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IAEA Barred From Iranian Atomic Site, Scientist

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shown delivering a sermon in Tehran on Friday, said his nation would respond to threats of military attack or petroleum penalties over its nuclear program (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader). Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, shown delivering a sermon in Tehran on Friday, said his nation would respond to threats of military attack or petroleum penalties over its nuclear program (AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader).

A high-level International Atomic Energy Agency delegation this week requested unsuccessfully to visit Iran's Parchin military site and interview a scientist thought to be overseeing nuclear bomb-related studies, further decreasing prospects for a deal to end tensions over the nation's atomic efforts, the Wall Street Journal on Friday quoted diplomatic officials as saying (see GSN, Feb. 2).

The U.N. nuclear watchdog in November noted "serious concerns" that the Persian Gulf regional power was seeking a nuclear-weapon capacity, and suggested the Parchin site might have held a tank for performing explosive detonations relevant to such an effort (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011). Tehran insists its atomic activities are strictly civilian in nature, and has said the installation is solely involved in conventional armed forces efforts.

Iran also placed atomic specialist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh off limits to the IAEA team, which conducted three days of talks in Tehran this week in an effort to resolve points of dispute over the country's atomic efforts. The U.N. organization has sought additional scrutiny of Iranian sites, personnel and records in an effort to clarify the nation's atomic intentions (Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, Feb. 3).

The agency turned away an Iranian bid to negotiate a phased approach for resolving concerns over the nuclear program, multiple Western diplomats in Vienna, Austria, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur on Thursday. Iranian government representatives sought an approach to addressing the organization's questions comparable to a 2007 strategy the sides had negotiated (see GSN, Sept. 12, 2007).

The IAEA delegates, though, communicated that "they don't want another work plan," a diplomat said.

Iran contends it met all conditions established under the 2007 agreement, while the U.N. agency has said questions remain over potential atomic arms studies and preparations carried out in the Middle Eastern nation.

The Vienna-based organization sought to avert a "box-ticking exercise" in which Tehran could declare issues resolved after conducting dialogue on each one, another envoy said.

"There is not a defined set of questions to be answered," the official said, referring to the possibility for the IAEA investigation to reveal further details in need of confirmation (Albert Otti, Deutsche Presse-Agentur/Monsters and Critics, Feb. 2).

Meanwhile, a "confluence" of data has led U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to see increasing probability that Israel could take military action against Iran in coming months, CNN quoted a high-level Obama administration insider as saying. The description of Panetta's assessment of Israeli action between April and June was first laid out in a Washington Post commentary published on Thursday.

An overall position has emerged within the Obama administration that Jerusalem might now be certain that Iran is moving to acquire a nuclear bomb, the insider told CNN.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday said Iran is approaching a stage "which may render any physical strike as impractical." The official last month said his country was "far" from deciding to attack Iran (see GSN, Jan. 18; Barbara Starr, CNN, Feb. 3).

Washington is leading other Western capitals in vigorously making the case to Jerusalem that military action would shore up Iran's leadership and should be avoided for the immediate future, the Associated Press reported.

The United States and partnered governments want to delay any Israeli attack until new penalties targeting Iran's petroleum revenue enter into force in several months. In addition, they have suggested Iran's nuclear program would survive any strike.

Still, the U.S. government is generally skeptical that Israeli decision-makers could be swayed by other powers, according to AP (Anne Gearan, Associated Press/Time, Feb. 2).

The world should take "strict measures" to prevent Iran from continuing to pursue nuclear armaments, Israeli armed forces chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said on Thursday in remarks reported by the Kuwait News Agency.

"Israel is the only country in the world which someone is calling for its destruction and which someone is building the tools to do so. This is something that cannot be ignored," he said (Kuwait News Agency, Feb. 2).

A former Obama administration adviser on the Middle East said Israel could launch an air assault against Iran in the next nine months, the London Telegraph reported on Thursday.

"The Israelis view this (Iranian threat) in existential terms. If the Israelis feel this is an existential threat it doesn't matter what anybody says to them. They could do it unilaterally," Dennis Ross said. "Whatever the American point of view Israel is a sovereign state and will make its own decisions. We certainly don't control them."

"They talk about nine to 12 months. There is a time frame from their end," the former official added (Alex Spillius, London Telegraph, Feb. 2).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee on Thursday passed a bill aimed in part at cutting Iran off from an international financial communications network through which the nation receives billions of dollars in funding, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Jan. 31; Rick Gladstone, New York Times, Feb. 2). House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Thursday submitted a bill with similar intent (U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee release, Feb. 2).

Separately, Greece on Thursday indicated it was seeking replacement petroleum sources, Agence France-Presse reported. The European Union last week finalized a six-month time line for prohibiting petroleum purchases from Iran (Agence France-Presse/Energy-daily.com, Feb. 2).

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Thursday reiterated his country's position that economic penalties would not resolve the nuclear standoff, the Xinhua News Agency reported (Xinhua News Agency, Feb. 2).

Iran would lash back against international petroleum penalties and hints of possible military action, Reuters quoted Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying on Friday (Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, Feb. 3).

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