Risky Business

Why Iran's Nuclear Demands Could Backfire

An Iranian girl carries an anti-U.S. placard with an image of U.S. President Barack Obama, January 13, 2012.
An Iranian girl carries an anti-U.S. placard with an image of U.S. President Barack Obama, January 13, 2012. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Courtesy Reuters)

This week, Iranian and U.S. diplomats raced to Geneva for unscheduled, high-level bilateral talks. The news might have come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have. The deadline to reach a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran -- July 20 -- is fast approaching, and the parties still have significant differences to overcome. In particular, unless Tehran changes its tune on the all-important issue of uranium enrichment, and does so soon, the prospects for a peaceful diplomatic solution are nil.

Five months ago, Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) reached an interim nuclear agreement known as the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), which froze and then modestly rolled back Tehran’s nuclear program. The JPOA was designed to buy time for both sides to negotiate a final accord that would ensure that Iran would not weaponize its nuclear program. Iran and the P5+1 have made some real progress since then, but they remain very far apart on the critical issue of enrichment: the process of purifying uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors and, potentially, atomic bombs.

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