Tehran will not surrender its right to nuclear development in upcoming talks with world powers, Iran’s President said on Sunday. Hassan Rouhani added, however, that his country would be 'transparent' in negotiations over the disputed program.Speaking to a group of medical and nuclear experts, Mr.Rohani appeared to be trying to counter hard-liners in his country, who increasingly criticize the nuclear deal with the world powers for giving too much, while gaining too little from the West. 

Mark Hibbs
Hibbs is a Germany-based nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program. His areas of expertise are nuclear verification and safeguards, multilateral nuclear trade policy, international nuclear cooperation, and nonproliferation arrangements.
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The Iranian President said that, if the world seeks good relations with Iran, it should - quote – ‘respect the Iranian nation’ and ‘surrender to Iran’s rights’. ‘What we can offer the world is greater transparency’, Mr.Rohani pointed out. Also on Sunday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized Western expectations for his country to limit its missile program, describing them as ‘stupid and idiotic’. He accused the West of continuously raising military threats against Iran and added that missiles should be mass-produced. The Voice of Russia talked to Mark Hibbs, Berlin based senior associate in Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program.

The United States and its allies are worried about its missile program as they fear the weapons could carry nuclear warheads. However, Iran insists that missiles are part of its conventional armed forces and rules out including them on the agenda of the nuclear negotiations.

The talks beginning on Tuesday in Vienna, Austria, are aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s enrichment program and other nuclear activities in exchange for full sanctions relief. The two sides hope to strike a deal by July 20. Iran has already said it would redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to greatly limit the amount of plutonium it can make. The move is seen as Tehran’s major concession.

What are the prospects of striking a deal on Iran’s enrichment program?

There are optimists who feel that a deal could be struck by July 20th+. In the view of others the powers are already taking steps to extend the negotiations beyond July. The narrative that we are hearing suggesting that a deal could be imminent might just be informed by the need to reassure critics in the US and Iran that there is progress being made.

They’ve moved forward but the real problems are yet to come. They have to decide how long the term of the deal would be. The West wants a deal that would 20 years, Iran perhaps wants a deal that would limited to as little as five years. But if we look at the past, we see that the issue of the length of the suspension has been critical.

The suspension is tricky, because while Iran is going to be suspending its uranium enrichment, it wants to continue its R&D activities who would give them a more sophisticated and capable technology during the period of time that they are not actually enriching uranium.

It sounds like they’ll have all of the equipment and in theory would be able to do it. And as soon as the time is up, they can actually do it in practicality.

The negotiations address the problem of Iran breaking out. In other words, quickly producing enough enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon. What is less clear in the architecture of the deal which is being negotiated is how the powers and Iran will address the problems of a potential clandestine activity by Iran. That would require an inspection regime and a transparency mechanism that would have to be set up between Iran, the powers and the IAEA.

What about Iran’s missile program? Is it expected to be discussed in Vienna as well?

This aspect has already led to some differences between, for example, the Russian Federation and the US. An official in the US State Department responsible for these negotiations recently told Congress that the deal with Iran would address this missile program. The officials in Russia countered, by asserting that the missile issue was separate. I don’t know whether the missile program itself would be addressed by the talks. One way out of this dilemma would be to set up a separate but parallel discussion between Iran and the powers about the future of the missile program.

Can Tehran’s missile program hinder the negotiation process?

It depends on how the powers and Iran go forward on this. The Iranians claim that this missile program is part of its weapons development for its conventional defense. Others aren’t sharing that view. But the fact is that the missile program is not specifically singled out in the agreement, it is an additional problem.

Some people say that the Obama administration has downgraded the America’s relationship with Israel and even upgraded Iran’s status. However, the US still has Iran listed as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism. Doesn’t it seem somewhat hypocritical?

The Israelis’ statements are to a certain extent informed by the fact that they are not sitting at the table. As far as Iran’s status is concerned, the US for many decades has not had an official bilateral relationship with Tehran and it is in the process of addressing that issue. And I think that the Israelis will understand that the US having a relationship with Iran is in their interest.

Israel is not the only player in the Middle East. There are other parties that are concerned, such as Saudi Arabia.

My concern here has more to do with how the West will relate to Russia. The Russians do not want to see Iran with nuclear arms, but they also don’t want to see a deal in which the US and the EU emerge with greater leverage and more influence in the Middle East.

This interview was originally published on the Voice of Russia.