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Iran Brushes Off Nuclear Concealment Fears

Iran on Wednesday played down expert concerns over indications of a possible effort to remove incriminating material at its Parchin military installation prior to a potential visit by international atomic investigators, the nation's Press TV reported on Wednesday (see GSN, May 9).

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security on Tuesday pointed to signs of concealment actions in a picture taken from space last month of housing for a suspected tank constructed at the base to accommodate explosives experiments relevant to a potential nuclear-weapon development effort.

“This institute is a bit inexperienced," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said. "If it had more experience it would have known nuclear activities, the way they claim, could not be cleaned and they are joking with our nation.”

The United States and its allies believe Iran's atomic activities are geared toward establishment of a capacity to build nuclear bombs, but Tehran has consistently denied the contention (Press TV, May 9).

The U.N. Security Council's role in the standoff should come to a close, leaving the International Atomic Energy Agency solely responsible for addressing concerns over Iran's nuclear program, the rapporteur for the Iranian legislature's national security committee said on Wednesday. The Security Council to date has adopted four sanctions resolutions aimed at pressuring the Persian Gulf regional power to halt uranium enrichment, a process capable of yielding nuclear bomb material in addition to civilian fuel.

Lawmaker Kazem Jalali urged the U.N. nuclear watchdog to "ask for the return of (Iran's) dossier in full from the [Security Council] so that Tehran can respond to the questions and resolve ambiguities," the state-run Fars News Agency reported.

Iran views the Vienna, Austria-based nuclear organization to be capable of undoing harm stemming from the dispute's previous referral to the Security Council, according to the legislator, who described the decision to involve the 15-nation U.N. body as a significant error.

The agency is expected to restart discussions with Iran on May 14 and 15 in Vienna, Austria. The U.N. organization completed two high-level trips to the Middle Eastern nation earlier this year in an effort to address concerns over possible weapon-relevant atomic efforts overseen by Tehran.

"If the International Atomic Energy Agency attends the Vienna talks with the aim of fulfilling its technical and specialized duties, Tehran will answer its questions in the shortest possible time," the lawmaker said (Fars News Agency, May 10).

Meanwhile, Washington would face constraints in its ability to curb unilateral punitive measures against Iran in any effort to reach an atomic bargain with the country, analysts warned in comments reported on Thursday by the Christian Science Monitor. Iranian delegates are scheduled on May 23 to meet in Baghdad with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Ultimately, it would be up to lawmakers to decide the future of the sanctions regime against Iran, rather than President Obama, according to the report.

"Sanctions relief is not on the table unless and until we see substantial [Iranian] concessions," Suzanne Maloney, an expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington, quoted Obama administration insiders as saying.

"I don't think there is really any give on the sanctions issue ... in part because in a political year, an election year, with a Congress that is very solidly behind these sanctions, it would be very difficult for the president to appear to be waffling on them at all," Maloney said.

"I do worry that there is a disconnect," she added. "The Iranians from their perspective need something to demonstrate some sense of victory, and to persuade the skeptics within their own camp that there are rewards to be gained from cooperation, not just preventing any further pressure, but actually lifting some of the sense of siege."

"We're trying to use economic pressure in order to change their security perceptions. But in effect we cement their own sense of insecurity because they see the sanctions as a permanent means of ending the Islamic republic," the specialist said.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, who previously advised Iranian nuclear negotiators, said diplomacy with Tehran has reached "a crucial threshold."

The decision-makers (in Iran) are moving in the direction of a flexible response," Afrasiabi said. "They obviously need to show some net Iranian gains as a result of concessions, without which (any agreements) would be tantamount to political suicide."

Iranian officials are seeking concrete promises because they believe they have fallen victim to deception in previous atomic discussions, the one-time insider said. Tehran would not necessarily require the immediate elimination of sanctions in a possible deal, the Monitor said.

"The Iranians understand the intricacies of American politics, the exceptional situation of an election year and the environment in which Obama operates," Afrasiabi said. "So I think they are willing to some extent to accommodate themselves ... but only so far"  (Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 10).

French President-elect Francois Hollande could alter the multilateral nuclear discussions in Iran's favor if he softens his government's position, former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns wrote in a commentary published on Thursday by the Boston Globe.

"Should Hollande adopt a less aggressive course, it could open the door to Russia and China to weaken Western pressure and possibly let Iran off the Hook," according to Burns (Nicholas Burns, Boston Globe, May 10).

Meanwhile, Israeli Cabinet officials on Wednesday voiced fear over the potential for an incoming leader to side with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in supporting a possible military offensive on Iranian atomic sites, Haaretz reported.

Former top Israeli official Shaul Mofaz is expected to assume a top position in a unity government announced this week, despite having previously accused Netanyahu of being untruthful. Mofaz has so far maintained a stance against attacking Iran, and he vowed to head proponents of that view after he assumed leadership of the moderate Kadima Party earlier this year.

"How can one know for sure that he won't be equally fickle on Iran?" an Israeli minister asked.

The incoming official's stance could prove crucial in deliberations between Cabinet members currently split on the matter, according to Haaretz (Barak Ravid, Haaretz I, May 10).

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden on Tuesday said Washington rules out "no options" in dealing with Iran. The former senator also said Tel Aviv would be well advised not to "contract security" to any outside group (Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz II, May 8).

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Wednesday said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose “a real danger to humanity,” but added "it is better to start with nonmilitary efforts than to go straight to war,” the National Post reported.

“The fact that Iran is ready to enter negotiations shows (sanctions) are having an impact,” Peres said to a reporter (Tristin Hopper, National Post, May 9).

European Union envoys on Thursday confirmed the 27-nation bloc would reassess next month its anticipated ban on Iranian petroleum and prohibition on insurance for Iranian oil deliveries, the Dow Jones Newswires reported. Both measures are slated to take effect on July 1 (Laurence Norman, Dow Jones Newswires/Wall Street Journal, May 10).

Elsewhere, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday said his country's potential ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea would limit Iran's capacity to close the Strait of Hormuz, U.S. News and World Report reported. Officials and lawmakers in Tehran previously threatened to close the waterway, a key channel for the shipment of Middle Eastern petroleum, in retaliation for an embargo on oil exports.

"We are determined to preserve freedom of transit there in the face of Iranian threats to impose a blockade," the Pentagon chief said. "U.S. accession ... would help strengthen worldwide transit passage rights under international law and isolate Iran" (John Bennett, U.S. News and World Report, May 9).

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