The feel-good mood engendered by promising overtures from Iran’s new president Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama has raised hopes for a settlement in the Iranian nuclear crisis. But the devil — especially in this case — is in the details.
The nuts-and-bolts of Iran’s nuclear program, and whether Tehran can give guarantees that it is not designed to make nuclear weapons will determine whether a deal with the United States is possible.
Here is a look at what Iran has achieved in a decade of intense nuclear work; what the main areas of concern are, and how the Iranian program can be reined in to give adequate guarantees that Iran does not seek the bomb.
In 2002, when Iran was discovered building two secret plants, one at Natanz to enrich uranium and the other that could make plutonium, the Islamic Republic had basically zero capability to make either of these strategic materials. Uranium and plutonium can be part of the fuel cycle that powers atomic reactors — but they are also the two main avenues toward building the explosive core of atom bombs.
Iran has pressed ahead over the past decade, building up its nuclear capabilities. It has continued even as the major powers carried out a diplomatic offensive to get Tehran to suspend both uranium enrichment and the construction of the Arak heavy-water plant, where plutonium could be produced.