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New Iran Nuke Talks Face Old Hurdles   09/19 06:52

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Seven months and more than a half dozen rounds into 
talks on a substantive nuclear deal, Iran and six world powers gathering for 
another session appear no closer to an agreement.

   Iran claims its nuclear program has only peaceful purposes, but Western 
nations have long suspected Iran wants to have the capacity to make nuclear 

   The talks once again bring Iran to the negotiating table with the United 
States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. But this time they are 
taking place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly. That means U.S. 
Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts will likely join in, adding 
their diplomatic muscle to the meeting.

   Ahead of the opening round Friday, chief U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman 
acknowledged that the sides "remain far apart on other core issues, including 
the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity." Depending on its 
level, enriched uranium can be used as reactor fuel or the fissile core of a 
nuclear warhead.

   Iranian demands that it be allowed to keep its program at its present size 
and output are not acceptable and will not give Iran what it wants --- an end 
to nuclear-related sanctions choking its economy, she told reporters.

   "We must be confident that any effort by Tehran to break out of its 
obligations will be so visible and time-consuming that the attempt would have 
no chance of success," she said of Washington's push for deep, long-lasting 
cuts to prevent any quick move to a nuclear weapon-making mode.

   Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif questioned sanctions, however, 
as effective in pressuring his country on its nuclear program, nothing it has 
greatly expanded over the past decades.

   "The United States is obsessed with sanctions," he said.

   Gary Samore of Harvard's Belfer Center, who was a part of the U.S. nuclear 
negotiating team until last year, suggested both sides may be waiting until 
closer to the deadline to make their moves. Ahead of that, he says, Iran 
appears to be exploiting other geopolitical tensions in hopes of gaining an 

   "The confrontation over Ukraine, the likes of (Islamic State group) --- all 
that has led the Iranians to believe that they are in a stronger position than 
before," Samore said. "It doesn't seem to me like there has been any progress 
on the central question of enrichment."

   Some facts about enrichment and other issues related to the nuclear 


   There is agreement that Iran should have an "enrichment program with 
practical limits and transparency measures" to ensure it's peaceful. That has 
led to haggling over how many --- and what kind --- of centrifuges Iran should 
be allowed to have. The machines can enrich uranium from low, reactor-fuel 
level, all the way to grades used to build the core of a nuclear weapon, and 
their output grows according to how modern they are.

   Iran has not publicly backed away from its plan to expand enrichment over 
the next eight years to a level that would require about 190,000 centrifuges. 
It now has about 20,000 centrifuges, half of them operational. Iranian 
officials have signaled they are ready to freeze that number for now. The 
United States wants Iran to have fewer than 1,000 centrifuges.


   The U.S. and its allies consider the underground enrichment plant near the 
Iranian village of Fordo a threat because it is heavily fortified against 
aerial attacks. They want it shut down or converted to non-enrichment 
functions. Among the Iranian offers rejected by the West is turning Fordo into 
an enrichment research facility.

   The reactor under construction near the city of Arak is also a concern for 
the West because it is a heavy-water unit that would produce substantial 
amounts of plutonium that can be used as the fissile core of a missile. The 
Iranians have offered to re-engineer it to produce less plutonium --- but that 
process is reversible. The U.S. seeks a completely new kind of reactor that 
produces only minuscule amounts of plutonium.


   An interim agreement says that if Iran honors a final agreement, it will 
eventually be treated as any other non-nuclear weapons member of the Nuclear 
Non-Proliferation Treaty. This means Iran would have the right to expand 
enrichment without having to worry about strict monitoring.

   Senior U.S. officials define the number of years of restrictions as "in the 
double digits," while Iran wants it to be less than 10 years.


   Iran denies wanting --- or ever working on --- nuclear weapons and has 
pledged to cooperate with the latest U.N. atomic agency effort to probe such 
allegations. But months into the inquiry, it has yet to provide information 
sought by the agency. While the investigation is separate from the talks, the 
U.S. says a deal can be struck only if the U.N. agency is satisfied with the 
probe and its final results.


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