The positions of the United States and Iran on Iran’s nuclear program remained unchanged on Tuesday, with the speeches of the countries’ two presidents, Barack Obama and Hasan Rouhani, at the United Nations General Assembly. Mr. Rouhani reasserted Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium inside his country, but he did not specifically insist on the making of high-grade enriched uranium, which can be readily turned into weapons-grade uranium. Consequently, the next round of negotiations in Geneva next month is not yet doomed to futility, and the time is not quite ripe for a further tightening of sanctions on Iran.
At present, the Iranians are believed to have uranium enriched to 20 per cent, which is perilously close to being weapons-grade; such material must be removed from Iran to a safe country. Its presence there is unacceptable.
John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, and Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, are meeting on Thursday, the first such event since 1979. Moreover, the International Atomic Energy Agency will publish a report on the nuclear program on Friday; it is to be hoped it will clarify the present state of affairs – though the evasiveness of Iranian officials is at the heart of the whole problem.
There is no doubt that the existing sanctions are burdensome to the people of Iran, and Mr. Rouhani’s promise to alleviate them in the election last June was a factor in his strong victory.
Mr. Rouhani’s practical and respectful demeanour, in striking contrast to the shrill, provocative demagoguery of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is encouraging, but hardly anything to be banked on.
Nor is the fatwa of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, against making nuclear weapons, which pronounced in February, 2012, ultimately to be relied upon; if the rulers of Iran chose to believe themselves in great danger, they would doubtless try to be in a position to make such weapons in a hurry, claiming necessity. It is such a situation that the world needs to prevent.