major point of principle, i.e. enrichment.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walked through the door this opened for him Sunday night and slapped down three fresh demands which Tehran would put before the Six Power negotiators in Istanbul Saturday:
1. Clearance for the new system about to be activated for converting 3.5 enriched uranium to nuclear fuel rods in the first stage and nuclear plates in the second.
Producing 20 percent uranium from nuclear plates is relatively fast, efficient and cheap.
2. Permission for homemade production of nuclear fuel rods for the heavy water plant under construction at Arak.
This would provide Tehran with the option of plutonium in addition to enriched uranium for making weapons.
3. Iran’s first nuclear reactor at Bushehr is now operating at 75 percent capacity under the management of the Russian engineers who built it. Tehran wants Iranian engineers to take over the reactor’s management in full in seven months.
Iran is putting those three demands on the table to counter the US-Israeli insistence on shutting down the underground nuclear plant at Fordow, near Qom.
debkafile’s sources add that the Israeli prime minister, by giving crucial ground on the major sticking point of uranium enrichment, appears to have calculated that after going the extra mile, Obama will not be able to block Israeli military action against Iran’s nuclear sites if Tehran continues nonetheless to play games and cheat the International Atomic Energy Agency and its inspectors.
Netanyahu may have miscalculated the odds. His concession gave Obama enough rope to pull the Iranians to the negotiating table through his back channel to Tehran. That channel will remain open and the US is more likely to be induced by Iranian wiles to make more concessions than it is to give Israel the nod for military action.