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The Iranian nuclear issue

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Iran nuclear issue - What is France's role in the negotiations ?

The Iranian nuclear programme became a subject of concern for the international community starting in 2002, when the existence was uncovered of clandestine uranium enrichment sites at Natanz, and linked to the heavy water facility at Arak (production plant and research reactor).

Iran nuclear issue - What is France's role in the negotiations ?

Why is the Iranian nuclear programme a problem for the international community?

The Iranian nuclear programme became a subject of concern for the international community starting in 2002, when the existence was uncovered of clandestine uranium enrichment sites at Natanz, and linked to the heavy water facility at Arak (production plant and research reactor).

Since 2002, Iran has continued developing a nuclear programme of concern, which corresponds to two means of obtaining nuclear weapons:

-  uranium (a nuclear weapon requires highly enriched uranium): in addition to the Natanz site, Iran has also built a second clandestine site, dug into mountains at Fordow. The existence of that site was revealed in 2009. Iran is also developing various models of centrifuge, which are used for enriching uranium. Tehran currently limits the degree of enrichment to levels compatible with civilian usage, but its capabilities could enable it to produce highly enriched uranium. Moreover, those capabilities have no credible civilian justification as the only functioning nuclear power reactor in Iran is supplied with fuel by Russia.

-  plutonium (a nuclear weapon requires several kilos of plutonium): at Arak, Iran is building a heavy water research reactor which could produce sufficient uranium to manufacture a bomb over the course of a year.

Those activities and the many dissimulations on the part of Iran have thrown doubt upon the true nature of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Yet Iran signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and ratified it in 1970. As such, it has committed to not developing nuclear weapons.

How has the international community responded?

Pressure on Iran from the international community has gradually increased:

-  in 2006, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), unable to guarantee its peaceful purpose, referred the Iranian nuclear programme to the United Nations Security Council. Since then, the Security Council has adopted numerous resolutions ordering Iran to interrupt its sensitive activities and imposing sanctions upon the country;

-   the European Union has imposed very tough sanctions, which have been stepped up considerably since 2012. They particularly target the oil and financial sectors;

-   the United States has imposed sanctions on Iran since the creation of the Islamic Republic. Those have been increased because of Iran’s nuclear activities. Almost all trade between the United States and Iran is forbidden. The United States has also taken steps with an extraterritorial reach, in particular to limit Iran’s exports of oil to consumer States;

-  many other countries have put in place similar sanctions to those adopted by the EU and the US: Norway, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Switzerland.

After a first phase of negotiations conducted by France, Germany and the United Kingdom from 2003 to 2005, the establishment and enhancement of sanctions from 2006 was accompanied by an outreach policy, in accordance with the two-track approach. China, Russia and the United States joined the efforts of the three European countries to negotiate a solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis, with the support of the European Union High Representative for foreign affairs and security policy. This is what is known as the E3/EU+3, or the “Six”. Despite many offers of cooperation, the negotiations did not yield any results until November 2013.

What is the goal of the ongoing talks?

The E3/EU+3 group is currently negotiating a long-term agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. The aim of that agreement is to guarantee the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme.

These talks are taking place in the framework set out by the Geneva interim agreement of 24 November 2013. That interim agreement froze the most concerning activities of the Iranian programme, and particularly the enrichment of uranium to 20%, in exchange for the suspension of certain sanctions.

The Group of Six met with Iran many times in 2014. Progress was made in talks but was insufficient for the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement, so, on 24 November 2014, the Six and Iran decided to continue negotiations until 30 June 2015.

These talks only cover the Iranian nuclear issue. Other regional crises are not discussed in that framework.

What is France’s role in these negotiations?

France supports the development of a civilian nuclear programme in Iran but firmly refuses that Iran should obtain nuclear weapons. As far as France is concerned, the long-term agreement must guarantee the exclusively peaceful purposes of the Iranian nuclear programme by three means:

-  limitation of Iran’s most sensitive capabilities, and particularly the uranium enrichment programme;

-  transformation of the most concerning sites, such as the Arak reactor and the underground Fordow site;

-  total transparency on the part of Iran with regard to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In return, France, like its E3/EU+3 partners, proposes that all economic sanctions against Iran be suspended and then lifted rapidly. France is also prepared to contribute to the development of Iran’s civilian nuclear programme though international cooperation.

France is committed to the success of these negotiations in reaching a long-term agreement. An agreement would contribute greatly to the nuclear non-proliferation regime and to peace and stability in the Middle East.

18.12.14

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