Does Iran Deal Include Right to Enrich Uranium? Depends on Whom You Ask

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 24 2013 12:05 PM

Does Iran Deal Include Right to Enrich Uranium? Depends on Whom You Ask

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Iranians look at newspapers displayed outside a kiosk on November 24, 2013 in the capital Tehran a day after a deal was reached on the country's nuclear program

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

As soon as the Iran nuclear deal was clinched early Sunday morning it became clear there were differences of interpretation over what exactly was signed by the world powers and Tehran. Iranian leaders celebrated the agreement, with the Fars news agency highlighting that “Iran’s right to enrichment has been recognized in two places of the document.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif quickly said Iran’s nuclear program “has been recognized and the Iranian people’s right to use the peaceful nuclear technology based on the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and as an inalienable right has been recognized and countries are necessitated not to create any obstacle on its way.” President Hassan Rouhani agreed the deal left little doubt, declaring in a statement broadcast on television Sunday morning: “Let anyone make his own reading, but this right is clearly stated in the text of the agreement that Iran can continue its enrichment, and I announce to our people that our enrichment activities will continue as before.”

The White House, however, strongly disagrees with this interpretation. As the Obama administration launched a broad effort to defend the agreement Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry seemed to have one key message Sunday morning: there is no right to uranium enrichment. “No. There is no right to enrich. We do not recognize a right to enrich. It is clear … in the nonproliferation treaty, it's very, very (clear) that there is no right to enrich,” Kerry told ABC News. “They have the ability to negotiate it, but they could only gain that capacity to have some enrichment as some countries do, if they live up to the whole set of terms necessary to prove its a peaceful program.”

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Kerry also pushed back against criticism that the deal fails to completely dismantle Iran’s nuclear program. “You can't always start where you want to wind up,” Kerry said.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.