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Delay Tactics Benefit Iran's Uranium Work: Officials
Iran's past victories in expanding its nuclear operations in the face of widespread opposition from other states suggest the nation could use multilateral discussions planned for next week to pursue the same end as well as greater international acceptance of its uranium refinement efforts, Iranian issue experts and government insiders said in a Monday report by the New York Times (see GSN, May 14).
The Persian Gulf regional power could prioritize such goals over any effort to achieve a final resolution to a years-old dispute over its atomic activities when Iranian diplomats meet in Baghdad next week with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the Iranian sources suggested. Tehran has consistently denied U.S. and European assertions that its atomic activities are geared toward establishment of a nuclear-weapon capability.
"Without violating any international laws or the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], we have managed to bypass the red lines the West created for us,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, a counselor for Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei wields the final word on all Iranian political decisions and maintains a solid relationship with his nation's delegates to the atomic discussions (see GSN, May 4).
Iran has linked its first atomic energy facility to the national electricity network and moved to establish a heavy-water reactor installation, despite Western powers' initial opposition to the nation operating such sites, Taraghi said.
Separately, Washington and European capitals have pressed Iran to end uranium enrichment -- a process capable of generating both civilian fuel and weapon material -- and the U.N. Security Council has adopted four sanctions resolutions to the same end.
“But here we are, enriching as much as we need for our nuclear energy program,” Taraghi said in reference to Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which has remained active for years. Iran this year began activating refinement gear at its subterranean Qum installation, which is intended to survive a significant military offensive.
In a meeting with the six world powers last month in Istanbul, Turkey, Tehran successfully stressed the crucial nature of Khamenei's clerical renunciation of nuclear arms stockpiles, and in the process supported the case that it was not seeking such an arsenal, Taraghi added. “The West is secular, they do not believe that religious decisions are more important for us than political ones. This took some convincing from our side.”
By referring at the meeting to the Islamic order, U.S. government sources said they wanted to create a means for Tehran to hammer out a bargain while preserving its dignity.
Taraghi said Iran could use the May 23 meeting to call for concessions such as the elimination of penalties targeting its central bank, the Times reported.
Western government personnel have indicated their demands of Iran might include access to the Parchin armed forces installation for international nuclear monitors; the Qum facility's closure; and, under any possible deal, acceptance of terms permitting closer scrutiny of Iranian atomic assets.
If Tehran halted uranium refinement until taking such steps as comprehensively answering International Atomic Energy Agency questions about its possible nuclear bomb-relevant experimentation and permitting snap U.N. audits of known and potential nuclear facilities, an enrichment program within Iranian borders could be possible in a matter of years, U.S. government insiders said.
Still, a specialist once tied to the Iranian Supreme National Security Council said "this illustrates that the nuclear case is just another pretext for trying to keep us down.”
“Therefore, we view each round of negotiations as a separate phase, not as leading to an all-out solution,” Aziz Shah Mohammadi added.
A lack of progress in multilateral dialogue could lead to a new Iranian atomic initiative, according to an unidentified expert.
"Wait for our leaders to announce, for example, a new mountain bunker so [Qum] will be forgotten,” the expert said. “In case of failure we will try to hold out again until better opportunities for reaching our goals arise.”
A number of Western and Iranian government insiders have suggested the Obama administration might be amenable to continuation of certain Iranian uranium enrichment activities if Tehran provided various assurances and agreed to extensive audits of its atomic sites, according to the Times (see GSN, May 3).
Iran, for its part, has suggested it could be willing to end manufacturing of 20 percent enriched uranium. Tehran says it needs the material for operating a medical isotope production reactor, while the United States and other nations worry the operation is a step toward production of weapon-grade material, which requires an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent (Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times I, May 14).
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Undersecretary Ali Bagheri in the last week has discussed the content of the upcoming meeting with Helga Schmid, a representative for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, World Politics Review reported on Monday (Laura Rozen, World Politics Review, May 14).
The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to resume separate discussions with Iran next Monday, IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts said on Tuesday at the end of the second day of dialogue between the sides.
"The primary focus of our discussions was how to clarify issues related to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," Nackaerts said. "We had a good exchange of views and we will meet again on Monday."
Iran's envoy to the U.N. organization said meeting participants had "fruitful discussions in a very conducive environment ... we have had progress."
"We decided that in order to continue this work towards conclusion we will have next week ... the next round of talks," Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh added.
The officials provided no further specifics and did not indicate if the meeting took up the U.N. nuclear watchdog's demand for access to Iran's Parchin facility (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters I, May 15).
One Western diplomat said he would be "very surprised" by any Iranian decision to provide access to Parchin. The agency in November reported indications that the Persian Gulf power had assembled a tank at the base for performing detonations relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon development effort (see GSN, May 9; Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, May 15).
A digital sketch recently provided to the Associated Press by an unidentified government source could depict "a hydrodynamic test chamber," atomic expert John Large told the Times. "Or it could be anything,” he said.
The picture is purportedly based on an eyewitness description of the interior of the suspected tank's housing. Large did not rule out the sketch's authenticity, though he said a technically proficient individual lacking postsecondary education would also be capable of producing such an image.
“You would expect it in a development program like this,” according to the analyst. “All the bits of the jigsaw are being drawn together.”
Between 66 and 110 pounds of non-nuclear ordnance would be necessary to assess effects on a nuclear weapon's fissile component using a container of the design depicted in the sketch, he said.
“It would indicate a fairly crude level of development,” Large said. “The Americans and others now use computer-modeling for this, which means you can do everything in miniature.”
Complete experimentation with the depicted equipment would generate a succession of brief, percussive noises, according to the analyst. “They would probably locate it at about [82 feet] underground or in an area where there’s lots of quarrying, in order to disguise the explosions,” he said (Harvey Morris, New York Times II, May 15).
Meanwhile, Washington on Monday said certain Iranian initiatives "are inconsistent with a peaceful program,” RIA Novosti reported.
“The position of the U.S. is that we’ve had concerns about Iran’s intentions with regard to its nuclear activity,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “We are calling on Iran to participate with the IAEA to make the kind of transparent, open access to all of its facilities that would reassure all of us with regard to its intentions.”
“It claims its facilities are peaceful; if they’re purely peaceful, then there ought to be no difficulty allowing full inspection thereof,” she said. “We have concerns about some of the activity that we know about and why it would be ongoing if, in fact, the program is purely peaceful, because some of the things we’ve seen are inconsistent with a peaceful program” (RIA Novosti, May 15).
Iran's president on Monday advised Western powers to adopt appropriate decorum in their dealings with the country, Agence France-Presse reported.
"If the West corrects its manners and respects the Iranian people, in return it will gain the respect of the Iranians," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in remarks reported by the Islamic Republic News Agency.
"They should know that the Iranian nation will not retreat a step over its fundamental right," he added, reaffirming his government's stance on its atomic activities (Agence France-Presse I/News24, May 14).
"No intelligent human being would spend money on building a nuclear weapon," Ahmadinejad said. "If the leaders (of nuclear powers) were intelligent, they would spend their people's money on improving the lives of their citizens" (Agence France-Presse II, May 14).
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Monday added: "If [the five permanent Security Council member nations and Germany plan] to cooperate in a positive atmosphere in the talks, we will welcome such negotiations.
"Fortunately there was a positive atmosphere in Istanbul which formed a basis for talks founded on [the Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. This is a good framework," Mehmanparast said in comments reported by Fars News. "According to [the nonproliferation treaty] we have some obligations and some rights that we should enjoy. But we have to wait until the Baghdad talks for the details of the agreement" (Agence France-Presse I).
Ahmadinejad's media adviser on Monday questioned the government's present efforts to engage outside governments, highlighting the Iranian's president's exasperation over his recent marginalization in the diplomacy, the Financial Times reported. Ali Akbar Javanfekr suggested Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili had stood with Ashton for a photograph in a bid to ease fears among Iranian businesses concerned by economic penalties (Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, May 14).
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