Is Iran ready to make real concessions on its nuclear program? The German weekly newspaper Der Spiegel revealed on Monday that Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is considering decommissioning the nuclear facility in Fordo and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to closely inspect the site once the centrifuges have been dismantled.
In Israel meanwhile, the Walla! News portal quoted Deputy Foreign Minister MK Zeev Elkin as saying that Rouhani is buying time as the Iranian nuclear program continues undisturbed. "[Rouhani] is the father of the method of talking and enriching uranium at the same time," he said.
A senior Israeli official told Walla! that, "Israel is certainly not opposed to a diplomatic effort with Iran, but we are absolutely concerned about idle chatter during which the activity at the nuclear facilities will continue. It has happened in the past and it can happen again."
Strategic Affairs, Intelligence and International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio Tuesday that he was not impressed by Rouhani's proposal, saying it would do little to change Iran's nuclearization. "It's a small step; in and of itself, it bears no meaning" Steinitz said. "Most of the centrifuges are not there; without Fordo, they might be able to produce six, not seven, nuclear bombs."
Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom warned that following the difficulty the world has faced acting against Syria, Iran, a regional power, will feel unchallenged in continuing its nuclear program. He added that, despite this, he knows that "America will always stand on Israel's side," he told Walla!
The facility in Fordo is a significant part of the Iranian nuclear project. It is there that Teheran enriches its uranium, and it is essential for the military purposes of the project - purposes that Iran denies. According to the Spiegel report, which is based on intelligence sources, Iran will not follow through with its plan unless it receives something in return: Rouhani is expected to demand from the U.S. and the European Union to end sanctions against Iran's economy and central bank, which have made life very difficult for the Islamic Republic. Rouhani, who won presidential elections in June, committed himself to bringing Iran out of its economic crisis.
According to a Reuters report, the new Iranian atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, promised greater cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog during the IAEA annual conference on Monday. However, he also emphasized that Iran would never "compromise" over what it sees as its right to a civilian nuclear energy program. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for civilian purposes.
Salehi declined to say whether Iran would be willing to put a stop to its higher-grade uranium enrichment, which is the part of its nuclear problem that is most concerning to the West. "These are issues that will be discussed during the negotiations," he said.
Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Iran was ready to discuss this higher-level enrichment, to a fissile purity of 20 percent, in talks with Russia, the United States, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Western diplomats say that action is more important than words."The proof will be in the pudding," U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, head of the U.S. delegation at the IAEA meeting, told reporters. "The words have to be followed by concrete action."
Der Spiegel reported that in the coming month, during his speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Rouhani is expected to reveal to the details of the Iranian plan. Rouhani's presentation in New York will be very different from that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and it is thought that he will present the new face of Iran to the world.
The German weekly also reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet with the foreign affairs representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, in New York and will speak with her about Rouhani's offer. The offer may even lead to a renewal of diplomatic relations between Teheran and Washington, although there are currently no plans for Obama and Rouhani to meet at the general assembly.
The report in Der Spiegel comes after news of warming relations between the U.S. and Iran, and after President Obama revealed that he had exchanged letters with the president of Iran. Meanwhile, Iran is not changing its aggressive tone toward the United States.
Even as relations warm, the chief commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Ali Jafari, stated, "the arrogant enemy [America] suffered defeat in Syria in all things related to military intervention as well as with the rest of its plans. They did not succeed with anything concerning Syria. We have nothing to fear from them here in Iran." Jafari added: "Although there are American troops on our borders, they don't dare utter threats against us."