October 3, 2009

The panel on AC360 responds to the news that Iran has agreed to move most of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment, and then to France to be turned into fuel rods to power a Tehran reactor used for medical research.

COOPER: Breaking news on Iran. U.S. negotiators sitting across the table from Iranian diplomats today in Geneva, hammering out a deal that will allow inspection of a newly-suspected nuclear site.

Now, under the agreement, Iran would also ship all those non- weapons-grade uranium to other countries for further enrichment. But only enough enrichment to use in reactors, not in bombs.

Joining me now is Reza Aslan, author of "How to Win a Cosmic War" and a contributor to Daily Beast. Also Abbas Milani, director of Iranian studies at Stanford. And on the phone, Candy Crowley.

Reza, how big a deal is this?

ASLAN: Well, it's actually quite significant. I mean, one of the major issues that we had with Iran was its stockpile of low enriched uranium. And, frankly, eight years of an administration that refused to talk to Iran unless it stopped its enrichment process resulted in eight years of uninterrupted enrichment.

And in an afternoon, we managed to make some sort of agreement for Iran to reduce its nuclear stockpile, its enriched uranium stockpile by about 75 percent. So that's a fairly significant deal.

COOPER: Abbas, is there reason to be cautious about, A, their willingness to follow-through with this and, perhaps, the real significance of it?

MILANI: I think there is. I don't think we should over blow this. I think this is a first step. I think it's a baby step in the right direction.

But there are many loopholes. And the way they have worded it leaves a great deal of ambiguity. There is always the danger that the regime has other sites. There is always the danger that the regime will renege.

But this is a regime that was pretty much in a corner and was trying to get out of a jam. And what it does, when it is in a jam, and what it will later do when it is out of the current jam, fighting three wars essentially, are two different things.

COOPER: Interesting point.

Candy, beyond the enrichment news, Iran said it's going to cooperate fully, their word, and immediately with the U.N. nuclear agency and will invite inspection of its newly-revealed uranium enrichment facility soon. Also their word. I'm not sure "immediately" and "soon" necessarily are the same things.

But for the Obama administration, is this a political win? Or is it -- or are they not going to, sort of claim that so early?

CROWLEY: They're not going to claim that early. If others want to claim it for them, obviously, they'll allow it.

But I think we just have to go back to what the president said earlier today, when he said talk is no substitute for action. Because what we have now is talk. Any time you hear the words "agreement in principle" to do this or that and that something will happen soon, there's an awful lot that can happen between now and soon. And an agreement in principle is not action.

So I think the president chose his words very carefully when he said that. Because he knows some of what he is dealing with here. This is not a country that has had a great track record of revealing things. I mean they only fess up to this plan when they were found out. So transparency has not been their number one watch word.

So we'll see. It may be, I mean I think we're somewhere in between nothing happened and great things happened. Because so far, nothing's happened but they have sat down together. They have seemed to have agreed to something. Let's see if it actually pans out, which is what I think the president was saying.

COOPER: Reza, are there plans for more talks?

ASLAN: Yes, in fact, that was the first words out of both the U.S. diplomatic team and the Iranian diplomatic team. This is essentially the first round of what will be, I think, a long series of talks throughout the year. Right up until the end of December, it looks like.

So we're just seeing the beginning of this. But Candy is right. I mean, you know, we've got a long way to go. But at the very least, we have something that's historic, which is the first time in which we have any kind of bilateral talks, referring here to Undersecretary of State William Burns and Saeed Jalili, Iran's nuclear negotiator.

The first time we had bilateral talks between the U.S. and Iran in 30 years. So at least we've begun a process. Now, where that process goes remains to be seen. But it's always better to talk than not.

COOPER: Abbas, what other concessions would the U.S. push for now?

MILANI: I think the big issue is whether Iran is going to continue enrichment, at what level they will continue enrichment, how rigorous they will allow IAEA to inspect this enrichment sites. And I think that is the big issue. That's the big test. And that's where I think we're going to face the biggest difficulties.

It's hard to imagine that, if the regime is more at peace at home, in other words, once it has solved some of its domestic problems with the people of Iran, within the regime, with some of the angry revolutionary guard commanders, whether they will agree to the kind of inspection or level of enrichment activity that will keep the world satisfied. That, to me, is extremely doubtful.

But it is a good beginning. And I think Mr. Aslan is right. It's always better to talk than to not talk.

COOPER: I appreciate you all putting it in perspective for us tonight. Reza Aslan, Abbas Milani, always good to have you on. And Candy Crowley, as well. Thank you.

Can you help us out?

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