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Iran Atomic Meeting Closes Without Breakthrough
Iran and six major governments achieved little headway in addressing longstanding concerns over the Persian Gulf regional power's atomic activities in two days of talks this week, the New York Times reported (see GSN, May 24).
Representatives of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States urged Iran to end production of 20 percent-enriched uranium, which Washington and other governments fear could enable faster production of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of around 90 percent. The Middle Eastern nation, which insists its nuclear efforts are strictly civilian in nature, called on the other negotiating countries to acknowledge its perceived right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to refine uranium for civilian purposes, and sought a rollback of measures limiting its access to global markets (Erlanger/Gladstone, New York Times, May 24).
Meanwhile,envoys on Friday said the International Atomic Energy Agency had turned up tiny quantities of uranium with enrichment levels as high as 27 percent at Iran's subterranean Qum facility, the Associated Press reported (George Jahn, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, May 25).
Despite the lack of firm agreement from this discussions in Baghdad that ended on Thursday, participating governments said the meeting improved their familiarity with the other side's stance, the Times reported. They agreed to convene a new, two-day meeting on June 18 in Moscow.
“What we have now is some common ground, and a meeting in place where we can take that further forward,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said, adding that “significant differences remain” following the “very intense and detailed discussions.” Only a limited period is available to defuse the standoff, she added.
The meeting's primary impediment was the unwillingness of Ashton's side to formally accept Iranian production of civilian atomic material, senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said.
“This is our right, and it is clearly irrefutable,” Jalili said. “We will, of course, welcome some offer to cooperate on” should the other nations affirm the activity, he said (Erlanger/Gladstone, New York Times).
“We believe the pathway to talks can be successful only if destructive pathways working in parallel with the pathways are stopped,” the Washington Post quoted him as saying in reference to punitive economic measures. “This strategy of pressure is over. It is outmoded" (Sly/Warrick, Washington Post, May 24).
A high-level Iranian religious official on Friday said his nation "will not retreat” after achieving the means to generate 20 percent-enriched uranium, Iran's Mehr News Agency reported.
"Despite [the International Atomic Energy Agency's] frequent inspections, they have not been able to find any diversion in Iran’s nuclear program, Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami added (Mehr News Agency, May 25).
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty entitles non-nuclear weapons states to operate nonmilitary nuclear programs under IAEA oversight but does not specify a “right to enrich,” according to the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany. The group contends Tehran has failed to meet its international obligations, and at the meeting maintained an objective of ultimately achieving a comprehensive Iranian uranium enrichment halt as demanded in multiple Security Council resolutions, the Times reported.
One high-level U.S. official following the meeting said accepting Iran's refinement of uranium is "something we are obviously not willing to do."
The six-nation negotiating group did not anticipate achieving a compromise with Tehran in the present phase, a high-level U.S. government source added.
An EU ban on Iranian petroleum and other penalties due to take effect in July would “increase the leverage on this negotiation as we move forward," the insider stated. "Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran” (Erlanger/Gladstone, New York Times).
Washington's top diplomat said major hurdles persist in the dialogue, despite "serious" and "substantive" exchanges between the sides, the Post reported.
“We think that the choice is now Iran’s to work to close the gaps,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said. “We anticipate there will be ongoing work between now and the next meeting in Moscow, but it’s very clear that there’s a lot of work still to do.”
The six nations negotiating with Iran at this week's meeting were “speaking literally off the same page and with the same voice,” a new development since past multilateral discussions, Clinton said (Sly/Warrick, Washington Post).
"As we lay the groundwork for [future] talks, we will keep up the pressure as part of our dual-track approach," Reuters quoted her as saying. "All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move forward during this period" (Quinn/Pawlak, Reuters I, May 24).
The White House on Thursday framed plans hold the Moscow meeting as a positive development, United Press International reported.
"We did not expect in the prior two rounds breakthrough moments," spokesman Jay Carney said.
"What we're looking for is progress," the official stated. "We're looking for seriousness on the part of the Iranians in terms of addressing the concerns of the international community. And, thus far, those expectations have been met" (United Press International I, May 25).
Expectations would be greater for the Moscow gathering, and a lack of agreement at the planned discussion would constitute a notable setback, European envoys said in comments reported by the London Guardian.
"This cannot continue like this," one diplomatic official stated. "The pace will get faster and the benchmark will get higher" (Julian Borger, London Guardian, May 24).
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Thursday said the five permanent Security Council countries and Germany had reached "clear and unified conclusion" that "urgent, concrete steps need to be taken by Iran to allow progress,” Agence France-Presse reported.
"If Iran fails to respond in a serious manner, they should be in no doubt that we will intensify the pressure from sanctions, including the embargo on oil imports already agreed, and will urge other nations to do the same," Hague said in released remarks.
"We remain fully committed to the diplomatic process under way and to finding a peaceful, negotiated solution to the nuclear issue. We are making every effort to achieve this,” he said. "But we must see significant progress from Iran at the next meeting in Moscow" (Agence France-Presse I/Now Lebanon, May 24).
China's delegate to the meeting said the discussions had made "new achievements," the Xinhua News Agency reported.
"Based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, all sides, during the meeting, declared their willingness to address the issue through dialogue," added Chinese Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Ma Zhaoxu (Jamal Hashim, Xinhua News Agency, May 25).
The discovery of uranium enriched above 20 percent at Iran's Qum facility is not an absolute indicator of a clandestine effort to refine bomb material, AP quoted diplomatic sources as saying. Operators of the site's enrichment machinery might have generated uranium of unintentionally high enrichment levels as they tuned its production, the officials suggested (Jahn, Associated Press).
"It is not up there ... towards nuclear weapons capability," an international relations official added in remarks to Reuters. "My understanding is that the IAEA had found a particle or had tested a sample that had uranium enriched at a higher rate than had been declared at that facility" (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters II, May 25)
Rearrangement of the facility's enrichment centrifuges increases the probability that they "overshoot 20 percent" upon activation, Institute for Science and International Security head David Albright told AP.
"Nonetheless, embarrassing for Iran," Albright added in e-mail comments (Jahn, Associated Press).
The U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed the February finding in a quarterly Iran safeguards report issued on Friday. Responding to an agency inquiry on the matter, Tehran ins "indicated that the production of such particles 'above the target value' may happen for technical reasons beyond the operator’s control," the document states.
"The agency is assessing Iran’s explanation and has requested further details," the U.N. organization said, adding it was scrutinizing additional material drawn on May 5 from the same location.
Pictures taken from space of Iran's Parchin military installation suggested "the buildings of interest to the agency are now subject to extensive activities that could hamper the agency’s ability to undertake effective verification," the Vienna, Austria-based agency in a May 2 communication to Iran said (see GSN, May 9). Officials with the agency have repeatedly sought access to a site at the base suspected to have housed equipment relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon development effort.
Iran has produced 321 pounds of 20 percent-enriched uranium and 13,662 pounds of low-enriched uranium refined up to 5 percent, according to the assessment.
"The agency is still awaiting a substantive response from Iran to agency requests for further information in relation to announcements made by Iran concerning the construction of ten new uranium enrichment facilities, the sites for five of which, according to Iran, have been decided," the document states.
"As Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities," it says (International Atomic Energy Agency report, May 25).
Separately, the U.S. intelligence community is maintaining its 5-year-old position that Tehran in 2003 "halted its nuclear weapons program" and does not appear to have resuscitated the initiative, National Public Radio reported on Wednesday.
"Because we're so focused on the issues about the shortfalls of the Iraq WMD, we need to be very open about the nature of the evidence (on Iran), how much evidence, (and) the role of our assumptions," CIA Deputy Intelligence Director Peter Clement said. "Those (issues) factored into that estimate, to say we just haven't got what it takes to make the call that, yes, (the Iranians) have made a decision to go ahead with the (nuclear weapons) program."
"Writing on any controversial issue right now, I think we're very -- 'obsessed' may be too strong a word, but not entirely," Clement said. "I personally get very obsessed about sourcing. If we make a statement of fact, I want it to be clear where that fact came from. If we got it from a (human) source, how good is the source? Did they have firsthand access? Second-hand access? Are they someone we recently got on the payroll?" (Tom Gjelten, National Public Radio, May 23).
Israel on Friday received a visit from U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, AFP reported. Sherman, who led the U.S. negotiating team in this week's talks with Iran, was slated to update Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the multilateral meeting, according to public radio in Israel (Agence France-Presse/Now Lebanon, May 25).
A State Department release says Sherman would "reaffirm [the] unshakable [U.S.] commitment to Israel's security," Reuters reported on Thursday (John Crawley, Reuters III, May 24).
Lawmakers in the U.S. Senate have resubmitted a 3-month-old measure expressing the chamber's opposition to any U.S. policy based on deterring Iran should it acquire nuclear weapons, Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) announced on Thursday. The new version takes into account statements by President Obama that exclude such an approach as an option (U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman release, May 24).
Tel Aviv has intensified clandestine activities targeting "enemy countries," UPI on Thursday quoted Israeli armed forces insiders as saying.
"You almost won't find a point in time where something isn't happening somewhere in the world," Israeli armed forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz has said. "I'm escalating all those special operations" (United Press International II, May 24).
Israel has pursued closer ties with China, partly in an effort to bolster its voice in Beijing over Iranian nuclear activities, AP reported on Thursday (Bodeen/Federman, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, May 24).
This article provides an overview of Iran's historical and current policies relating to nuclear, chemical, biological and missile proliferation.