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U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Can't Break Impasse With Iran

International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts speaks to reporters in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday. The U.N. nuclear watchdog said a team led by Nackaerts this week was foiled in efforts to resolve questions over Iran's nuclear program (AP Photo/Ronald Zak). International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts speaks to reporters in Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday. The U.N. nuclear watchdog said a team led by Nackaerts this week was foiled in efforts to resolve questions over Iran's nuclear program (AP Photo/Ronald Zak).

Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency were unable to make progress on resolving questions about Iran's contested atomic operations during a trip to the Middle Eastern state this week, the U.N. organization conceded on Wednesday (see GSN, Feb. 21).

The two-day visit that ended on Tuesday came nearly a month after a round of talks in Iran in January. In both cases, Iranian officials rejected the IAEA delegation's request to view the Parchin military installation, which has been seen as the possible site of a reservoir for performing explosive detonations relevant to a nuclear-weapon effort.

The sides also failed to reach any accord on a written instrument that would be aimed at helping answer persistent questions about Iran's atomic program, "particularly those relating to possible military dimensions," according to an IAEA press release.

Iran says its nuclear program has no military aspects and has dismissed as fakes documents indicating it has conducted weapon-relevant activities.

"It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin during the first or second meetings," IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in the release. "We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached" (International Atomic Energy Agency release, Feb. 22).

Agency safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts said the five-person team of IAEA staffers "approached this trip in a constructive spirit" but "could not find a way forward" in talks with Iranian government representatives, the Associated Press reported. "At this point in time there is no agreement on further discussions," according to IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor.

Nackaerts said the next move is up to the 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors, which is scheduled to begin its upcoming meeting on March 5. The session could produce results ranging from no formal action to reporting Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has already passed four sanctions resolutions aimed at curbing the nation's uranium enrichment activities.

A spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said "cooperation with the agency continues and is at its best level." However, Tehran also ratcheted up its rhetoric in the continued nuclear standoff, with a senior military official saying Iran would take pre-emptive action against enemy threats. In addition, Iran said this week it would cut off oil sales to France and the United Kingdom, ahead of the European Union embargo on imports of Iranian petroleum that is to begin in July (George Jahn, Associated Press, Feb. 22).

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday said his nation had no intention of developing nuclear weapons but also would  not be deterred in pursuing its atomic activities, which his nation insists are intended for energy production and other civilian purposes, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The Iranian nation has never been seeking an atomic weapon and never will be. It will prove to the world that a nuclear weapon cannot create supremacy," Khamenei said to Iranian atomic researchers. "The path of scientific development, particularly the nuclear field, should continue strongly and seriously," he added (Mohammad Davari, Agence France-Presse I/Yahoo!News, Feb. 22).

"With God's help, and without paying attention to propaganda, Iran's nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously," Reuters quoted Khamenei as saying in a televised speech on Wednesday. "Pressures, sanctions and assassinations will bear no fruit. No obstacles can stop Iran's nuclear work."

The failure of the latest IAEA-Iran talks "is another missed opportunity," said French Deputy Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal. "This refusal to cooperate adds to the recent statements made by Iranian officials welcoming the progress of their nuclear activities."

"We think that if Iran has nothing to hide why do they behave in that way?" said one source from a Western nation.

Opening its nuclear facilities to increased scrutiny by Western nations would make Tehran appear more vulnerable, according to Iranian expert Mohammad Marandi.

"Under the current conditions it is not in Iran's interest to cooperate more than is necessary because the West is waging a war against the Iranian nation," he said to Reuters.

The much-discussed potential for Israel to use armed force to disable Iran's nuclear facilities might be greater in the wake of the latest IAEA visit, according to some issue specialists. That outcome, though, would be "catastrophic for the region and for the whole system of international relations," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov (Dahl/Hafesi, Reuters I, Feb. 22).

Senior U.S. lawmakers in the Republican Party on Tuesday said Jerusalem must determine if the use of military force against Iran is the correct course of action, AFP reported.

"Israel probably is most capable of determining what the threats are to their national security," Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said to reporters in Jerusalem. "I think they are a sovereign nation and their assessment is one that if I were an Israeli citizen I would rely on more than that of another government."

Added Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): "I just want to tell our Israeli friends my advice is never lose control of your destiny. You do what is necessary to control your own destiny and you have my full blessing."

The chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, over the weekend told CNN that it is "premature" to conduct an attack against Iran. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Foreign Minister William Hague have offered similar cautionary statements, AFP reported.

Observers have also noted the significant challenges Israel would face in launching airstrikes against Iran, including defeating the nation's air defenses and hitting several sites at one time. There is widespread belief that Israel could slow down but not eliminate its foe's nuclear operations (Agence France-Presse II/Times of India, Feb. 22).

Meanwhile, China and India have joined Japan in preparing to reduce imports of unrefined Iranian petroleum by no less than 10 percent, Reuters reported.

Iran exports roughly 45 percent of its crude oil to the three nations (Aizhu/Verma, Reuters II, Feb. 21).

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