International sanctions are taking their toll on Iran’s economy, and it now appears that new President Hassan Rohani could thus be willing to make concessions in the country’s long-running standoff with the West over its nuclear program.
Nothing — not even Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons — is a source of such deep concern for the West and Israel as Iran’s nuclear facilities, such as Natanz, Isfahan and Fordo. The installation at Fordo, not far from the holy city of Qom, is viewed as a particularly grave threat.
Researchers working underground there are using 696 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20 percent. Afterwards, it only takes a relatively small step to create the material required to build nuclear bombs. Fordo, which didn’t go into operation until late 2011, is reportedly the most modern plant in the Iranian nuclear program which — despite all denials from Tehran — the world believes is designed to give the Islamic Republic the ultimate weapon. What’s more, Fordo is believed to be virtually indestructible. Even bunker-buster bombs would hardly be powerful enough to disable the facility — the enrichment cascades lie 70 meters (230 feet) under the surface.
But the long-smoldering nuclear dispute with Tehran may be about to take a sensational turn. SPIEGEL has learned from intelligence sources that Iran’s new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country’s central bank to do international business again.
Rohani reportedly intends to announce the details of the offer, perhaps already during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month. His foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, will meet Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, in New York next Sunday and give her a rough outline of the deal. If he were to make such wide-ranging concessions, President Rohani would initiate a negotiating process that could conceivably even lead to a resumption of bilateral diplomatic relations with Washington.
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