In the reporting and analysis, there seem to be many implicit assumptions. The assumptions differ with the source. On the one hand, much of the mainstream media in the United States has assumed that Iran's goal is to have a nuclear weapon. On another hand, there is a strain of analysis that assumes Iran's nuclear program is totally innocent. My own judgement, and all of these are judgements, are that Iran wants a nuclear program that will allow it to build nuclear weapons in a relatively short time, and that if that program allows it to build a civilian nuclear power program as well, so much the better.
Further, I believe that there is a range of opinion within the Iranian government, from those who would go directly to building nuclear weapons to those who feel that nuclear weapons are against the teachings of Islam but who find the scientific achievement of having a nuclear program a source of national pride. These opinions are complicated by a desire not to accede to the countries that have behaved colonially toward Iran in the past and a conflict within the government as to who is truly practicing the ideals of the 1979 revolution.
It is possible to find support for my conclusions, but not strong support, because of Iran's intricate and secretive governmental processes. The same is true of the other viewpoints, although I do believe that both the "run for a bomb" and "Iran is innocent" scenarios are undermined by available evidence.
Within that context, today's proposal by Iran looks like an attempt to buy time and perhaps to conclude a deal. Various US officials, most recently Defense Secretary Robert Gates, have commented that sanctions may be next, and the Senate is considering a vote on sanctions. Israel continues to make noises about its security, meaning bombing Iran. So Iran must reply.
Its reply is not very different from what it has proposed before:
Manochehr Mottaki said Iran agreed with a UN deal proposed in October in which up to 1,200kg of its uranium would be exchanged for fuel rods to power its research reactor.Reports differ as to where the swap would take place, perhaps on the Iranian Kish Island.
"We accepted the proposal in principle," he said.
"We suggested in the first phase we give you 400kg of 3.5 per cent enriched uranium and you give us the equivalent in 20pc uranium."
This seems to be a different proposal than an earlier Iranian proposal, which required all the fuel elements for the Tehran Research Reactor (referred to as "the equivalent in 20pc uranium") first, with Iran's 3.5% enriched uranium to be delivered in later instalments. So perhaps there is some movement. Iran has reason to be suspicious too and wants to hedge its bets.
The fact that this offer was made at the end of the week supports the idea that it is for buying time. The question is whether that time is for further enrichment or an attempt to deal with differences within the Iranian government. Both are possible; the enrichment continues, although it has been slowed during the fall.
The early US response is not positive, but the official response has not yet been formulated:
A senior Obama administration official said Mottaki's remarks appeared to fall short of demands.Mohamed ElBaradei, who was an intermediary in his post as IAEA Director, has urged patience with Iran.
"Iran's proposal today does not appear to be consistent with the fair and balanced draft agreement proposed by the IAEA in consultation with the United States, Russia, and France," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the U.S. has yet to formulate an official response to the development.