The stakes loom large as six world powers meet in Baghdad today to agree on curbing Iran's nuclear program. By many accounts, Iran's willingness to bend to Western demands could determine whether Israel or the U.S. launch a pre-emptive airstrike on the country's nuclear facilities in the coming months. Here are the key bargaining points.
Access to Parchin. A small military site 18 miles outside of Tehran contains the most talked-about facility for non-proliferation experts. It allegedly contains a "large cylindrical object" where explosive tests were carried out in 2003. But Iran has refused to give the International Atomic Energy Agency access to it. Now, that could all change. On Tuesday, the U.N. nuclear agency said Tehran will allow access to Parchin, "despite some remaining differences." What those differences are could be key to satisfying critics of Iran's nuclear program. One would think that a tour of the facility pictured above, which the U.N. says it wants to inspect, would have to be included in the deal. But as State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday, there are multiple compliance factors. "Obviously, the announcement of the deal is one thing, but the implementation is what we're going to be looking for," she told reporters, "for Iran to truly follow through and provide the access to all of the locations, the documents, and the personnel that the IAEA requires in order to determine whether Iran's program is exclusively for peaceful purposes." While Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak says Iran is merely giving "the impression of progress," the IAEA seems optimistic that the country is making earnest concessions.
Uranium enrichment. Arguably the most pressing concern is Iran's stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity, which some say is too close to the 90 percent needed to fuel a nuke. Obama administration officials tell The Christian Science Monitor that lowering Iran's level of enrichment could be a positive outcome of the talks. But, according to Israel's Barak, simply lowering the levels won't be enough. "Barak repeated Israel's demand that Iran stop all uranium enrichment," reports stated yesterday. Still, as The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg explains the dynamic, Israel might be willing to accept less. "Obama disagrees with the Israeli position, which is, no enrichment whatsoever," he writes, "but the Israeli stance is more of a bargaining point than anything else. It's hard to believe the Israelis would attack if Iran were only enriching uranium to 3.5 percent."
Sanctions A possible benefit of the talks for Iran would be a partial lift of the heavy sanctions against it. Still, if Western countries are planning on easing sanctions, they aren't letting that out of the bag yet. "U.S. and European Union sanctions are crippling Iran's ability to export and get paid for crude, its main source of revenue," Blomberg reports. But "the U.S. and the EU are in no hurry to ease that pressure before their concerns about Iran's nuclear program are addressed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.