Breakthrough was the buzz-word in Washington’s top circles this week to sum up the Obama administration’s informal exchanges with Iran in Vienna. They reported that the Iranian side had agreed to start discussing US framework proposals to halt 20-percent uranium enrichment and suspend work at the Fordow underground facility built for high-grade enrichment near Qom – though not to shut down the plant entirely. Iran would export its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, reserving only the amount needed for medical isotopes.
Senior sources in Washington told DEBKA-Net-Weekly Thursday, April 19 that the Vienna track was well advanced and a final deal between the envoys of President Barack Obama and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was imminent now that Tehran had accepted the American framework in principle as a basis for discussion. Now, only the details of execution remained to be worked through.
According to these sources, Obama is confident that the final agreed draft will be ready to put before the second meeting of the six world powers (P5+1) with Iran in Baghdad on May 23. Other Washington sources were more cautious: Iran has laid down four pre-conditions for continuing to discuss the US plan. They add up to the cancellation of all present and future sanctions – including what Obama called “the toughest sanctions that they're going to be facing” in a comment he made on April 16 in Cartagena, Colombia:
Iran wants “confidence building” concessions plus end of sanctions
1. The European Union’s oil embargo due to go fully into effect on July must be lifted at once as the prelude to the phased and rapid cancellation of parallel US sanctions;
Thursday, Tehran announced that if the EU’s sanctions were not lifted by the next round of talks in Baghdad, it would cut off oil supplies to all of Europe. Crude supplies to Britain and France were suspended earlier.
2. The 30 Iranian banks, including the central bank, whose financial transactions were cut off last month by SWIFT (the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications) must be reconnected forthwith.
3. The ban on Western insurance companies covering Iran’s oil shipments anywhere in the world, which was part of the EU oil embargo, must be cancelled before they take effect fully in July.
With some 90 percent of tanker insurance firms based in the West, reinsurance and liability cover is a powerful sanctions weapon. As OPEC's second-largest producer, Iran exports most of 2.2 million barrels of oil per day to Asia, where the insurance ban has left its four biggest buyers, China, India, Japan and South Korea, stuck for replacing Western insurance cover for the huge cargoes en route from Iran to their refineries.
4. By the end of June, all sanctions against Iran must be lifted.
The Iranians, claiming they have given the most ground so far in the back-door bargaining, insist it is up to the United States to reciprocate with “confidence-building” concessions.
On offer from the US: No more international oversight
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources disclose that US negotiators are keeping their key concession to Iran up their sleeves. As debkafile first revealed exclusively on Wednesday, April 18, President Obama has decided to quietly give up on his demand that Iran “come clean” on its nuclear activities and open up to international inspection.
As one Washington source put it, this is a gesture Tehran can hardly resist. It would make it worth Iran’s while to accept the US framework package in toto. After all, once sanctions are lifted by the end of June, if Tehran gets its way, and it is additionally freed of IAEA oversight, the Islamic regime can go forward with plans for building a nuclear weapon undisturbed.
A commitment to stop the 20-percent enrichment of uranium and closure of highly-enriched uranium production at Fordow would then be worth the price because, without International Atomic Energy Agency or any other oversight, Iran’s nuclear weaponization would no longer be hampered from achieving its end within 36 months.
This “confidence-building” gesture would be tantamount to an American license for building Iran’s first nuclear bomb.
Still to be considered, however, are two factors:
1. Iran has yet to sign onto the American framework proposal. Its representatives at the clandestine bilateral negotiations have agreed to nothing more than to continue talking with a view to making progress, but have made no commitments as to any final outcome.
2. President Obama will eventually have to level with Israel, which has so far been kept in the dark, as well as the American people and the world, on the nature of the deal he has concluded with Tehran and explain why he agreed to those far-reaching concessions.