By YOSSI LEMPKOWICZ
Six days after the Geneva agreement with the P5+1 on its nuclear program, Iran said it will keep up construction on the Arak heavy water plant, which, when operational, will produce plutonium that can be used in a nuclear bomb.
According to Iran’s Press TV, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who negotiated the deal with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told the Majlis, the Iranian parliament : “The capacity at the Arak site is not going to increase. It means no new nuclear fuel will be produced and no new installations will be installed, but construction will continue there.”
As part of the Geneva deal, dubbed the “Joint Plan of Action” Iran “committed to no further advances of its activities at Arak and to halt progress on its plutonium track.”
In exchange for Iran accepting to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities during a period of six months during which the sides will negotiate a final agreement, the six world powers agreed to lift some of the existing sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
However, Iran has disputed the version of the agreement put out by the US, and some experts have said loopholes in the text could allow the Iranians to continue construction offsite and then install components there later.
A spokeswoman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that a fact sheet on the deal on the While House website was inaccurate, and that the deal with western powers left Iran with more leeway on its nuclear program than the sheet had implied.
The Arak facility was already a sticking point during a previous round of negotiations with Iran earlier in November, with France reportedly scuppering a deal with Iran because its terms vis-à-vis Arak were unsatisfactory.
Zarif also said that his country’s enrichment activities at Natanz and Fordow facilities would continue, but at a range of 3.5 to 5 percent purity level, and that their capacities would not be expanded.
He insisted in reiterating statements made by Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani that “the deal reached in Geneva recognized Tehran’s nuclear rights, and shows the world powers that the agreement recognizes Iran’s right to enrichment.”
Catherine Ashton’s spokesman clarified that Iran’s “temporary rollback” of its nuclear activities has not yet begun. “The actual date for the beginning of the six-month period of the first step has yet to be decided,” the spokesman, Michael Mann, said.
“It will also depend on the outcome of technical discussions with Iran about the implementation arrangements that will take place soon,” he added.
According to a Western diplomat quoted by Agence France Presse, “the experts are going to be talking next week about how you translate that document (Sunday’s deal) into something which is more specific and practical…. The momentum behind this is really very strong. Everyone realizes we have a limited opportunity to get this right.”
According to Yaakov Amidror, former head Israel’s National Security Council, in Geneva Iran made only “cosmetic” concessions “to preserve its primary goal, which is to continue enriching uranium.”
“Iran will not only get to keep its existing 18,000 centrifuges; it will also be allowed to continue developing the next generation of centrifuges, provided it does not install them in uranium-enrichment facilities. Which is to say: Its uranium-enrichment capability is no weaker.”
“The agreement represents a failure, not a triumph of diplomacy. With North Korea, too, there were talks and ceremonies and agreements — but then there was the bomb. This is not an outcome Israel could accept with Iran,” he wrote in The New York Times.
“The deal will only lead Iran to be more stubborn. Anyone who has conducted business or diplomatic negotiations knows that you don’t reduce the pressure on your opponent on the eve of negotiations. Yet that is essentially what happened in Geneva.”
According to him “There is no reason to think that the six powers will have more leverage in the future than they had before the Geneva agreement. On the contrary, they just gave that leverage away. After years of disingenuous negotiations, Iran is now just a few months away from a bomb.”